The Ultimate Guide To The TSA-CBT Tests

tesThe TSA-CBT is a Computer Based Test (CBT) administered by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) in the USA.

Formed immediately after the deadly 9th September attacks on the US soil, the TSA is a federal agency under the US Department of Homeland Security.

It is entrusted with ensuring travellers’ safety across the country and has a rigorous screening process for all aspiring candidates.

If you want to work as an inspector, manager, marshal or security officer with this specialised agency, you have to pass the TSA-CBT first as part of the application process.

The TSA-CBT test suite is designed to assess your proficiency in English and, most importantly, your ability to interpret X-ray images.

You need to be able to ‘read’ X-ray scanner images quickly and correctly for identifying prohibited objects.

This part of the TSA-CBT test can be quite challenging and needs extensive preparation beforehand.

Also known as the Object Recognition Test (ORT), it is unlike any other entrance test you may have possibly come across so far.

Competition is intense and failure rate is high. It is incredibly important to take the test well prepared.

Rigorous practice is the key!

ProTip#1: The X-ray ORT also forms part of the initial selection process of many aviation, security and surveillance companies around the world.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA-ACTSA), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) all use more or less identical variations of the X-ray ORT used by TSA.

Preparing for the TSA-CBT exams will enable you to be ready for entrance tests for most of those organizations as well.

Bonus: Get free unlimited access to test practice (for 30 minutes) on our partner website JobTestPrep – Click Here.

Taking The TSA-CBT Test

The TSA-CBT test can be taken only by a US citizen, eighteen years or older, holding a valid high school diploma or equivalent.

The test is administered by TSA online.

You have to register on the portal and take the test in a TSA proctored facility.

Upon registration you shall be redirected to the Candidate Dashboard.

Here you can follow the progress of your application and track status of each stage throughout the selection process.

The TSA-CBT test is timed.

Total duration is 2.5 hours.

Questions are all multiple choice types and there is no negative marking.

Speed and accuracy are of paramount importance.

Results of the TSA-CBT test will be available almost immediately after you take the assessment.

On successful completion you will receive a contingent offer of employment – the key that will allow you to move on to the next steps of the elaborate screening process.

ProTip#2: Prepare for the test in all seriousness.

Should you fail the TSA-CBT exam in your first attempt, there is a mandatory cooling off period of six months.

The TSA-CBT test cannot be taken again after a second failed attempt.

The TSA-CBT X-Ray Test

In the X-ray image test, you will be asked to spot certain items from scanned images of passenger luggage.

It will be like multicoloured mash-ups on the screen as in the figure shown here.

To simulate how things work in real life, the images will move in quick succession.

You will get about 15 seconds per image to identify particular items.

You may be tasked with finding out whether the bag shows items like guns, electronics, shoes, bottles or drugs.

Only correct responses will earn points.

Since there is no negative marking, if in doubt, it is better to take an educated guess than pass the question.

In the figure above, there a gun is clearly visible and is obviously a no-brainer.

But how to interpret the other coloured items in the image?

The following ready reckoner should help.

Interpreting The Colors In The X-Ray Scan

Remember, any item you see in an X-ray scanner image will be marked in shades of black, blue, green or orange.

As a rule of the thumb, the denser the material of an item, the darker will it look.

The trick is to understand the contour, recognise the type of material and flag any forbidden item in the luggage.

Black: Items made of very dense materials will not allow X-ray to pass through at all and will look black.

These are called X-ray opaque items.

For example, any container or article made out of lead (like certain batteries and hard-nosed bullet heads) will show up as dark black in an X-ray scanned image.

Blue or Blue/Black: Most hard metallic items will have a blue or blue/black coloration in the scanned image.

Guns, knives, pliers, batteries etc. will fall under this category.

So will coat hangers, wires and a host of other day to day items.

Orange: Most biological materials will come up in orange.

These are low density items and may include liquids, food, clothes, paper or other fabrics (very thin paper or fabric may appear more reddish).

