TSA – Transportation Security Administration Exam

Jobs at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have great benefits and therefore competition to be accepted is high. When applying for a position at the TSA you will have to complete the TSA exam. The exam is required for anyone wishing to become a manager, air marshal, inspector or security officer.

The TSA is a large organization with about 50,000 workers in 450 places across the USA. They are responsible for making sure all transportation services are safe including air, train, subway and more. Every day more than 2 million passengers are screened and checked by TSA officials. It’s not surprising that so many people want to work for the TSA. There are excellent benefits which include health, vision and dental care, a 401k, vacation days, 200% pay on holidays and more.

It is incredibly important to come prepared to the TSA exam and the entire recruiting process because of the intense competition. Here we will outline the exam and give you tips and tricks to get ready.

General Information

The TSA exam is a computer-based exam. In order to sit for the exam, you must be a U.S. citizen who is at least 18 years old. You must have a high school diploma.

The TSA exam is split into two parts:


Writing Skills Test- The writing test checks your English skills. The candidate much chooses an answer explaining how the sentence or paragraph needs to be corrected. The corrections are related to grammar, syntax, text organization and more.


X-Ray Test- The X-Ray test is considered to be harder than the English exam. This test is unique to this job and therefore the exam is unique to this position. The candidate will be shown pictures of luggage in an X-Ray machine and will then be instructed which objects to identify and after a quick glimpse at the screen, you must find the items. Examples of items to find are bottles, shoes, guns, electronics, etc. After looking at and trying to identify the object, you must decide to pass, alarm or hold the bag. These each has different meanings of course. Pass means that the bag is safe. Alarm means that there is a forbidden item and is a request for police help. Hold means that you have seen a forbidden item and means intervention of a TSO officer and often times further screening. It is critical to practice this section of the exam in order to be able to identify the objects quickly and correctly.

On both parts of the exam it is recommended to answer as many questions as possible and if you aren’t sure then to guess.

Do you Know How to Read an X-Ray?

Black and white x-rays are relatively easy to read and can show different items with ease.

When the image isn’t entirely clear, color x-rays may be used. The different colors show different densities of items. The denser an item is, it will be on the blue scale. Less dense items show up on the red scale.

Here is the color scale of items:
Blue/black- hard materials- metals, sunglasses, batteries, etc.
Green- less dense plastics, often electronic devices.
Orange- biological material, this also includes rubber, foods, liquids, gels. Drugs will also show up in the orange scale and therefore it is very important to be able to identify them correctly.
Red- less dense items. These items are made out of light materials such as paper.


Applying for a job at the TSA has multiple steps. These include:

  1. Computer exam (discussed here)- two parts. It is important to note that this is the first step in screening appropriate candidates. If you do not perform well on the computer exam, you will not be permitted to continue in the process.
  2. Vision exam (color)
  3. TSA Airport Assessment- interview
  4. Drug Screening
  5. Medical evaluation- vision, hearing and joint mobility exam
  6. Background check

If you pass all of these exams, you will be classified as one of these groups:

  1. Best Qualified- you will be able to choose which position you want
  2. Highly Qualified
  3. Qualified

If you fail the exam you will not be eligible for any job openings for six months. If you fail twice you will no longer be able to take the exam in order to qualify for a position. Even after you pass the exam the hiring process can take time and therefore it is important to do everything you can to pass the first time.

Being Prepared

It is possible and recommended to prepare for the TSA exams. You will learn the various types of questions and practice the X-Ray exam which can improve your results over time.

The TSA recommends preparing for the exam in the following way:

  • Taking full-length practice tests
  • Being prepared and knowing what to expect, question types, etc.
  • Talk to others who have taken the exam to see what helped them to prepare.


The TSA was formed in November 2001, after the events of September 11th. The main goal of the TSA is to prevent such terrorist attacks from occurring in the transportation system in the future.