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Understanding the exam process


The San Francisco Civil Service Rules establish an examination process for ensuring that every applicant for a PCS Position is given a fair opportunity, and that jobs are offered based on a candidate's merit. The City accomplishes this goal through conducting Civil Service Exams. While some exams do fit the initial idea of sitting down with a pencil and a bubblesheet, not every position or exam does, some utilize oral interviews, essay questions, or a complex scoring of your training and experience. In any case, the result is the same, everyone who applies and is qualified will be given a score, if you pass, your name will be places on an eligible list, and you may be referred to the hiring department for further consideration, and possible to be hired.

Applying to take a Civil Service Exam

When you apply for a civil service exam, you are applying for an open position or to be considered for a future open position. We are required to review your application with a great deal of scrutiny and in a uniform way. You must show in your application that you meet the minimum qualifications that are outlined in the job ad. We can't take a lot of liberty in analyzing your relevant experience, so its important for you to be very direct in describing your position and title.

It is also important to note that, if you are offered a position, we will be required to verify all of the experience that you list by contacting your previous employers and reviewing educational credentials.

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Exam Components

Civil services assessments may include anywhere from one to three components that will be combined in a weighted average. Details on the components and their weights is included in each job ad. The list below is not an exhaustive list, but just to give you an idea of some of the assessment types that you may see:

  • Supplemental questionnaire - This type of assessment may take a couple of forms, but will always involve a complete-at-home questionnaire. You may be asked questions about your experience, asked to answer essay questions, or to provide a writing sample.
  • Online on-demand assessment - The City is moving to on-demand testing to make the assessment process more convenient for you. Assessments may be only a few questions or may be as long as a three hours. The good news is that you can take the assessment when you are ready and in the comfort of your own home. Typically, you will receive the assessment via email and will have about a week to complete it. Be sure to read the instructions carefully to see if you need to complete it in one sitting or if you can take a break.
  • Oral panel - An oral panel is essentially a structured interview. This may be in-person or virtual, but you will meet with several panelists (or possibly recorded for panelist review). You will be asked the same questions as each other candidate. The panelists may not ask follow-up questions, so it is important to be as clear with your responses as possible. Your answers will be scored across a pre-set rubric that includes target responses.
  • Practical - Often used for trade and safety sensitive positions, the practical assessment is an in-person assessment that will require you to actively complete an activity that is typical of the role. Your technique and knowledge of safe execution will be scored by a panel of subject-matter-experts based on a rubric.
  • In-person - Some assessments are still delivered in-person. These assessments may be computer-based or paper-and-pencil and will be delivered in our testing center or at a large location (for bigger assessments).


You will receive a raw score for each of your exam components. This score may be on any scale (e.g. 1 to 5, Out of 100, or Out of 300). When we process the components we will standardize your scores on a 700 to 1,000 point scale. We will then add on any score modifiers such as veterans preference points that you may be due, which could bring your score above 1,000.

Score modeling

We will use one of three models to standardize your score. These models are set based on the job class and will not change from recruitment to recruitment.

  • Straight-line conversion - The most common standardization model is the straight-line conversion that uses simple arithmetic to weight and convert your component scores into one 700-1,000 point score. This is used for all non-continuous or public-safety jobs.
  • Curved conversion - The curved conversion is used on non-continuous public-safety jobs. We will calculate your standardized score, taking into account the standard deviation of the entire pool of candidates to create a statistically broad range of ranks.
  • Continuous conversion - The continuous conversion uses the same process as the curved conversion with the added step of grouping similar scores into single ranks, known as bands.