Can You Pass This FBI Entrance Exam in 7 Minutes?

Torrance Grey

Image: South_agency/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a venerable place in the history of U.S. law enforcement. (And a few dark spots, many of them thanks to a guy named J. Edgar Hoover). The FBI also fascinates Hollywood -- a great many screenwriters have made FBI agents the protagonists of their crime thrillers. Often, these characters are troubled, with dark pasts. Other times, they're shining ideals, righteous and energetic, with untroubled consciences. And some even investigate the paranormal -- hey, everyone loves "The X-Files," even if we know there's no such subdivision at the FBI!

Speaking of "The X-Files," a side effect of Hollywood's interest in the FBI is that TV and movies have perpetuated some misperceptions about the Bureau and the work it does. You might have absorbed a few of these fallacious ideas. Oh, you don't think so? Well, we've created a quiz that'll gauge whether you know what it takes to get into the FBI, and about the training you'd do there, and the work after that. Of course, the FBI admission process includes a background check, a fitness exam and other practical steps we can't include here. But, like the written FBI exam, we'll test you with some logic puzzles and some ethical dilemmas. Then, to keep things fresh, we include questions about the history and the duties of the FBI. You'll have to know a lot to get through this quiz in a speedy seven minutes -- are you up to the challenge?

What does the "I" in FBI stand for?

We feel that knowing the full name of the agency you're applying to puts a solid foundation under your application!

True or false: You need law-enforcement experience to become an agent.

There are stringent criteria for becoming an agent. However, having served as a law-enforcement officer isn't one of them. Many people are surprised to learn this!

True or false: Once you're in the FBI, you will be required to maintain a healthy weight.

The Bureau sends a warning letter to agents who are reaching an unhealthy weight. Agents have given this warning the candid nickname of a "Fat Boy" or "Fat Girl" letter.

Which of these colorfully named facilities helps agents train for their physical-fitness exam?

The Yellow Brick Road is an obstacle course. You can see Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) running it in the opening-credits scene of "The Silence of the Lambs."

Which of these justifies entering a building without a warrant?

There are several exceptions to the search-warrant requirement. These include when evidence of a crime (e.g. drugs) are in plain view ( like from a window), there is an "emergency situation" (the building is on fire), or the resident simply agrees to let the agent come in and search.

An FBI agent would be least likely to take part in which of these?

Protection of candidates traditionally falls to the Secret Service. That said, there's a lot of cooperation between federal agencies. It wouldn't be unheard of for the FBI to help the Secret Service in investigating if a political candidate faced serious, credible threats of assassination.

Which of these languages might it be a benefit to speak?

Foreign-language fluency is always in demand at the Bureau. However, with all due respect to the resurgent language of Ireland, Gaelic is not a high-demand language. Arabic and Chinese are, because of the number of speakers globally and the importance of the Middle East and China in world affairs.

Which of these purchases would warrant investigation?

No-contract, pay-as-you-go phones are often called "burner phones" because they can be used anonymously just once, or a few times, and then discarded. Bulk purchases of such phones is sometimes a sign of terrorist activity.

True or false: The FBI is the nation's police force.

The FBI has different and broader duties than a local police force, including the work it does overseas. The idea that it's a national police force is just too simplistic.

Which of these questions should you probably answer "disagree" to?

It's great to be detail-oriented. But the FBI is a team culture, and is looking for people it might promote eventually to supervisory positions. A lone-wolf perfectionist is only cool in movies about the FBI, not the Bureau itself.

A forensic scientist specializing in bugs is a what?

If you found "arachnophobe" misleading, sorry, but you're wrong on two counts! Arachnids are spiders, which are not technically insects. And a "-phobe" is afraid of something, not a specialist in it.

In what decade did DNA analysis become a part of investigative work?

DNA analysis became common after a breakthrough made by Kary Mullis, who developed the procedure called "short tandem repeat" analysis. Not-so-fun fact: After winning the Nobel Prize, Mullis went off the rails, supporting AIDS denialism and astrology and claiming to have seen a glowing green raccoon in 1985. Good times!

True or false: DNA evidence is never wrong about a suspect's guilt or innocence.

It's true that DNA evidence is incredibly important. However, you can't rule out human error by a forensic scientist, nor corruption -- that is, deliberate tampering with samples.

A fellow agent, who clearly dislikes you, complains to your supervisor about a few occasions when you've been late to work. How do you handle this?

A surprising number of questions on the FBI exam (at least, the practice ones you can find online) are about office issues and what's known as "collegiality." Usually, one choice will stand out to you as the most mature and civilized option.

True or false: There is an old, traditional rivalry between the FBI and the CIA.

What we're getting at here is that because the FBI and the CIA are the two big agencies that most Americans (and many screenwriters) know, they are often portrayed as hostile to each other. But the work of these two organizations is rather different, and the idea of a "crosstown rivalry" is largely a fiction.

