About the TSA

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which has authority over the security of the traveling public in the United States, having been created as a response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Being primarily concerned with air travel, the TSA employs a variety employees:

  • Transportation Security Officers (TSOs)
  • Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs)
  • Transportation Security Specialists
  • Federal Air Marshals
  • Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs)
  • Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs)
  • National Explosives Detection Canine Trainers
  • Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) Agents

Note: In some cases, these roles are not entirely separate. For instance, BDOs are also TSOs.

TSA CBT Tests

The Transportation Security Authority Computer Based Test (TSA CBT), or the Transportation Security Officer Computer Based Test (TSO CBT), is a psychometric instrument used early in the TSA hiring process. The test is used to filter out weaker candidates, meaning that a poor score on the TSA CBT will prevent a candidate from moving to the next stage of the application process.

Those applying for roles as TSA inspectors, managers or Transportation Security officers are required to take the TSA Exam as part of the application process. The TSA test assesses a candidate’s competency with object recognition, screener awareness, and English language.

TSA CBT Test Format

The TSA CBT Test is comprised of two components: Image interpretation or the X-Ray Test, and the Written Skills Assessment.

1. TSA X-Ray Test

The TSA X-Ray test, also known as baggage scanner training, is formulated to assess the candidate’s competence in identifying items as displayed in an x-ray screening image. This portion of the test is regarded as the more difficult of the two components, as the process of screening baggage through the use of an x-ray machine is largely unique to the position – as such, prior experience of this is likely to be extremely limited.

In this portion of the test, the candidate will be shown images of baggage which have gone through an x-ray machine, and will be given only a few seconds to review the baggage and identify target items which are forbidden in air travel, such as weapons, liquids, and explosives. The candidate will be required to make a decision as to whether they should pass the baggage, hold the baggage for inspection by a TSO officer and further screening, or trigger an alarm which requires police intervention.

The process of reading an x-ray is quite challenging unless one has a pre-existing understanding of how to correctly do this. The first step in identifying items in baggage through x-ray would be to use a black and white image, which is quite sharp but does not identify the material contained within the baggage. In some cases, this manner of x-ray will be enough to identify harmful material, but failing this it is important to make use of color detection. The colors seen in an x-ray image indicate the density of materials contained within the baggage. Denser items take on more of a blue color while less dense items are more red. The colors to expect are as follows:

  • Blue/Black: Hard materials including hard plastics and metal

  • Green: Less-dense plastics and alloys

  • Orange: Biological material

  • Red: Little to no resistance when scanning, indicating no item or very light material such as paper or fabric.

Depending on the x-ray machine being used, the color may vary sightly. The key here is to understand the basic principles and apply them to the machine in use. Those hired as TSO officers receive the appropriate training with the specific machinery they will be using, so this is not a source of concern.

Prepterminal has prepared a comprehensive study material for the TSA CBT Test. Featuring text/video-based modules in a structured course and a TSA CBT practice test with example x-ray scans and comprehensive guidance on how to interpret these images, our TSA CBT Test preparation pack is a one-stop shop for test success. Enter the test with a full understanding of how to read the x-ray images and get the upper hand against the competition.

2. TSA Writing Skills Assessment

The TSA Writing Skills Assessment Test is a multiple-choice test given with time restrictions. This section of the test is intended to assess a candidate’s understanding of English grammar, syntax, word usage, paragraph organization and sentence structure. Before taking the test, it is important to understand these content areas:

  • Adjectives/Adverbs
  • Article
  • Capitalization
  • Conjunction
  • Gerund
  • Infinitive
  • Nouns
  • Participles
  • Prepositions
  • Pronouns
  • Punctuation
  • Restrictive/nonrestrictive phrases and clauses
  • Sentence construction
  • Sentence organization with paragraphs
  • Tense shifts
  • Use of clauses in sentences
  • Use of phrases in sentences
  • Verb
  • Verb Mood
  • Verb Tense
  • Verb Voice

Questions are presented as sentences requiring correction, with three possible corrections and a fourth option where no correction is needed. For many applicants, it might be the case that these skills are somewhat rusty as they are not necessarily used so precisely in day-to-day use.

Prepterminal’s comprehensive study guide provides in-depth guides on each component of the TSA Writing Skills Assessment, for those needing to learn the concepts contained or simply refresh their understanding of the finer details of English language and grammar. Our psychometric experts have composed a TSA CBT Practice Test in order to benchmark your progress as you prepare for the course. Get started with our TSA CBT Test Preparation Pack and get started on the path to success.

TSA CBT Test Scoring

In the TSA Test, applicants are not penalized for incorrect answers – scoring is based solely on correct answers. If the candidate achieves a passing score, they are placed into one of three categories based on the level of success:

  • Best Qualified
  • Highly Qualified
  • Qualified

It is vital to score as highly as possible as the TSA employs from the top down, meaning that those who are classified as ‘Best Qualified’ will be considered first. If a candidate achieves a score which passes, it may still be the case that they are far from being the first to be considered for job positions based on the performance of their peers.

If a candidate fails the exam, they will be ineligible for reassessment for six months, meaning no job openings can be applied for. Two failures will render a candidate permanently ineligible for roles in the TSA. As such, it is absolutely critical that the candidate takes the time to ensure that they appropriately prepare for the test.

In order to score well in this test, it is highly recommended that you prepare thoroughly. Prepterminal provides the resources required to ensure success by ensuring that you have a full understanding of the contents of the test and are fully prepared for every format in which the test may be delivered.

TSA CBT Test Tips

  • Ensure that you have refreshed your understanding of fundamental English concepts in advance.
  • Review how x-ray images are presented, and familiarize yourself with the colors presented in x-ray images.
  • Take practice tests to ensure your understanding holds in an applied environment – Prepterminal provides premium preparation content to ensure success.
  • If you do not know the answer to a question, guess. As incorrect answers are not penalized you are statistically likely to rescue ~25% of the questions to which you do not know the answer – if you do not know the answer to 12 questions, that should roughly be 3 extra points you would otherwise not get.
  • Read the directions carefully before every question.
  • Read the entire question and all answer choices before choosing a response.