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

Are you aiming for an entry-level professional job in the civil service? If so, you need to take the Professional Careers Opportunities exam, more commonly known as PCO. Civil service job seekers need to pass the PCO exam to qualify for work.

The POC examination 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 the New York State government.

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

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What Is the Professional Career Opportunities Exam?

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

  • Preparing written material (written communication skills)
  • Interpreting and understanding written material (reading comprehension skills)
  • Working and interacting with others (public relations and collaboration skills)

What Is the Format of the PCO Examination?

Civil Service Exam NYC

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

Preparing Written Material

Your work Civil Service will require you to be good at written communication.

This section of the PCO examination assesses your ability to present information clearly and accurately. You can expect to be tested on your ability to organize paragraphs. For example, you will have to organize sentences in passages in the correct order so that they clear and coherent.

In some cases, you will encounter two or three sentences followed by four restatements of the information. You have to decide which of the restatements is the correct one.

Since this prepares you for great career opportunities like a job in state agencies, you can expect the PCO exam to be demanding. 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.

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

Aside from being good at written communication, it is also essential that you have good reading comprehension skills when working in the Civil Service. This section of the Professional Career Opportunities exam checks if you have that skill.

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.

Sample 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 of the PCO exam, 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. Remember, regardless if it is an entry level professional job or one that requires a lot of work experience, being able to build proper professional relationships.

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:

A. 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.

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

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

D. 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?

How Do I Prepare for the PCO Examination?

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Human Resources of state agencies hold the PCO exam to make sure that the best among all job seekers have the necessary knowledge and skills to manage their full responsibilities as civil service workers. They do not simply want positions filled. They want people that can competently do essential duties.

As such, it is essential to prepare for any pre-employment test. Remember, you will be in tough competition with a lot of other applicants that will take the PCO examination. What’s more challenging is that you 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. They will likely offer a PCO practice test that was created by experts.

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 PCO examination knowing that you are familiar with all aspects of the actual test.

READ: Benefits of Practice Tests

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 PCO Exam Hard?

The PCO exam in itself is challenging but doable. There are factors that add to the difficulty level of the Professional Career Opportunities Exam:

  1. You will be in contention with many other candidates.
  2. You will have to work within a tight time scale. While2.5 hours may seem long,  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 for the Professional Career Opportunities Exam

Solid preparation will greatly increase your chances of doing well in the NYS PCO 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 PCO test, click here for the resources you need to ace it.

What Are the Minimum Qualifications of PCO Examination?

The minimum qualifications for the Professional Career Opportunities (PCO) Exam may vary depending on the state agencies conducting the exam. For instance, the New York State government requires civil service job seekers to have a bachelor’s degree.

This means that to be eligible for the PCO exam, candidates must have at least a four-year degree from an accredited institution.

Applying to Take the Professional Career Opportunities Exam

To apply for the PCO examination, job seekers need to complete the online application.

After the online application, applicants will have to take the PCO Skills Inventory test. This exam sees if they are fit to get select job titles in civil service. The PCO Skills Inventory employs an online questionnaire about the education, training, and work experience of job seekers.

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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