This color is tricky as it may be difficult to distinguish between innocuous and banned items (think of flour or ground peas versus cocaine, maple syrup versus nitro-glycerine – you get the vibes, right?).

Many explosives and contrabands like marijuana would also appear orange in the scan.

Green: Items that have density in between metals and organic materials will generally appear as green.

Most alloys, plastic and inorganic materials will fall in this group.

Plastic knives, children’s toys, computers and other electronic items are prime examples.

Be careful as there can be some items showing dual colourations – a sharp knife with a plastic handle will show in a combination of blue/black and green.

The metallic part will be blue/black and the plastic part green.

You have to mentally link the two colours in an identifiable shape to mark the offending object.

Now can you identify the laptop and the aerosol can in the figure above? (Hint: Look near the bottom of the image, to the right and to the left.)

Note: Apart from the materials from which the items are made up of, you should also keep in mind that large containers of aerosol cans, liquids, gels, creams or paste generally fall under prohibited items.

TSA regulations allow only 3.4 ounces or 100 millilitres in checked in baggage.

Furthermore, you need to recognise shapes and outlines of different items.

You should also be able to quickly scan and identify offending objects from a cluttered bag with overlapping pieces.

Prohibited items may be covered by parts of the bag (like the frame) or intentionally hidden to fool the scanner.

Even though in the figure above the contour of a metal bodied gun is clearly visible, it would have been trickier to identify the same if it were rotated or placed in an oblique angle.

Mentally turn the objects around to see if they raise a flag or are everyday harmless items.

As you can see, it is critical to practise extensively for this section of the assessment.

You can achieve a fair rate of success only with thorough and exhaustive preparation!

Test out the sample questions below and try solving them using the information we just discussed.

Remember again – check for colour, outline, rotation and concealment.

Sample Q#1:

Look at the scanned image of a bag given below. Identify the correct option:

a) There is a large liquid container.
b) There is a gun.
c) There is no weapon.

Answer:

b) There is a gun.

Explanation:

The baggage contains a concealed gun. Carefully look at the circled part of the image. The blue/black color indicates hard metal and if you look thoroughly, you can see the outline of a gun placed upside down.

Sample Q#2:

Look at the scanned image of a bag given below. Identify the correct option:

a) There is no banned item.
b) There is a pair of shoes.
c) There are prohibited items.

Answer:

c) There are prohibited items.

Explanation:

The baggage contains multiple prohibited items.

Carefully look at the circled parts of the image.

The blue/black color indicates hard metal and if you look thoroughly, you can see the outline of items like large wrenches and pliers.

There is also a gun made of composite material as well as a large container of liquid.

Can you identify those as well?

(Hint: Liquid would show up as orange and a composite material gun would appear multi-coloured. Look for outline match in the bottom left and middle portion of the trolley bag image).

Sample Q#3:

Look at the scanned image of a bag given below. Identify the correct option:

a) There is a gun.
b) There is no weapon.
c) There is no prohibited item.

Answer:

a) There is a gun.

Explanation:

The baggage contains a gun.

Carefully look at the circled part of the image.

The blue/black color indicates hard metal and if you look thoroughly, you can see the outline of a gun placed sideways.

Also, check the image again.

Can you make out the metal frame in the stiletto shoes packed near the bottom?

From the outline you can deduce it is a pair of shoes, the orange color should be organic material like leather and the blue lines running through the lower half would indicate a metallic frame.

This is apparently harmless in itself (assuming the lady did not pack the gun along!) but is an example how potentially dangerous items can be concealed in seemingly innocent materials (imagine knife blades hidden under the soles).

In real-life as a TSA officer your job will be to quickly identify such instances from a scanned X-ray image as the luggage rolls on along the conveyor belt.

ProTip#3: Before you start the test, generally you are shown a quick preview of how certain objects appear in an X-ray scan.

Once the test begins, you would be shown images of passenger bags containing various items as described above.

The images will move pretty quickly – at the rate of about four scanned pictures per minute.

To repeat, do not leave any question unmarked.

If you are not sure, use the last 5 seconds or so for a best guess. Mark accordingly before the next image pops up.

