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TSA CBT Test Secrets Revealed

TSA CBT Test Secrets Revealed

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What Is the TSA CBT?

The Transport Security Administration Computer Based Test, or the TSA CBT, is a selection of tests designed to measure your:

The TSA was formed following the 9/11 attacks to help ensure the safety of traveling passengers in the US.

As such, there is a rigorous recruitment and screening process for anyone wanting to work for the TSA or be a TSO.

The TSA CBT is the first part of the recruitment process you need to pass to make it to the next stage.

The goal of the test is to find candidates with good English communication skills and that can quickly recognize dangerous objects through an X-ray.

What Is the TSA Test Format?

As suggested in the name, the test is computer-based and lasts two and a half hours. It is divided into five or six sections with breaks in between.

There are two tests:

  1. Writing Skills
  2. X-ray ORT

The writing skills section has between 50 and 60 questions, and you will be assessed on:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading comprehension

The X-ray ORT section consists of 100 images.

You need to decide whether those images have any dangerous objects or weapons, with only 15 seconds per image to decide.

All candidates have to take the TSA CBT at a TSA Test Center.

What Is On the TSA Writing Skills Assessment?

The writing skills test assessment is split into three sections:

  • Vocabulary
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Written Communication


The vocabulary section assesses your knowledge of synonyms and antonyms.

The question will ask you to either replace a word or correct a spelling mistake.

Example Question 1 – Synonym

"I only mentioned it then because it would be awful for him to find out later."

What is a suitable replacement for the word in bold?

a) Joyful
b) Wrathful
c) Unpleasant
d) Tedious

Answer: c)

Example Question 2 – Antonym

To detain a prisoner, there must be sufficient evidence.

Which word is the opposite to the one in bold?

a) Release
b) Hold
c) Imprison
d) Limit

Answer: a)

Example Question 3 – Vocabulary

The new staff rotas antagonized the workers even more.

What does the word in bold mean?

a) Cause someone to become hostile
b) Cause someone to become calm
c) Create a scene
d) Made people cry

Answer: a)

Reading Comprehension

In this section, you will be presented with a passage followed by a series of multiple-choice questions.

The questions are designed to measure your level of English.

Example Question

Fully electric cars have developed substantially since they were first introduced, making them more commercially viable.

For modern-day motorists, knowing that electric cars are better for the environment is an appealing reason to buy. But there is still doubt over the distance the car can travel with one charge.

At the moment, most electric cars can travel no more than 100 miles, with a small selection making 200.

Factor in that there is a national shortage of charging stations, and drivers today are still choosing fuel-powered vehicles._

Which sentence summarises the passage above?

a) No one likes electric cars
b) Electric car technology is getting worse, and they are decreasing in popularity.
c) Drivers today would prefer to buy an electric car, but practical factors such as travel distance and charging points are stopping them from buying.
d) Drivers are buying more electric cars simply because they are better for the environment.

Answer: c)

Written Communication

This section contains a variation of questions and assesses:

  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Verb conjugation
  • Paragraph organization
  • Sentence completion

Example Question 1 – Punctuation

Which sentence is punctuated correctly?

a) If you have a medical device tell the officers before screening
b) Those passengers with medical equipment need to undergo a separate screening process?
c) If you have any questions or concerns, please ask one of our TSA officers
d) If you do not want to go through the screening technology, you can opt for a pat-down by someone of the same gender

Answer: b)

Example Question 2 – Capitalization

Which of the following sentences is capitalized properly?

a) The Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs works closely with the TSA to ensure the correct message and information are delivered to the public.
b) The assistant secretary for public affairs works closely with the TSA to ensure the correct message and information are delivered to the public.
c) The assistant secretary for public affairs works closely with the TSA to ensure the correct message and information are delivered to the public.
d) The assistant secretary for Public Affairs works closely with the TSA to ensure the correct message and information are delivered to the public.

Answer: a)

Example Question 3 – Spelling

How many spelling mistakes are in this sentence?

