TSA Background Check

What Is Transport Security Administration (TSA) Background Check?

Last Updated on September 3, 2022

Travel used to be as simple as booking a flight, jumping aboard, and waiting for take-off. But then 9/11, with all its terrifying ramifications, happened, and the traveling public had to adjust to a range of security checks while governments attempted to control terrorism.

Possibly the only positive result of all of that was the increase in the number of jobs available in security and especially in the Transport Security Administration (TSA)

The TSA, like many other security organizations, has been increasing the number of employees on its roster in the ongoing efforts to make flying safe again.

So if your ambition is a job making the skies safer, then you may want to apply to the TSA.

But before you do, you need to know what is involved in getting that job as well as making sure you can pass all the requirements. One of these obstacles is a background check — we will cover exactly what it involves.

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What Is the TSA Recruitment Process?


The TSA recruitment process is long and demanding. From your initial application, which is done online, it can take up to a year or longer before a job offer is made.

Between the application and the job offer, you will undergo assessments and background checks. These are designed to test your suitability to work in a crucial role, protecting airlines and their passengers from any potential terrorism.

Your online application is followed by:

  • A computer-based test CBT
  • A job offer contingent on you passing security checks
  • Credit check
  • Airport Assessment
  • Medical, physical, and drugs checks
  • A background check

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What Is a Background Check?

The background checks will examine anything you may have done along the way that would preclude you from working in a high-level security position. 

Any evidence of criminal behavior or financial fraud in your past life may see that contingent offer withdrawn. The same applies to any evidence of drug taking or to any questionable associations you may have had with undesirables.

Naturally, when an organization is involved in ensuring security in uncertain times, it is paramount it should be able to trust the people working for it. However, there may be a little leeway if any misdemeanor you committed is some distance in the past.

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What Do the Background Checks Look At?

Acing the above tests will see you getting a conditional job offer. 

That offer depends on passing the health and background checks. You will have worked on your physical wellness when doing your test preparation. However, background checks can be demanding.

Your best course of action is to skim over your past history and determine if there is any block lurking there that might prohibit you from working for the TSA.

You will be checked on the following issues, some of which could see your efforts to join the TSA stopped in their tracks: 

  • A transportation security incident that caused loss of life or serious damage.
  • Any incident connected with the use of explosives.
  • Involvement with groups engaging in racketeering or financial corruption.
  • Money laundering and identity fraud.

Other offenses may delay your employment for a number of years:

  • Unlawful possession of weapons.
  • Giving or taking bribes.
  • Being an illegal immigrant will result in you being banned for 5-7 years.
  • Drugs. Any conviction for the use of or sale of drugs could seriously impact your employment opportunities. You can expect a drug test as part of the recruitment process and during your employment with the TSA. 
  • Sex-related and other violent crimes could also see you being disbarred.

If you have outstanding warrants for any of the above, you will also be in no-no territory.

If you fall into any of the above categories, you can of course appeal the TSA’s decision, but don’t expect to be very successful.

Even when you have passed all of the security checks, you will still have to go through checks when boarding flights to carry out your work.

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What Is the Format of the CBT?

The CBT is an online computer-based test. The test is taken at an assessment center and takes approximately 2.5 hours. 

The assessment is divided into two sections:

  • The TSA X-Ray test, an assessment of how competent you are in the use of radiology. Called an X-Ray Object Recognition Test ORT, you will have to work on 100 images.
  • An English test where you will have 50-60 questions.

X-Ray Test

In the X-Ray test, you will be given 100 images of luggage that has already been X-Rayed and will have to identify objects in the images.

This is considered the hardest part of the exercise. You are allowed 15 seconds to look at the luggage and identify forbidden goods such as weapons or drugs. Or you may be asked to identify the everyday objects people bring with them on their travels. 

When the test is done in color, it is even more difficult as you will find yourself working through an array of colors and some objects may have more than one color. And you will have to learn that the darker the color, the denser the object is likely to be.

Expect questions along the following lines:

Can you identify a weapon in the X-Ray image below?

The goods in the luggage may be presented at unusual angles and it is only by working with similar images that you will train your brain to identify objects quickly.

Now try the following question:

Is there a grenade in this bag?

As you can see from the above two questions, you will need to know your weaponry before undertaking this test.

This leaves you with two options, a trawl through your local gun store, which may or may not stock everything a terrorist might want to carry, or the more practical option of working on the sample papers in your test prep pack.

Working on the sample papers, you are guaranteed that:

  • You are working on papers modeled on the real test
  • Everything you do in your preparation is relevant
  • You are becoming familiar with the style of questioning
  • You are training yourself to work within the time limitations of the test
  • You can monitor your progress by checking your scores on each test you do

And most importantly, you are becoming familiar with the types of goods forbidden on flights.