Thw TSA-CBT Writing Skills Test

This part of the TSA-CBT test is crafted to assess your proficiency level in English.

There are questions developed to examine your knowledge of the language, grammar and vocabulary.

All questions are of multiple choice type.

The test is timed.

However, as in the previous section, only correct answers are marked.

The TSA-CBT writing skills test contains questions on three primary sub-types: vocabulary, written communication and reading comprehension.

Vocabulary: To prepare well for this sub-section you may need to revise lists of common synonyms (words having same meanings), antonyms (words having opposite meanings), homophones (words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings) and commonly misspelled words.

Written Communication: Though most of the questions in this section would be fairly easy, it would help to brush up your grammar!

Among other things that includes correct use of tense, verb-noun matching, punctuation and articles.

Reading Comprehension: This part of the TSA-CBT writing skills test would evaluate your speed-reading ability, general attention to detail and overall grasp of the language.

Each question will contain a short paragraph followed by multiple choice questions.

Not very tough, but you need to practise reading quickly in order to be able to answer all questions correctly within the given time window.

ProTip#4: Some of the questions in this section may not need any correction.

Generally there is an option (D) to cover that.

There may also be multiple corrections required.

Check all the given options against a question to mark the correct answer.

Sample Question#4:

From the following, select the word that is spelt incorrectly:

a) Procrastination
b) Accomodation
c) Prevarication
d) Adjudication

Answer:

b) Accomodation

Explanation:

The correct spelling is ‘accommodation’.

Sample Q#5:

From the following, select the word that is spelt incorrectly:

a) Absence
b) Acquire
c) Acheive
d) Acquit

Answer:

c) Acheive

Explanation:

The correct spelling is ‘achieve’.

Sample Question#6:

From the following, select the word that is the opposite of COMMON :

a) TRIVIAL
b) ROUTINE
c) GENERAL
d) IRREGULAR

Answer:

d) IRREGULAR

Explanation:

All the other given words may mean ‘COMMON’ in some context or other.

Among the given choices, ‘IRREGULAR’ is the word nearest in meaning to ‘UNCOMMON’, the opposite of ‘COMMON’.

Thus d) IRREGULAR is the answer.

Sample Q#7:

From the following, select the word that is similar in meaning to GARRULOUS :

a) TACITURN
b) RETICENT
c) CONCISE
d) TALKATIVE

Answer:

d) TALKATIVE

Explanation:

‘GARRULOUS’ is an adjective used to describe a person who is excessively talkative, especially on trivial matters.

Rest of the options indicate (of a person) reserved or uncommunicative in speech.

Thus option (d) TALKATIVE is the correct answer.

Sample Q#8:

The Director was impressed with the overall performance of the induction batch and said that she would look forward to hear in detail how they managed to fare so well in the group exercises.

In the above sentence,

a) ‘exercises’ needs to be changed to ‘exercise’.
b) ‘impressed’ needs to be changed to ‘impressive’.
c) ‘hear’ needs to be changed to ‘hearing’.
d) No change is necessary.

Answer:

c) ‘hear’ needs to be changed to ‘hearing’.

Explanation:

‘look forward to’ is a phrasal verb and needs to be followed by a gerund i.e. a non-finite verb form that serves as a noun ( ending in ‘-ing’). Thus the correct usage in this case would be ‘…..she would look forward to hearing in detail…..’.

Sample Q#9:

The plane encountered high turbulence and each passenger were asked to remain seated. In the above sentence,

a) ‘encountered’ needs to be changed to ‘countered’.
b) ‘turbulence’ needs to be changed to ‘turbulance’.
c) ‘were’ needs to be changed to ‘was’.
d) No change is necessary.

Answer:

c) ‘were’ needs to be changed to ‘was’.

Explanation:

The verb is used to qualify ‘each passenger’ and thus needs to be used in the singular form.

Sample Q#10:

It is not necessary to present your medication to, or notify an officer about any medication you are traveling with unless it is in liquid form.

