PCO Exam

How to Prepare for PCO(Professional Careers Opportunity) Exam?

Last Updated on November 24, 2022

Are you aiming for a job in the Civil Service? If so, you need to do the Professional Careers Opportunity (PCO) exam. Passing this exam allows you to apply for a number of professional jobs.

The POC exam works along the same lines as the Public Administration Traineeship Transition test (PATT). Successfully completing one or both exams puts you in a position to apply for public service jobs.

The difference between the two systems is that the PATT test gives you access to a two-year internship from which you can progress to further public service jobs.

Notwithstanding that difference, both exams allow you to apply for stable, well-paying jobs with a range of benefits.

The purpose of both exams is to provide a pool of qualified clerical, secretarial, and administrative staff who can fill open positions in New York State.

This article will walk you through the PCO exam and what you have to do to ace it.

What Is The PCO Exam?

The PCO is a 2.5-hour exam where you have to complete multiple choice questions in:

  • Preparing written material
  • Interpreting and understanding written material
  • Working and interacting with others.

What Is The Format Of The PCO Exam?

Civil Service Exam NYC

In the 2.5-hour test, you will be assessed on the skills that are necessary for a job in the Civil Service. We explain the different sections of the exam below, as well as provide you with some sample questions.

Preparing Written Material

Presenting written information will constitute a lot of your work in the Civil Service.

This section of the test assesses your ability to present information clearly and accurately. You can expect to be tested on your ability to organize paragraphs.

You can, for example, be given passages where sentences are not in the correct order and asked to organize them so that information flows in a logical, easily understood fashion.

You can also be given information in two or three sentences followed by four restatements of the information. You have to decide which of the restatements is the correct one.

You can expect the questions to be demanding, not least because of the time restrictions of the test.
Practicing on sample papers will let you know what to expect in the test and hone your answering skills.

Try doing the following sample question.

Employers have prepared mandatory contracts stipulating this responsibility to guarantee that employees fulfill their legislative obligation and prevent the complete report’s possible leak.

Which one of the following would best replace ‘stipulating’ while maintaining the meaning of the passage?

A. Agreeing
B. Specifying
C. Promising
D. Pledging

Interpreting And Understanding Written Material

When working in the Civil Service, you will be required to deal with a lot of written documentation. This section of the test checks if you are capable of doing that.

You will be presented with a series of passages and asked to answer multiple-choice questions on them.

Time could be one of your biggest challenges here. With practice on sample papers, you will learn to extract answers more quickly.

To get an idea of how these questions work, try your hand at the following sample question. Try using the following tips while doing it.

Example question:

In the past few years, the government has turned to shock tactics to fight the battle against smoking and the burden smokers pose to the country’s economy—manifested in sick days and health issues. The latest anti-smoking campaign showed tumors growing from a cigarette. Needless to say, this advert was contentious.

On the one hand, the advert has become a viral sensation since its launch and has attracted plenty of attention to the subject. The government estimates approximately 300,000 people will attempt to quit smoking because of the campaign.

On the other hand, some argue that using a hard-hitting approach is not best because people become terrified. If someone thinks they might have cancer or a symptom of cancer, they’re likely to push it out of their mind.

Health experts claim the new campaign is ineffective in targeting all smokers and recommend using it alongside other measures.

The anti-smoking ad is funded by the Department of Health.

A. True
B. False
C. Cannot say


  • Read the questions before you read the passage. That should enable you to spot the answer more readily.
  • Remember you must use the material in the passage when answering. The topic of the passage is smoking, one on which many people have opinions. Your answer may not be based on extraneous points.
  • Answer C Cannot Say states there is insufficient information in the passage to come up with an answer.

Working And Interacting With Others

This can be one of the difficult sections, especially if this is to be your first job. Workplaces function best when colleagues are good at working together and when customer-facing staff is adept at dealing with the general public.

To work effectively in the Civil Service, you have to be able to maintain professional relationships with fellow workers while at the same time carrying out your work.

In the test, you will be presented with a series of scenarios that might occur in the course of the workday and asked to select how you might respond to them.

Try the following question to get an idea of how this section works.

Example question:

Each day at the office, David has a list of tasks he needs to finish by the end of that day. While he usually manages to finish his tasks on time, David sometimes finds that the day is nearly over and that he is unlikely to finish all of his tasks before heading home.

The best approach David could take is to:

David should try his best to finish what he can until the end of the day. He could always finish the rest of his tasks tomorrow.

David should talk to his manager tomorrow – and see if he can help him organize his tasks better.

David should ask another member of his team to complete some of the tasks.

David should take time each morning to plan and organize the tasks that should be completed during that day.


  • Carefully read through the scenario. Put yourself in the character’s position and check the responses available to him.
  • Look at each response and decide what impression it will give of you as a colleague. For example, if you choose response C, will that present you as the kind of colleague who expects workmates to pick up the slack for him/her?

Should I Prepare For The Exam?

Student is writing on a paper

It is essential to prepare for any pre-employment test. You will be in competition with a lot of other applicants and will have to score 70% on the test.

Your best approach to doing this is to use the services of a job test preparation company.

For this, we recommend Job Test Prep. With 30 years of experience in preparing applicants for pre-employment testing, they will provide you with the resources to ace the test. Using their services, you will be provided with a test prep pack containing the following:

  • All the information you need about the test
  • Sample practice papers modeled on the real tests
  • A scoring system to monitor your progress as you do the practice tests
  • Detailed explanations of questions and answers

Using their system, you will be able to undertake the real tests knowing that you are familiar with all aspects of the test.

Try your hand at the following free sample Situational Judgment Test. Note that the Situational Judgment Test (SJT) assesses how you interact with people.

Is The Exam Hard?

The exam in itself is doable. However, there are factors that add to the difficulty level:

  1. You will be in contention with many other candidates.
  2. You will have to work within a tight time scale – 2.5 hours may seem long, but you will have a lot of material to cover within that time span.

You may encounter a style of questioning that is new to you.

Study Tips

Solid preparation will greatly increase your chances of doing well in the NYS POC test.

To prepare effectively, try taking the following tips:

  1. Begin your preparation immediately after you decide to do the exam. Any last-minute scramble to get everything done will impact your accuracy in the real test.
  2. Work to a timetable, and ensure you leave the day before the test free for last-minute reviews and to get a rest. Doing the test when overtired will not allow you to perform at your best and will lead to careless mistakes.
  3. Work in short chunks of time. Try doing 50-minute preparation sessions followed by 10-minute breaks. Your brain will assimilate material more easily through working like this.

Use Your Sample Papers

Make your sample papers the backbone of your preparation.

This will ensure that:

  • You are becoming familiar with the style of questioning in the assessment.
  • You are learning to work within the time limitations of the test.
  • You can monitor your progress from test to test.
  • You quickly identify areas that you need to spend more time on.

If you have decided to do the NYS POC test, click here for the resources you need to ace it.

Written by Elizabeth O Mahony

With 25+ years’ experience as a teacher and state examinations corrector, Elizabeth now writes for the education and careers industry. Her experience preparing students for examinations and running an academy for supplementary education give her invaluable insights into what it takes for job seekers and graduates to succeed in assessments.

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