But you may also need to identify other objects the law-abiding traveler carries in their luggage. Your test prep pack will carry images of everything from babies’ bottles to scissors.

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The English Assessment

Your test prep pack prepares you for the English assessment in the same manner as it prepares you for the Object Recognition Test.

In the English assessment, you can expect 50-60 multiple choice questions, all testing your English proficiency. You will be tested on:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Written Communication Test

Reading Comprehension 

In the reading comprehension test, you will be given short passages followed by multiple choice questions. 

You have approximately 90 seconds to answer each question. Work through the material quickly while at the same time showing attention to detail and the ability to extract relevant information quickly.

The content of the test is not especially difficult, but if reading is not one of your favorite activities, you will need to practice these exercises to hone your answering skills and to put yourself in a position to arrive at answers quickly.

Helpful hint: Try reading the questions before you read the passage. That should enable you to spot answers more readily.

Try doing the following question in 90 seconds.

> It’s little wonder Russians are toasting oil: These are boom times. Global oil prices have increased tenfold since 1998, and Russia has pulled ahead of Saudi Arabia as the world’s top crude oil producer. The Kremlin’s budget now overflows with funds for new schools, roads, and national defense projects, and Moscow’s nouveau riche are plunking down millions of dollars for mansion-scale “dachas.”

The Russians now produce crude oil because:

  1. They just found it
  2. Prices are down
  3. Prices are up
  4. Growing demand

Bear in mind that you can only use the material contained in the paragraph.

The Vocabulary Test 

This test assesses if your vocabulary is broad enough for the role you have applied for. Your spelling ability will also be assessed here.

You will be given a word and have to choose words with the same meaning or the opposite meaning from the list that comes with it. They may also want you to look at words that sound the same but have different meanings. 

Think along the lines of “There, their, they’re” or “Meet, meat,” all things you studied during your education. You may need to revise them again and do sample test papers to ensure you can do them under time pressure.

The Written Communication Test 

This section is a fill-in-the-blank style test. You will be given sentences with blanks and pairs of words from which you have to select the correct word to fill the blank.

To add to your confusion here, some of the replacement words given will have no relevance to the blanks, and you will have to make your decisions on the correct option quickly.

You could engage in a trawl through your old school readers, which would help but would consume a lot of time you don’t have. Instead, do the test prep pack sample tests where everything is at your fingertips.

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Are the Assessments Hard to Pass?

The Computer Based Tests are demanding in the same way that other pre-employment assessments are. 

The employer, in this case, the airport authorities and the government, seeks to employ the best of the applicants. As with any other secure government job, you can expect to be in contention with a great many other applicants for your coveted job.

Not alone will you have to pass the assessment, but you will have to outshine your fellow applicants to get that contingent job offer.

It is advisable to use a job test preparation company for this stage of recruitment. We recommend using Job Test Prep. With thirty years of experience in preparing applicants for pre-employment testing, they will provide you with accurate preparation materials.

And, of course, you have to be physically healthy. The Airport Assessment will see you attending an interview as well as having your vision checked.

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How Do I Prepare for the Assessments and Background Checks?

If you are worried about the background check and want to do well in the tests, get prepared. As the CBT is the first assessment you have to do, this is where you should start with your preparation.

A visit to the TSA website will outline the requirements to be a TSO Transport Security Officer. That information will show you the challenge you are facing in seeking to work for the TSA.

However, Job Test Prep has put together a test prep pack that covers all you need to ace the assessments and understand the checks. Coming complete with:

  • Helpful information about the assessments
  • Sample test papers modeled on the real tests
  • Detailed explanations for questions and answers
  • A method of checking your scores as you do the tests

The test prep pack gives you everything you need to face the tests with confidence. Using it, you will learn about the format of the tests and the style of questioning that lies ahead.

To get an idea of the types of sample papers they give, try a free sample verbal reasoning test.

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Preparation Tips

Good organization will ensure you are ready for the CBT. Try taking the following steps to manage your preparation:

  • Work to a timetable.
  • Ensure the day before the test is free to get a rest before the test. 2.5 hours doing a test is mentally and physically challenging, and you need to be fresh.
  • Use your sample papers in all your preparation sessions.
  • Pay attention to any mistakes you are making and deal with them immediately. 

While preparing for the test, take care of your health. This will ensure you perform at your optimum when doing the test. And don’t forget you will need to be physically fit for the health checks when you get through the computer testing.

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Take the First Step to a Rewarding Career

When free of any stains on your record, acing the CBT is your first step to a rewarding, well-paying career.

Doing the work and using your test prep pack will see you on your way to making life safer for the traveling public!

If a role with the TSA is your ambition, you will find all the resources you need to ace the pre-employment process here. 

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.