Working as a TSO is rewarding as you know that everyday you are doing you’re part to keep America safe. No too days are the same and there is always something new to learn.

a) 0
b) 4
c) 5
d) 2

Answer: b)

Example Question 4 – Grammar

Working at the TSA can be rewarding and challenging. Your role is to keep travelers safe, but they are not always willing to cooperate. Some travelers do not understand the rules, some have never traveled, and others don’t want to part with any belongings.

What change can you make to improve the grammar of this passage?

a) Change ‘some’ to ‘the’
b) Change ‘and’ to ‘but’
c) Make no changes
d) Change ‘but’ to ‘and’

Answer: b)

Example Question 5 – Verb Conjugation

If she ever needed to go to the hospital, the doctors would give her all the help she...

a) Wants
b) Can get
c) Needed
d) Would want

Answer: c)

Example Question 6 – Paragraph Organization

1 – Passengers whose names are on the longer list of selectees are subjected to a more thorough screening before being allowed to board.
2 – At the final security checkpoint, all passengers are screened for prohibited items.
3 – The longer selectee list is widely criticized as being unconstitutional and ineffective following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt at detonating a plastic explosive stored in his underwear
4 – Passenger names are also compared against the No Fly List.

What is the correct way of organizing these sentences into a paragraph?

a) 1, 2, 3, 4
b) 4, 1, 3, 2
c) 2, 1, 4, 3
d) 3, 1, 2, 4

Answer: c)

Better Grades Guide – TSA CBT Test Secrets Revealed
Better Grades Guide – TSA CBT Test Secrets Revealed

Example Question 7 – Sentence Completion

Fill in the missing words:

Working at the TSA can be rewarding, but __. Your role is to keep travelers safe, but they are not always willing to ___.

a) challenging, cooperate
b) optimistic, learn
c) scary, listen
d) boring, obey

Answer: a)

What Is on the TSA X-ray ORT?

This section of the exam is divided into five sections, each around five minutes long.

In each section, you will see 18 X-ray images, and you have 15 seconds to decide if that piece of luggage contains a dangerous weapon or object.

Before the exam starts, you will be shown a series of dangerous objects/weapons and how they look under an X-ray. You will then have 30 seconds to memorize how they look and what color they appear.

The standard colors are:

  • Orange – Least dense and organic materials such as wood, oil, leather, flour, liquids, gels, rubber, yeast
  • Green – Glass, porcelain, ceramics, silicone, plastic, and aluminum
  • Blue – Dense materials such as steel, iron, batteries, gold, and silver
  • Black – Appears when an opaque material such as crystal is used to cover potentially dangerous objects

However, newer X-ray machines show more colors, making it easier to differentiate.

These colors are:

  • Brown – Helps differentiate between harmless slightly inorganic materials and military explosives
  • Orange – Can distinguish between drugs and fertilizers, and other organic materials
  • Yellow – Identifies glass only
  • Green – Helps identify IEDs and detonators
  • Blue – Detects heavy metals
  • Violet – Identifies precious metals such as gold and platinum

Some items on the TSA prohibited list are:

  • All firearms and parts of firearms
  • Ammunition and gun powder
  • Firearm replicas and toy guns
  • Compressed air guns
  • Rocket launchers
  • Pellet guns
  • Flare guns and flares
  • Starter pistols
  • BB guns
  • Cap guns
  • Industrial bolt and nail guns
  • Bolts
  • Crossbows, arrows and darts
  • Harpoons and spear guns
  • Gun lighters
  • Catapults
  • Captive bolt pistol
  • All knives, swords and sabers
  • Razors and razor blades
  • Scalpels
  • Scissors with blades over six centimeters
  • Machetes and axes
  • Any trade tools that could be a weapon – screwdriver, Swiss Army knife or pliers
  • Shuriken
  • Ice skates
  • Sports bats, sticks and clubs
  • Kayak paddles
  • Skateboards
  • Fishing rods
  • Martial arts tools

For examples of the type of images you might see click here.

