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New prison officer online test: what you need to know

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Recruitment advice

Example screen shot from prison officer online test. A combination lock on a safe with 3 of the 5 numbers entered and a choice of numbers 1 to 8 for the remaining answers. In the top right corner of the screen the words "quit level" can be seen and in the bottom right is an illustration of a fingerprint a

From 1 July there will be a new stage added to the online tests to become a prison officer.

The current online recruitment tests check that you have the basic numeracy skills and behaviours expected of a prison officer. This new stage will also look at your personality, strengths and preferences.

Why the change?

As a prison officer you are responsible for the rehabilitation and safety of the people in your care, so it is important that our recruitment process helps us, and you, understand whether you are right for the role.

We recently reviewed our selection process and found that while this was testing your skills and behaviours really well, we did not find out much about you as a person. With the new stage of online testing we can look at areas of your personality that are hard to assess in other ways.

This, along with the other parts of the selection test, will help you gain a really good understanding of our expectations for the role, so that you can fully consider whether it is the right job for you.

What to expect from the online tests

Once you have submitted your online application and shown that you meet the minimum requirements, you will be invited to complete stage one of the online tests.

Stage one tests

Stage one involves two tests. Part one is a situational judgement test. You will be shown a scenario that you might face as a prison officer. You must use your judgement to decide on the most and least effective actions to take from a range of possible actions. This tests whether you have the behaviours we are looking for in a prison officer. You will have up to 20 minutes to answer 16 questions.

Part two is a numerical test, which tests your ability to do the sort of simple mathematical calculations you often have to complete when at work in a prison. This part will take you up to 15 minutes to answer 20 questions.

When you have completed both parts of the test, you will be told whether you have been successful in completing stage one. If you are successful, you will then be invited to complete stage two of the online tests.

New stage two tests

Example screenshot from prison officer recruitment test showing an illustration of a room with a balloon floating in the middle of it. In the background is a plant, a desk and chair and a blue board on the wall with post-it notes stuck on. A box in the bottom right corner of the image says "Exchange for $0.25".

The new stage two is an innovative and engaging game-based test. There is no right or wrong way to approach it – it is testing your natural strengths and preferences so we want you to give a natural response.

You’ll go through 9 levels which measure things like your resilience and emotional stability.

The tests can be taken on mobile, tablet or computer. And there is no need to worry, because you do not need to be a gamer to do well! Simply follow the instructions and react to the scenarios naturally. If you’ve never tried a game-based assessment before you can have a go on our practice test as many times as you like. You will be given your unique login information to both the practice test and the main test if you successfully pass stage one.

Stage two will usually take around 30-50 minutes to complete, but everyone is different and there is no time limit, so you can complete it at your own pace.

Once you’ve completed the full test, you’ll get emailed a feedback report showing your preferences, which we hope you’ll find interesting!

Example screenshot from prison officer online test showing a horizontal banner with three boxes and a lightbulb appearing in the far left box. Another smaller lightbulb appears in a box in the bottom left corner.

What happens if I’m successful?

If you are successful at stage 2, we will invite you to the Assessment & Recruitment Centre (ARC), to complete the final stage of selection. You can find out more about the ARC in this blog post.

If you do not pass the tests first time, you will need to wait 6 months before applying for any prison officer role. If you do decide to reapply after this time you will need to start a new application and sit both stage 1 and stage 2 of the online tests again.

Alternatively, why not have a look at the other careers available with us, such as operational support grade.

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  1. Comment by David posted on

    If you have applied to a prison and you are put on merit and have passed your RAD and still waiting,and you decided to apply for another prison but failed the online test.Does that affect the previous application.

    • Replies to David>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi David,

      Your previous application will not be affected, and you’ll continue to be on the merit list for that prison. If you do apply for another prison and don’t pass that online test you’ll need to wait 6 months before you can reapply for any other campaign.


  2. Comment by Lee posted on

    Hi, I have recently passed my ARC, I had applied for a Pass vacancy but been informed by email I have been placed on a merit list. How long can I expect to be waiting on the merit list before a position is offered? Thanks..

  3. Comment by hay posted on

    If your on reserve list does this mean within the 12 months you would be definitely called in for a position ? . And how long has it take others who was in this situation before being offered a job

  4. Comment by Brian James Connolly posted on

    I recently applied for a Prison Officer position.
    Halfway through completing the first part of my online application the internet crashed and when it came back on a message came up saying “submitted with errors”. I immediately rang the helpline (which was very expensive at £2.00 per minute) and explained the situation and I was told I would receive an email with a link to click on so I could start my application again. I never received the email, Instead I received a message saying “application withdrawn” so I again rang the helpline and this time I was told there was nothing they could do and I’d have to wait 6 months to reapply.

