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Information about Civil Service

Recruitment to most government departments is centralised though Civil Service resourcing. However, with 25 professions across the departments, recruitment processes for individual positions vary. This page looks at some of the assessments you can expect during an average civil service recruitment process, including the self-assessed reasoning tests used by the Civil Service. 

Civil Service Competency Framework

You are expected to demonstrate the skills outlined in the Civil Service Competency Framework throughout every stage of the recruitment process. The headlines of this framework are set out below:

  • Seeing the big picture
  • Changing and improving
  • Making effective decisions
  • Leading and communicating
  • Collaborating and partnering
  • Building capacity for all
  • Achieving commercial outcomes
  • Delivering value for money
  • Managing a quality service
  • Delivering at pace

Civil Service Application Form

Civil Service jobs usually require you to complete a full application form. This application form contains checks that determine if your education and work experience meet the criteria for this position. The application form also contains a Civil Service competency questionnaire that asks you to provide examples of where you have displayed the qualities outlined in the Civil Service Competency Framework. You are allocated just 200 words per answer, so plan them out using the STAR method, and make sure that every word counts. Ensure you use the same wording contained in the job description; it is there for a reason.

Civil Service Initial Sift Test

This Civil Service Initial Sift Test is an online situational judgement test that is designed to assess you against the behaviours included in the Civil Service Competency Framework. Learn more about this test on our CSIST page. Employers use both this test and your application form to determine if you will be moved to the next stage of the application process.

Civil Service Psychometric Tests

It is very likely you'll be asked to sit some Civil Service online aptitude tests. The Civil Service Fast Track Programme uses Cubiks tests. (These are outlined on the Fast Track page). This page discusses some of the other tests you may experience. Applicants to management positions may also find our pages on management psychometric tests useful. Across the various Civil Service recruitment processes, you may find yourself invited to take tests from any one of a number of different testing companies: CEB’s SHL, Saville Consulting, Pearson TalentLens, etc. 

See below for some examples of tests you may be invited to take:

Civil Service Numerical Reasoning Test

Numerical reasoning tests assess how well you understand and use information in a numerical format. You are usually given numerical information and asked to choose the correct answer from a set of multiple-choice options. In order to answer these questions, you often have to perform one or more calculations—percentages, ratios, basic maths—within a tight time limit. Taking practice tests improves speed and accuracy, which will ultimately improve your score.

Civil Service Verbal Reasoning Test

Verbal reasoning tests examine how well you use language. On most tests, you are given a passage of text to read and answer questions about. There are usually two types of question on these tests: multiple choice and true/false/cannot say. This same format can be used for both comprehension and analytical tests.

Watson-Glaser Test

The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal assesses your ability to evaluate and apply written information to reach justifiable conclusions. You are examined in five different areas: recognising assumptions, deductive reasoning, logical interpretation, drawing inferences, and argument evaluation. This test may be used as part of the assessments for managerial positions or for placement into training courses, for example the NHS Public Health Specialists course. The Watson-Glaser is a challenging test, but preparation can help you increase both your confidence and your skills.

Civil Service Abstract Reasoning Test

Abstract, inductive, or logical reasoning tests are non-verbal tests that assess how well you can spot patterns, use them to discover new rules, and solve problems. On these tests, you are usually asked to identify the final or missing shape in a sequence. Whilst much of this is instinctive, practice can help you learn techniques for how to identify the information you need.

Civil Service Situational Judgement Test

Situational judgement tests examine how you respond to work-based situations. You are given a scenario similar to one you would expect in your day-to-day job and asked to choose the best response from a set of options. Preparation for such tests involves reviewing and applying the Civil Service competencies and person specification for the specific job to which you've applied. Practising for situational judgement tests can also help you get a feel for answering these types of questions.

Civil Service Personality Test

Many employers use personality tests to determine if your personality matches the company values or job requirements. These tests usually ask you to pick the characteristic that best describes you from three options. The aim is to answer truthfully; there are no right or wrong answers. Taking practice personality tests ensures you understand what the test is asking of you and that you are able to answer each question accurately.

Civil Service Assessment Centre

The recruitment process for certain positions also includes attending an assessment centre. The assessment centre contains a series of exercises designed to examine if you possess the skills needed for you desired job. Exercises are usually themed to the type of position you are applying for, and they will always assess you against the Civil Service Competency Framework.

Written Exercise

These exercises often involve tasks in which you are given a set of information to absorb before writing a report, brief, or response. This exercise is usually given a strict time limit, and one of the key skills measured is time management. The task may also ask you to analyse numerical or verbal information in order to provide your recommendations. This assessment also looks at your writing style. Prepare for a written exercise with our preparation pack.

Aptitude Test

Some recruitment processes may ask you to sit some aptitude tests or verify the results of earlier tests during the assessment centre. See the section on tests above for more information.


For this assessment, you are either sent a topic to research and prepare a presentation for ahead of your assessment centre, or given materials on the day to prepare a short presentation. You will deliver this presentation at the assessment centre in any case. Learn how to deliver a great presentation with our assessment centre pack.

Role Play

Role plays often concentrate on how you respond to work-based situations, such as working with customers or team members. You assume the role given to you, and an interviewer plays the role opposite you. In addition to work-specific competencies, this type of exercise judges your assertiveness, responsiveness, and flexibility. Rehearse your role play with our preparation pack.

Group Activity

These activities include group discussions, debates, and role plays. They can be team building exercises or tasks whereby every member of the group must present a different view point. Your team-working skills are assessed alongside the quality of your contributions and how you listen to others. Devise your group exercise strategies with our advice.


Civil Service Interview

No civil service recruitment process is complete without at least one interview. The interview take place at the assessment centre or on another subsequent. Civil Service interviews are usually panel interviews, with two or more interviewers asking you questions. The questions themselves are designed to assess your experience and skills against the Civil Service Competency Framework.

Ahead of your interview, prepare examples from past jobs that can be used to answer competency-based questions. Read up on the department you are applying to, its values, and the description of the job opening. That way you'll know exactly what the department is looking for in a candidate.

Prepare for Success

Navigating the process to get a position with the Civil Service is challenging. Recruitment to any Civil Service position, at any level, involves a series of stages. The number of stages and assessments may vary, but we offer information and quality preparation materials to help you get ready for each one. Prepare with JobTestPrep to ensure your success.