How Is the TSA Test Scored?

Your TSA CBT test results are calculated by adding together all your correct answers.

You will then be placed into one of the following categories and emailed your results within minutes of finishing the test:

  • Best qualified – Most likely to be invited to the next round
  • Highly qualified – Invited to the next round if there is space
  • Qualified – Least likely to be invited to the next round

You are not marked down for incorrect answers.

Only around 30% of candidates pass the test. Those that do pass are called back for a second test to ensure their result was because of skill and not because of luck.

What Happens if You Fail the TSA CBT Test?

X will appear on your application dashboard if you fail the test or do not attend your scheduled time.

This will stop you from being able to apply for any other TSO openings for six months.

If you fail or miss your slot a second time, you will no longer be considered for any TSO roles.

What Makes the TSA Test Difficult?

The TSA CBT is difficult, and it is designed that way to ensure the best people are hired for the role.

For native English speakers, the most challenging part of the test is the X-ray OBT.

You have a very short timeframe, and some of the images aren’t as clear or as obvious. For example:

  • Some items may be overlapping or at odd angles
  • The range of colors can make it more difficult to identify items, especially when that object has multiple color combinations
  • Unless you know how the items look on an X-ray, some objects are nearly impossible to see
  • You may be looking for multiple objects such as weapons, drugs and electronics

For non-native speakers, you have the added pressure of having to prove your English proficiency on top of the X-ray images.

How to Pass the TSA CBT Test

Because of the difficulty of this test, practicing is essential.

If you fail the first time, you have to wait six months until you can apply again. If you fail a second time, then you are not allowed to reapply.

Also, the recruitment process for the TSA is anything from six months to two years, so you want to pass the first time with the highest possible score.

To help you pass the TSA CBT test:

Take Advantage of Practice Tests and Study Guides

There are plenty of resources available online for the TSA, with the TSA website itself offering free CBT practice tests.

Complete as many as you can so you become familiar with the question types.

Study guides are also useful for ensuring you revise all the essential subject areas.

Work Against the Clock

When you are comfortable with the subject areas and question types, start practicing against the clock.

This will be particularly useful for the X-ray ORT as you only have 15 seconds to find the items.

Learn the Color System and Prohibited Items

Having prior knowledge of the TSA prohibited items will help you identify what shouldn’t be in the luggage.

Most importantly, being confident with the color system will save a lot of time as you will instantly know what areas to assess first.

Develop Your English Language Skills

Before taking the test, try to develop your English by:

  • Expanding your vocabulary
  • Understanding synonyms and antonyms
  • Improving spelling and grammar

The TSA website has a helpful guide for developing these skills.

Use Test Strategies

The process of elimination is the most popular strategy for multiple-choice questions as it is so simple.

If the correct answer is not apparent, then eliminate those options that are not correct.

From the options you have left, decide which seems the most logical.

Take Advantage of Breaks

Time away from your screen or workstation, no matter how small, will help you reset before the next section.

Come to the Test Healthy

Ensure you are fully hydrated, well-rested and nourished before coming to the test.

Two and a half hours is a long time to concentrate.

Arriving fully rested and nourished will help concentration levels and response time.

Read the Question Properly

Before submitting the answer, check that you have read and understood the question correctly.

Do not skim read the question to save time.

Take a Guess

If you cannot find the answer and the process of elimination isn’t working, then guess.

You are not penalized for any wrong answers.

Final Thoughts

Sitting the TSA Computer Based Test can be stressful, especially if this is your dream job role.

Before sitting the test, take the time to practice all the subject areas and familiarize yourself with the X-ray images and how dangerous weapons look in various positions.

The TSA CBT passing score is not publicly disclosed, making it difficult to set a target. But it also has a low pass rate suggesting that preparation can make the difference.

Create a study schedule, stick to it, and you can pass your TSA CBT first time.