For some people sitting exams might not be a particularly stressful event. However for many candidates however this will be the first time they have sat an examination for quite a few years. The exam room itself can be a daunting place. Recently the numbers sitting the National Investigators Exam have increased with the addition of investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Immigration Enforcement Officers (IE)

Whilst your mind might be focussed on revision and trying to remember the differences between sections 9(1)(a) and 9(1)(b) of the Theft Act 1968 you can also improve your chances of passing by giving some time to more general preparation.

This is also the point when, to make sure your weeks of hard work are not wasted,  you make your final preparations to attend the assessment itself.

All exams are run to strict rules. These are to ensure that there is consistency and fairness to all candidates who will be sitting papers all over the country. These are found in the National Investigators Examination Rules and Syllabus document which you will have been given on enrolment. This is really worth a read as it sets out important information about various aspects of the process. If you do not have a copy it can be downloaded from this link

The document also gives important information about various issues such as sitting the exam whilst on maternity leave, during suspension from duty to being posted abroad. There is also guidance about what to do if things go wrong such as unforeseen circumstances due to sickness.

The first and most fundamental piece of information is to make sure you have got the time, date and location correct. Your authors have long experience of invigilating exams albeit in a university setting and it is an all too common occurrence to see a flustered student trying to gain admittance to the room twenty minutes after the papers have been turned over.

The next important piece of preparation is to ensure that you are familiar with the location of the venue and you have sufficient time to get there. Whatever mode of transport you have settled on there can be delays. Better to have to while away some spare time in the canteen than to raise your blood pressure trying to find a car parking space at the training centre.

The guidance advises you to arrive at the examination room at specific times. In fact if you get there late you will not be allowed entry. The official guidance also says that if you are late you will be reported to Professional Standards! We did wonder if a tardy medical student would be reported to the General Medical Council? Probably not.  You also need to have your warrant card and examination notice with you for checking by the invigilators. We would find it difficult to believe any serving police officer or other professional would seek to introduce a ‘ringer’ to sit the examination but nonetheless precautions have to be in place. Also remember to sign the Declaration Notice you will be provided with otherwise your paper will not be marked.

You also will need to leave all your bags and papers away from the desks. Another thing to remember is that the plethora of electronic devices carried by students must also be switched off. Not only could a potential cheat download the whole of the NIE syllabus on a smartphone but ringtones and other beeps and alarms sounding during the exam will not endear you to your fellow students. We invigilated in a final exam at university when a student left his ‘phone switched on and in his bag at the back of an exam room where 180 people were sitting their paper. No-one was pleased to hear Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life’ blasting out several times during the first few minutes of the exam. When the embarrassed owner was asked to go and turn the device off he had to burrow under a significant pile of bags to even find the offending piece of kit. This didn’t do anything to improve his popularity.

Your paper, when you finally get to view it, will contain eighty multiple choice questions. Only seventy of these questions will actually count towards your score. The remaining ten are so called ‘validation questions’. All questions which find their way onto examination papers have undergone a rigorous quality assurance process to ensure that they are fit for purpose. The validation questions on your paper are a stage of that process by using then under actual examination conditions. Getting any of these ten questions right or wrong will have no effect on your overall score. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, you will have no way of telling which are validation questions and which are genuine or ‘core’ questions.

To obtain a pass in the examination you will need to correctly answer thirty nine of the seventy core questions (don’t dive for your calculator, we have done the sum for you. This equates to a pass mark just over 55%). If you get sixty questions right the NPIA will deem you ‘exceptional’ and give you a lolly (we made the lolly bit up, they will tell your force training manager).

If you have not sat a test paper involving multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) then it is worth some research about this format. First used by the American Military the attraction of MCQ’s to organisations is that they are a relatively cost effective way of putting large numbers of candidates through a selection procedure.

The disadvantage is that they are something of a blunt tool. The limitations of the format, almost always a question followed by four possible answers means that there is only a correct or an incorrect answer with nothing in between. Of course real life is rarely so monochrome. This is also a limitation to question setters as what they write has to be completely free of any potential ambiguity or misunderstanding.

One important aspect of the National Investigators Examination is that there is no mention anywhere of ‘negative marking’. This is a process used in some exam formats where marks are deducted for an incorrect answer. The rationale being to reward knowledge and discourage guessing. The effect of the absence of this feature is that there is absolutely no point in not entering an answer for every question even if you have no idea. It is, in racing parlance, a four to one shot that you will get a mark.

There is no national policy on the number of times a candidate is allowed to re-sit the paper. Many forces however do have a limit in place which increases the pressure on you to pass first time. Another good idea to help you prepare is to take sample papers. There are plenty of these about in various formats. Sancus have two on line options; one is a full 80 question mock paper and the other is a ‘quickfire’ test. Follow this link to find out more.

The results are promised just fourteen days after you sit the paper. Passing is only the completion of the first step towards becoming an investigator. The next phase is attendance at a course, usually based on a six week residential model. During this time you will work through investigative scenarios and the focus will be on assessing the rationale behind your decision making.  The level of accountability on investigators has risen steeply in recent years and will continue to do so. Often scrutiny will fall on the reasons a course of action was taken and what other options were considered. There will also be some intensive interview training during this course.

After that it is back to the workplace and the need to complete a portfolio of evidence. When you have done this you can finally, with justifiable pride call yourself a detective. We think this is the best job in the service…..but we are a bit biased. Good luck.

Graham Gooch and Mick Turner are former Detective Superintendents who went on to become university lecturers. They have written extensively about exam preparation for the National Investigators’ Examination.

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