TSA CBT Test: The First Step to a Fulfilling Career with the TSA

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| 7,576 students | Last Updated: Aug 04, 2022
Created by: Michael Lerner BSc, Psychometric Tutor, Prepterminal Test Expert

The Transportation Security Authority Computer-Based Test, or TSA CBT test, is an assessment designed to determine whether someone is fit to work as a TSA agent. This test has a high failure rate, with only 30% of all applicants passing on the first try. Because of this, the TSA places a high level of importance on preparation. 

An excellent result on your TSA CBT can move you quickly to the next round of hiring, while a poor result can eliminate you from consideration. You need the shortcuts to ace your assessment, and Prepterminal’s TSA test prep course can provide them. 

 Our course will help you:

  • Understand the concepts covered by the TSA CBT test
  • Get practice with real test questions
  • Learn the tips and tricks to help you get the best results
  • Have the confidence to pass the test without stress

First, let’s look at what the TSA CBT test is and what it consists of.

Table of Contents

What is the TSA CBT Test?

The TSA CBT is a written exam administered during the application process to become a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspector, manager, agent, or security officer. The test was designed to measure a candidate’s competency in various fields related to transportation security, including:

  • The ability to recognize contraband
  • Awareness while screening
  • Proficiency in the English language

What Does the TSA CBT Test Consist of?

There are two primary sections of the TSA CBT test: the English Language (Writing Skills) test and the X-Ray Object Recognition Test. Each constitutes its own assessment, with separate questions and subject matter. You’ll be given a maximum of 2.5 hours to complete 160 multiple-choice questions, with 60 in the English language section and 100 in the X-ray object recognition section.

TSA English Language (Written Skills) Assessment

The 60 questions on the English language section will cover a variety of written skills subjects, including:

  • Participle
  • Tense Shifts
  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Noun
  • Pronoun
  • Adjective and Adverb
  • Article
  • Preposition
  • Conjunction
  • Sentence Organization within Paragraphs
  • Sentence Construction
  • Use of Phrases in Sentences
  • Use of Clauses in Sentences
  • Verb
  • Verb Voice
  • Verb Tense
  • Verb Mood
  • Infinitive
  • Gerund
  • Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Phrases and Clauses

Each question will test your ability to comprehend correct English syntax, sentence structure, grammar, organization, and word usage. You’ll choose which of the multiple choice answers corrects any language issues that are present, with option D indicating that “no correction is needed.”

Take the TSA CBT Practice Test

Our TSA CBT practice test is designed by psychometric and XRAY professionals and represents the questions you’ll see on the Transportation Security Officer Computer Based Test.

TSA X-Ray Object Recognition Test (ORT)

Arguably the hardest part of the TSA CBT, the X-Ray Object Recognition Test will determine whether you can identify items of contraband within a passenger’s baggage. There are many dangerous items that aren’t allowed on an aircraft without being declared, and those who try to sneak them aboard will usually do their best to disguise or obscure these items within their luggage. Forbidden times include:

  • Weapons (guns, IEDs, bombs, knives)
  • Glass Bottles
  • Electronics
  • Items with over 3oz of Liquid
  • Drugs

In this section of the test, you will be presented with x-ray images and asked to determine if any harmful items are present. Once you believe you’ve found an image containing a dangerous item, you will identify it as such. You’ll also need to indicate when a picture contains zero contraband items. In some images, this will be simple, with fewer surrounding items in the luggage to obscure the contraband. On others this process will be much more complex, requiring you to interpret different color combinations, rotate the picture, and change your perspective.

Color Combinations

Interpreting different color combinations is key to passing the x-ray object recognition test. Set against a white background, there are four primary indication colors: Blue/Black, Orange, Green, and Red.

Blue or Black

A blue or black color means that an item is made of dense materials like: 

  • Metal
  • Hard Plastic
  • Alloy
  • Ceramic

This color is a major red flag, and can indicate a wide variety of contraband including wires, batteries, guns, and ammunition.