    I still tried to reapply (regardless of what I was told) as this is a job I REALLY want to do and I know I’d be good at, but after I had submitted it a message came up saying I have submitted more than one application and only my first one will be considered.

    Today the same position was advertised on the website but with a different date and reference number, so I applied again. I managed to get through every stage of the online process this time and a message came up at the end saying

    Dear Brian
    Thank you for completing stage 2 of the online tests. We are currently reviewing your application and will be in touch shortly to advise you on next steps.

    Then within 20 minutes it was followed by this email

    Dear Brian,
    Thank you for completing stage 2 of the online tests. Having carefully reviewed your results, we are sorry to inform you that we will not be taking your application any further on this occasion.
    Your test results are valid for 6 months. After this time, you may re-apply in response to an advert and take the online tests again.

    Can I ask why we have to 6 months to reapply?

    I confess I am not the best when it comes to computers, especially if I am being timed, but this does not make me a stupid person or an unworthy candidate. Just because I am not great on a computer does not mean I wouldn't make a good Prison Officer and I would’ve liked to have been given the opportunity to show this “in person” at an interview rather than at speed, online, on a computer.

    Making us “failures” wait 6 months to reapply feels like a punishment for failing rather than being encouraged to keep trying until we are successful.
    I really want to be a Prison Officer and I know I would be very good it, but being forced to wait 6 months to reapply means I am being prevented from succeeding.
    I don’t want to wait 6 months to reapply, I want to reapply immediately as I really want to be a Prison Officer.
    We live in a society where we are told about equality, tolerance, equal opportunities, mental health etc.
    I don’t think this system of making people who fail the online application wait half a year to reapply for a job they really want to do respects any of these values.

    • Replies to Brian James Connolly>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Brian,

      Sorry for the delay in responding, the recruitment team was looking into your query.

      Thank you for your feedback - I will pass it on to the relevant person.

      We do understand that it can be frustrating to wait but the reason for the 6-months period is to give applicants the time and space to brush up on their skills to help them successfully pass the next time they apply.

      You can read more about the online test in the above blog post -


  5. Comment by Ryan posted on

    Can I find out why i failed stage 2?

    • Replies to Ryan>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Ryan,

      Once you’ve completed the full test, you should have had an email with a feedback report. Please could you let me know if you’ve received this report?

      You can read more about the online test in the above blog post.


  6. Comment by David Grix posted on

    I recently failed my checks due to SSCL not obtaining a reference but the decision was overturned after appeal when I got one within 2 days. I then lost my conditional offer because the prison was told I had failed and have been placed back on the merit list. It's now 13 months since I originally applied. I was told I would be top of the list but would like to know if I can do anything like contact the prison I got the conditional offer from to see if I could still get a place? Thanks

    • Replies to David Grix>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your question.

      I believe SSCL has been in touch with you regarding the next steps of your application.

      Please do let me know if you have any more queries.


  7. Comment by Alana posted on

    Hi I am currently on day 3 of the stage 2 application online. The new final test on the mobile seems impossible I've have tried hours on end and still can not complete the last 2 digits. Does this mean I will not get through if not completed.
    Many thanks,

  8. Comment by Jane Alexandra posted on

    Having failed the online test as apparently my answers don’t reflect what sps values are. Could you explain to me baring in mind I am a current PCO within a private prison. That showing compassion, understanding , support and engaging with prisoners and management. Is not within SPS values. My answers fitted with your motto but obviously that motto is false.

    • Replies to Jane Alexandra>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Jane,

      Thank you for your query. I’m afraid HMPPS only operate in England and Wales as the Scottish Prison Service is run separately. You can find more information about the Scottish Prison Service here:


  9. Comment by Edward polius posted on

    Good afternoon. I going through the recruitment process. It's been nearly 12 weeks since my portal changed to. We'll be in contact shortly to discuss next steps. Can I assume this close to Christmas it'll be early next year now before I start?

    • Replies to Edward polius>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Edward.

      Due to the Christmas and New Year break ARC placements and start dates weren’t being offered. Please keep an eye on both your portal and emails as new dates will become available very soon.