Your palms sweat, your voice cracks. You squirm in your seat as the questions are asked, and think long and hard before answering each of them. Is this an internal affairs interview? Nope, it's even more stressful for most of us. It's a sergeant's oral board, and you're on the hot seat as a promotional candidate.

Many people would read that and think, "It can't be that bad, can it?" Anyone who has tested for the position knows otherwise. Testing for promotion, specifically from an officer to a sergeant, can be a stressful time of studying and then awaiting results. While I can't do anything to help you pass the time during the waiting process, I can give you some tips on how to maximize your testing experience.

Act the Role

This is critical. Some of the best officers in your department may not get promoted because they didn't show the board how well they could act like a sergeant. Remember, this board isn't sitting in front of you to rate how good of an officer you are; they are there to rate how good of a sergeant you can be. That is what you need to concentrate on showing them. This means think globally, think way outside the box. Don't limit yourself to what you've seen your supervisors do in the past; do one step better than they did and think like someone who is truly in charge of an entire city at that moment, not just one crime scene or incident.

Remember, a sergeant is your department's foremost front line supervisor. He or she is the one who is charged with keeping their troops in line and performing up to speed. It's up to them to display these leadership principals in the field, but it's up to you to display them even better in front of your oral board. If they don't see those qualities in your interview, why would they promote you? Remember, any lieutenant or above who has sat on an oral board for sergeant promotions has uttered the same words when a good officer has left the room: "That guy is a great cop, but he didn't show us anything as a sergeant." Make absolutely sure this isn't what they say when you leave your test. Be sure you show them what they want to see first and foremost: the traits of a great field supervisor.

Study Scenarios and Hot Topics

Most officers know what to study when it comes time to test for sergeant. The department's general orders, rules and regulations, and the city's policies all rank high on our study lists. However, don't forget about a few very important things.

First of all, be sure to look around and identify any hot topics within your own department. If the administration is concerned about the frequency of a specific crime or with a specific problem within your city, you'd better brush up on it because you know it will appear on the sergeant's test. Study the problem and come up with some basic ideas of how you would combat the problem or issue before walking into your test. That way, when the question pops up, you'll look prepared and ready to be a supervisor, not like an officer fumbling for an answer.

Second, be sure to study some basic scenarios you could (and probably will) have to handle as a sergeant. The frequent ones that appear on tests are counseling an underperforming employee, a large-scale crime scene or multiple crimes scenes, and an irate or concerned citizen. How would you handle these? How do good sergeants in your department handle them? Study up on these and other common supervisor issues, and be ready when they appear.

Talk to High-Scoring Sergeants in Your Department

This one is the most frequently overlooked activity of all sergeant test study aids. Be sure you speak with the sergeants in your own department who recently tested and scored high on the test. How did they study? What did they study? How did they score so high on the test when others didn't? These sergeants have unique insight that can help you in your own testing process. Don't look at this as "kissing up," it's actually far from it. If you think you can be a lone ranger throughout your career and not ever ask for help, then maybe you'd better consider whether you'd actually make a good sergeant. We all need help occasionally, and this is the perfect opportunity to seek it from someone who has a very unique ability to give you a boost.

Along the same lines, speak to lieutenants and above at your department about any test taking tips they may have as well. Remember, these are usually the same people actually making the test. Although they can't give you the answers, they can definitely steer you in the right direction to maximize your study time!

Testing for sergeant is a stressful time in any officer's career. Whether it's your first test or your fifth, study up and be prepared when your testing date comes. Remember, act the role of a sergeant during your test and show them you are prepared and ready for the position. Good luck!


Dan Pasquale
Dan Pasquale


Dan Pasquale is an officer with the Tracy (Calif.) Police Department. He spends his spare time writing for

View Bio

Dan Pasquale is an officer with the Tracy (Calif.) Police Department. He spends his spare time writing for

View Bio