Orange

An orange color means that an item is made of low-density materials like:

  • Plastic
  • Leather

This color occurs frequently in baggage scans on account of the usual items carried in luggage. Most electronic devices, for example, include plastics and other light materials.

Green

Similar to blue or black, a green item on an x-ray image is made of plastic or alloy. The difference is that this object is usually less dense, usually an electronic device like a laptop, tablet, or phone.

Red

Red items are the lowest density object shown on an x-ray, and usually indicate a light-weight material like:

  • Paper
  • Textiles
  • Clothes
  • Fabric

Prepterminal TSA CBT Prep: Course Content

TSA Hiring Process

The English proficiency and x-ray tests aren’t the only steps in the TSA hiring process. Besides the CBT aptitude exam, there are five other levels of selection. These include: 

  1. Color Vision Exam: This test is used to determine your ability to distinguish between different colors. X-ray analysis is entirely color-based, so unfortunately those suffering from any type of color blindness would be disqualified.
  2. Personal Interview: Much like any other hiring process, a personal interview will be conducted. You and a TSA representative will go over your resume and you’ll be asked questions about your education, work history, and relevant experience. 
  3. Drug Screening: The TSA generally administers a five-panel urine test before considering a candidate, though they will occasionally give hair follicle and breathalyzer tests. The TSA is very strict with drug testing, and any illicit items found during your screening will disqualify you automatically. 
  4. Medical Condition: You will be given a two-stage medical test which includes a physical exam and an assessment of your hearing. The hearing test is primarily to see whether you can understand speech in a noisy setting; the physical exam will include taking your vitals, listing any ailments you suffer from, and asking whether you can perform certain physical functions (picking up a 50-pound object, standing for over six hours, etc)
  5. Background Investigation: A comprehensive background check will be run as part of your TSA screening process. Your fingerprints will be checked against the FBI criminal database, along with criminal databases at the county, state, and federal levels.

TSA CBT Practice Test

Due to the high-fail rate and limited attempts allowed by the TSA, it’s best to practice as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is by using a prep course to take TSA practice tests. With Prepterminal’s comprehensive course, you will not only get a written guide describing the concepts covered by each test section but practice with realistic TSA CBT questions. Let’s take a look at a couple of sample problems and the best way to solve them.

TSA CBT Test Sample Questions

English Proficiency Sample Question #1

Question: Which words best complete the sentence?

“If I had ______ when things were hard, I would never have ______ my vision.”

Options:
  • A:
    given up … accomplished
  • B:
    persisted … finished
  • C:
    stopped … got
  • D:
    abandon … realized
  • E:
    hoped … seen
Answer: A

Explanation:

The first step is to observe the logic present within the sentence to identify what the speaker is trying to convey. You also need to observe proper English diction and grammar: for example, D would not work because you need the past-tense “abandoned”, not abandon, for the sentence to flow properly. 


The first half of the sentence is talking about experiencing hardship, while the second is implying a completion of vision. Therefore we can tell we need a word with negative connotations in the first half and positive in the second. The speaker is trying to say if they had succumbed to difficulties, they would not have reached their goals. Following this logic track, we can see the best answer is A.

English Proficiency Sample Question #2

Question: What is the best synonym for the underlined word in the following passage?

“If you want your thesis to be included in the final grade, you’ll need to submit it to me no later than Thursday. Make sure that all the necessary revisions have been done as well so any errors have been fixed.”

Options:
  • A:
    Damages
  • B:
    Suspensions
  • C:
    Reprieves
  • D:
    Changes
  • E:
    Reviews
Answer: D

Explanation:

Finding a synonym means identifying a word with a similar meaning. We can often discern a question's meaning by absorbing the context provided by the surrounding sentence. In this sentence, we can tell from the context that the finalized version of the thesis will need its errors fixed. This eliminates almost every word but D and E, but we can narrow it down further by observing that the process of reviewing doesn’t necessarily result in fluctuations. Because change is necessary, the only correct answer is D.