If a murderer dug a grave that's six feet long, three feet deep, and two feet wide, how much dirt is in the grave when he/she is finished?

When someone digs a hole, there's only air in it when they're done! This is a logic question disguised as a math problem. It's also the closest we could get to the FBI's "spatial reasoning" questions, which, on the actual exam, are accompanied by diagrams.

Which of these do you NOT have to know to join the FBI?

If you're lacking in the other three areas, you're highly unlikely to make it through the screening process. But the FBI is used to taking on gifted applicants who need to learn how to fire a gun and handle it safely. It's a "will train" skill.

True or false: FBI agents rarely have to fire their weapons.

Don't believe what you see in the movies and on TV. FBI work is investigative, heavy on surveillance, oral interviewing and evidence analysis -- not on shooting at suspected criminals.

You are exhausted after a long day at work when your elderly neighbor asks for a ride to the grocery store. What do you do?

This isn't an easy situation to deal with. However, number three is the option with the best balance of common sense and compassion.

In FBI lingo, what is a "legat"?

The name is short for "legal attache," and means an FBI office on foreign soil. These offices work on antiterrorism initiatives and provide aid and training to foreign law-enforcement agencies.

Can the FBI talk to your neighbors or former classmates as part of your background check?

Part of being accepted to the FBI is a rigorous background check. This includes interviewing people around you who can shed light on your character and behavior.

Which of these Constitutional amendments involves limitations on search and seizure?

Not all FBI agents have a background in law, but all must understand the Fourth Amendment and how it affects their work. In part, the amendment reads, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons ... against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." This vital rule comes into play in court cases to this day.

You're investigating the possibility of European cigarettes coming illegally (tax-free) into the port of Norfolk. Which agency are you most likely to call on for help?

In fact, it's more likely that Customs would call on you. They're the first to investigate crimes of international smuggling, and because of the United States's high taxes on cigarettes, smuggling of them is an ongoing problem.

Which of these, passed in 2001, made it easier for federal agents to obtain records and conduct surveillance?

The Patriot Act was inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, and signed into law just six weeks after them. It's one of the tools that has helped FBI agents do counterterrorism work, although some of its provisions have "sunsetted," or lapsed.

You are challenged to throw a ball as hard as you can and have it come back to you, even though there are no surfaces nearby for it to bounce off. Is this possible?

This is a classic logic question. You can resolve it one of two ways: throw the ball against the ground, or throw it directly up into the air.

Where is the FBI headquarters located?

The devil is in the details with this question. Though the FBI Academy is at Quantico, its overall headquarters are in D.C. -- close to other important offices of the federal government.

True or false: The courts have put a limit on the number of hours the interview of a suspect can last.

There's no legal limit on how long an agent can have a suspect in the interrogation room, asking questions. That said, the length and circumstances of an interview can lead to a defense attorney's challenge on information gathered in that interrogation.

You're interrogating a container ship's captain about a hijacking. He says that it took him two days to reach shore after being cast off in a life raft. About his ship, he sighs and says, sadly, "It could be anywhere by now." What conclusion do you reach?

No true sailor, much less a captain, would refer to a ship as "it." A ship is always "she." This is why you'd strongly suspect the man is an impostor. Again, this is a logic puzzle of the sort the written entrance exam uses.

A suspect who is lying will do which of the following?

Dishonesty is signaled by a number of small tics. Especially notable are hedging statements like "I think ...". This is part of a natural impulse to leave oneself an out in case of being caught in a lie.

If you are selected to join the FBI, you are joining a corps of about _______ agents.

The FBI employs more than 35,000 persons overall. More than 10,000 of these are agents. Despite that, recruitment is still a fairly selective process!

If accepted, how long will you be in training at the FBI Academy?

In earlier decades, the training process was about 16 weeks. This has been lengthened, reflecting complex new duties in counterterrorism and cybercrime.

What is Hogan's Alley?

In Hogan's Alley, agents run through scenarios like bank robberies, hostage situations and more. They use paintball guns or blank ammunition to avoid painful accidents, since live actors are sometimes part of the practice.

Instructions on how and when to use potentially deadly force are called the "______."

The term "rules of engagement" had a heyday in the early 1990s, after the fatal Ruby Ridge standoff and the Waco tragedy. There was a great deal of discussion about whether federal agents had followed the rules in these two situations.

What is the minimum age to enter the FBI?

This probably sounds old to a high-school student who is planning to join someday. But it sounds pretty young to the rest of us. Consider: You can join the FBI before you can rent a car in some states!

Is there a cutoff age after which you can't apply to the FBI?

The cutoff age is 37. Anything more than that, and the FBI doesn't believe you'll be working for the Bureau long enough to make it worth the time and resources they'll put into training you.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes