Q&A: Academic Failures in the Police Academy

Recently, I was contacted by Frank who wanted to know about any tips I had on passing the Police Academy. Frank said:

I saw your post on officer.com and it seemed to somewhat relate to what I’m going through to an extent. I was in the academy for about 3 months.

I was let go due to having 3 academic failures back in March.  I realized that i’m not a good test taker when it was too late. I was very depressed because I’ve been through so MUCH just to get in a police agency. Going back to 2014/2015 trying to get in with the United States Secret Service UD. Went through the whole process and didn’t get the job. So, my journey to get in Law Enforcement has been super rough. A few weeks ago, my class graduated from the academy and it crushed me. I’m not giving up, but it sucks that I have to start all over to get in somewhere smdh. What advice can you give me in regards to that? Thanks in advance. 

Through subsequent emails with Frank he admitted to being surprised at how difficult the academic portion of the academy was and just how much of it there was.  He expected a lot of high speed driving, shooting and defensive tactics. This is a common mistake people make when getting hired. They spend time trying to learn to shoot or focusing on things they think will be covered to prepare for the academy. In reality the physical skills make up a fairly small part of the academy.  It is MOSTLY academic.  Test taking and studying is critical.  I understand performance anxiety (Hold the quips please peanut gallery!), but a lot of those nerves subside somewhat when you know you are as prepared as you can be. Here are a few quick tips.

  1. Find out your learning style: Believe it or not, this isn’t hippy nonsense. Figure out how you learn best and then incorporate your top learning styles into your study routine. For example, I am primarily a visual learner followed by auditory. It helps me to write out what I am studying and then say it back to myself. I then have someone else quiz me so I have to say the answers. I then write it down again while repeating it. Sounds crazy, but it works. You can also record yourself saying the questions and answers and play it back while driving home from the academy. This will assist those audio learners. I will attach more on studying at a later date.
  2. Get lots of sleep: The academy can be very stressful and you are not given many chances before you are an academic washout. The impulse is to tell yourself…”I will sleep when I’m dead!” Don’t do this in an academy setting, because you will only be hurting yourself. I found I performed better on subjects that I found difficult if I just put it away and made sure I got some solid sleep and just woke up a little early to go over it the next morning before the test. Studies are clear that being tired reduces your cognitive functions worse than being drunk! Now…if someone would tell the idiots in the Army that. Twenty-four hour CQ Duty? What idiot dreamed that up??
  3. Stay away from Booze & Broads…or Boys: The temptation will be strong to go out for study sessions at bars and clubs during the academy. Don’t do it! Networking with your future peers is fine, and I encourage doing the dinner study and BS sessions, but don’t get caught up in sleeping with fellow classmates or going out drinking. Your academy staff will be waiting to pounce on even the slightest hint of unprofessional-ism and many a police hopeful has been bounced for after hour escapades. Also while you’re partying you aren’t….studying!
  4. Test Anxiety: This is a big one and will screw you every time. Unfortunately it is one I can understand since it is one I share. If I were able to provide concrete ways to get rid of test anxiety, I certainly wouldn’t be working in law enforcement.  There are a few things you can do. Namely…study your ass off! You will always be less anxious when you feel prepared over when you do not.  Don’t be afraid to ask for additional help from your classmates and or academy staff.  Most will gladly help you especially if they see you struggling, but putting in the effort. One mental trick I always use is to convince myself that if I pass by 1% it is good. Of course I would try my absolute best. Not because I cared about scoring the highest, but because I wanted as much wiggle room as I could get from a failing score!
  5. Teach a class: This is something I started when I was a supervisor in the Army and it works amazingly well! Get with a small group of classmates and assign a subject to each of you to give a class on. Make it something you feel uncertain about. Then give the class to each other after class or on weekends. The “students” need to make sure they actually ask questions that force the “teacher” to demonstrate their knowledge. You will never know something as well as you do when you have to teach it.

Without knowing more specific details about what Frank failed, I’m not able to give individual advice about potential things to study or courses of action to assure he passes next time. Depending on Frank’s strengths and weaknesses as well as prior training, education and experience, he may want to look into starting in corrections or even going through the reserve academy first. Law enforcement comes with it’s own culture and jargon and if you don’t have a background in the law or even the military, it can prove to be extremely overwhelming. There is however one thing that will NEVER hurt a law enforcement candidate. That is education. The better you write the more likely you are to pass the academy and it will absolutely help with FTO.

Do a self assessment. Do you write like it should be with a crayon? At one time I was a terrible writer (some would obviously argue I still am). I do write a good report though. Why? Is it because the Sergeant gives out candy or something? Nope. I spend a lot of time making sure my reports are complete and well written. It isn’t because I think I’m super cop. It’s because I’m LAZY. I hate going to court and therefore try to write as detailed of a report as possible. Because of this I have only gone to court probably 5 or 6 times in 10 years. Everyone else pleads out. The suspect(s) lawyer doesn’t even bother unless he/she is looking at a LOT of time. My first experience in court was on a murder trial.

Lots of agencies want education anyhow, because they know educated people tend to be more mature and well rounded.  Anything you can do to show you prepared for the job and the academy will help.


Author: Jaden Michael

Blogger, aspiring author and chronic smart-ass. Army veteran, former corrections officer, current law enforcement officer assigned to patrol.

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