X-Ray Recognition Sample Question #1

Question: Can You Identify a Gun In this X-Ray Image?
Options:
  • A:
    Yes: I can see a gun.
  • B:
    No: No gun is present.
Answer: A

Explanation:

When you first look at an X-ray image, it's important to note the different color combinations you find within the luggage. Here, we see a primary mixture of orange (indicating organic materials), blue (a dense material like metal), and green (a less dense material like plastic.) 

The question asks us to identify a gun, which we know is a dense metal that shows up blue when scanned. By eliminating all non-blue objects, we can closely check what remains. In the upper left corner, slightly hidden by a stack of similarly dense metal tubes, is the outline of a small revolver. Therefore, the answer is Yes: I can see a gun.

X-Ray Recognition Sample Question #2

Question: Can You Identify a Laptop in this Image?
Options:
  • A:
    Yes: I can see a laptop.
  • B:
    No: No laptop is present.
Answer: A

Explanation:

The wording of this question is intentionally designed to make this one a bit easier, but for some questions, you won’t get this sort of context. Without knowing the image contains a laptop, this picture can be a confusing jumble of blue and green color combinations.

 In some cases, those trying to hide a laptop will stack other electronics on top, obscuring the overall shape and forcing you to pick out small components to conduct an accurate analysis. By observing each layer closer, we can see several key systems present in most laptops; for example, the CD drive on the left side is a good indicator. Because of this, we can determine the answer is Yes: I can see a laptop.

TSA Computer Test Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is the TSA Computer Test Hard?

The TSA CBT only has a 32% pass rate; that being said, the computerized version of the TSA CBT can be easy if you prepare beforehand. The English proficiency section should be simple for native speakers, and while the x-ray recognition test can be a bit more complex, a good TSA test prep course should prepare you for any difficulties you could encounter.

What Score Do You Need To Pass The TSA Test?

While the TSA does not disclose the exact score you need to pass, you’ll want as many correct answers out of the total 160 as possible. The higher you score, the better category you are placed in. There are four scoring categories:

  • Best Qualified
  • Highly Qualified
  • Qualified 
  • Unqualified

How Many Times Can You Fail the TSA Test?

You can only fail the TSA CBT twice; after that, you will no longer be eligible for a position in the TSA. After the first failure, you’ll need to wait 6 months to take the test again. It’s always best to pass the test on the first try, as this makes your application look far stronger.

How Long Does the TSA Hiring Process Take?

According to the TSA website, the hiring process takes about 90 days on average. There are seven total steps, including:

  1. Find a job opportunity announcement.
  2. Create a USAJOBS profile and submit your application.
  3. Complete the TSA CBT test.
  4. Complete the airport assessment.
  5. Complete the medical evaluation and drug screening.
  6. Take your background check.
  7. Enter the ready pool.

What Disqualifies You From Being a TSA Agent?

Criminal offenses are the main factor that disqualifies you from being a TSA agent. These disqualifying offenses are separated into three categories:

  • Permanent Disqualifying Criminal Offenses: These include offenses like espionage, sedition, treason, terrorism, anything related to the possession of explosives, murder, threat or harm of a public official, and racketeering. 
  • Interim Disqualifying Criminal Offenses: These include unlawful possession of a firearm, extortion, fraud, arson, rape, manslaughter, assault, and immigration violations. 
  • Under Want, Warrant, or Indictment: If a person is wanted under any civilian or military jurisdiction for any of the above crimes, they will also be disqualified from applying.

How to Prepare for the TSA Computer-Based Test

The TSA can be a fulfilling and lucrative occupation with competitive pay, comprehensive health insurance, and significant retirement contribution programs. The only way to get those benefits is to prepare for your TSA CBT; you only get two chances to pass the test before permanent disqualification. 

You deserve to have a career that makes you financially secure, and the TSA can provide that opportunity. Don’t risk losing that chance; enroll in our TSA test prep course today!

Michael Lerner
Created by: Michael Lerner BSc, Psychometric Tutor, Prepterminal Test Expert
7,576 students -

Hey, welcome to our actionable The TSA CBT Test page. I’m Michael, PrepTerminal’s TSA CBT Test in-house-expert. I am here to assist you with any queries you may have about the TSA CBT Test. Don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

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