Medication in liquid form is allowed in carry- on bags in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight.

It is not necessary to place medically required liquids in a zip-top bag.

However, you must tell the officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the start of the screening checkpoint process.

Medically required liquids will be subject to additional screening that could include being asked to open the container.

You can bring your medication in pill or solid form in unlimited amounts as long as it is screened.

You can travel with your medication in both carry-on and checked baggage.

It’s highly recommended you place these items in your carry-on in the event that you need immediate access.

TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles, but states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.

Medication is usually screened by X-ray; however, if a passenger does not want a medication X-rayed, he or she may ask for a visual inspection instead.

This request must be made before any items are sent through the X-ray tunnel (( ( Can you pack your meds in a pill case and more questions answered, accessed 15 February 2010, https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips/can-you-pack-your-meds-pill-case-and-more-questions-answered) )).

Choose the correct statement from the following based on the paragraph given above:

a) Officers would never ask to open a bottle of liquid medicine if there is a prescription.
b) Travellers are required to notify about all medications during an airport screening.
c) Travellers have the option to carry medicines either in carry-on or checked baggage.
d) Officers should ensure that all liquid medicines be carried in zip-top bags.

Answer:

c) Travellers have the option to carry medicines either in carry-on or checked baggage.

Explanation:

It is mentioned in the passage that medically required liquids will be subject to additional screening that could include being asked to open the container.

Thus option (a) is not correct.

The first line itself says that notification of medications is ‘not necessary’ unless it is in liquid form.

Thus option (b) is also not correct.

Similarly, line number three in the passage also clearly contradicts option (d), which is thus not correct as well.

Option (c) is the correct option as it is mentioned near the middle of the passage that ‘You can travel with your medication in both carry-on and checked baggage.’.

Sample Q#11:

The ______ of the local college always preferred an ______ seat while travelling.

a) principal and isle
b) principle and aisle
c) principal and aisle
d) principle and isle

Answer:

c) principal and aisle

Explanation:

‘principle’ means tenet or dogma; ‘principal’ is the head teacher.

‘isle’ refers to a small island or islet.

An ‘aisle’ seat is the seat along the passage or corridor.

Thus c) principal and aisle is the correct answer.

Sample Q#12:

Select the correct paragraph (( ( Security Screening, accessed 15 February 2010, https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening) )) order to create a clear, coherent passage.

If no correction is necessary, choose (d).

1. For your convenience, we encourage you to place powder-like substances over 12 oz. / 350 mL in your checked bags.

Powders in carry-on baggage may require secondary screening, and powders that cannot be resolved by security officials will be prohibited from the cabin of the aircraft effective June 30, 2018.

2. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is actively working to raise the baseline for aviation security across the globe by requiring the implementation of enhanced security measures, both seen and unseen, at approximately 280 foreign airports with direct commercial flights to the U.S., in more than 100 countries around the world.

3. If you are flying from any of the last-point-of-departure airports into the U.S., you may experience a more extensive screening process and should prepare for additional screening of your property and personal electronic devices. We recommend arriving early to the airport to allow enough time for the screening process. Please know, there are no changes to items allowed in carry-on and checked baggage.

a) 1-3-2
b) 2-3-1
c) 3-2-1
d) No correction necessary

Answer:

b) 2-3-1

Explanation:

The most logical order of the passage is 2-3-1.

It is not logical to begin the passage with either 1 or 3 as they appear to build on the information presented in paragraph 2.

What Happens After You Pass The TSA-CBT Assesment

Remember, passing the TSA-CBT assessment is only like clearing the first hurdle in a long race.

The entire process is thorough but time consuming.

It may take anything from six months to a year from sitting for your TSA-CBT test to your first day in office.

As mentioned earlier, you can track the status of your application online in your candidate dashboard at all times.

A blue star against a process step in the dashboard would signify successful completion of that stage.

Across the candidate lifecycle, the milestone sequence is as follows:

Application Received > CBT > Contingent Offer > Credit Check > Airport Assessment > E86 Forms > Medical/ Drug Evaluation > Background Check > Ready Pool > Orientation > Entry on Duty

Let us now quickly see how things will move after you ace the TSA-CBT exam.

Right after successfully completing the TSA-CBT assessments, you will receive a contingent job offer.

Various documents and authorizations need to be submitted to the TSA within 14 days of passing the TSA-CBT exams.

This will initiate the process of multiple verifications including credit checks.

Loan defaults, tax issues etc. will be investigated within set parameters (delinquent current debt of $7,500 or more, delinquency in child support, tax debt or student loans may mar your chances at this stage).

If all goes smooth, you will have to appear for the airport assessment in the next step.

It will typically include a structured interview and a colour vision test.

You get two chances to pass the colour vision test.

Assuming all goes well, you will also need to sign a non- disclosure agreement(NDA) and fill up more forms including medical information release authorization.

An interview panel (generally of two persons) would ask you a set of control questions and also mark you pass or fail on parameters like integrity and honesty.

Your fingerprint and photo will be taken too.

On successful passing of this step, you will receive a conditional offer.

The interview questions would be fairly generic and may touch upon your experience, work ethics, leadership skills and overall attitude.

Be confident and answer coherently.

Dress in appropriate business attire, present a positive image and you should sail through.

If you pass the interview, you will now receive the medical examination kit. In addition, you will also need to fill up and submit the Questionnaire For National Security Positions (Standard Form 86).

This is a standard form that needs to be filled up by all persons under consideration for national security positions.

Have all personal and employment details at hand while you start.

This questionnaire is extremely important to be filled correctly as it may become a permanent document for future eligibility determination for access to federally controlled facilities or information systems.

If you are a current civilian employee of the federal government, omission or falsification in this form could invite adverse personnel action against you (( https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf86.pdf )).

You will also receive an e-QIP code (e-QIP is a ‘web-based automated system that was designed to facilitate the processing of standard investigative forms used when conducting background investigations for Federal security, suitability, fitness and credentialing purposes (( https://nbib.opm.gov/e-qip-background-investigations/ ))) and fill up forms for the background verification in the next step.

However, only after the medical evaluation and drug test are successfully completed, the background verification will start.

This automated background verification is facilitated by the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and may be quite time consuming.

Once you pass the background verification, you are almost through the process and will move to the ready pool.

Now depending on the size of the airport near to you, you may need to wait for some time before you can join the workforce and toast your success.

Smaller airports may lead to longer waiting time and it may be prudent to apply for or accept offers from larger airports.

Think through and decide!

Making The Cut

Till this stage, you would have been continuously evaluated through your candidate journey.

Now the cumulative marks obtained would decide the extent of choice you will enjoy to pick your dream job.

Based on the total marks scored, you will be placed in either of the three categories:

Best Qualified: Highest job-role match.

If you fall in this category you may have the best option to choose the job you want.

Highly Qualified: High job-role match.

Comes second in the pecking order after the ‘best qualified’ candidates.

Qualified: Passed all selection criteria successfully.

However, you will be picked only after the two higher categories fill up available positions.

The waiting time in the ready pool generally tend to be comparatively longer if you happen to fall in this group.

ProTip#5: It is thus advisable to always aim to score as high as possible and not just think of a qualifying cut-off mark. The higher you score in the tests the better is it for you!

Finally….Getting The Call

Once you get the call, you shall have your orientation through an online platform, EODonline (( https://hraccess.tsa.dhs.gov/hraccess/MAPHiringGuide/WebHel/Monitor_and_Follow_Up_on_Orientation.htm )).

It involves sharing and acknowledgement of all policies and compliance requirements and starts when you accept the final job offer.

The status of the offer would change to Job Offer Accepted and would trigger the much coveted welcome mail to you as a new hire.

The welcome mail will contain detailed instructions and checklist and will also confirm your Entry on Duty date.

Once all details are processed, you will be sworn in as a federal employee and receive overview specific to the area in which you shall be assigned.

Congratulations!

You are now officially (and finally!) part of the TSA.

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