CHP officers work to keep California's roadways safe.
CHP officers work to keep California's roadways safe.

The only way to become a California Highway Patrol officer is to graduate from the CHP Academy in West Sacramento. You can apply to the academy if you are between 20 and 35 years old and have a high school diploma or GED, but you must pass a number of assessments to be admitted, including a written test, a background check, a psychological examination and various physical-fitness tests. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Entry-Level Law Enforcement Test Battery, known as PELLETB, evaluates reading and writing ability for all aspiring California police officers. A review of basic high-school English should prepare you to pass the exam.

Understanding the Exam Content

The PELLETB aims to ensure that CHP cadets can "read and understand written communications" and "write clearly, using correct grammar and spelling." If you have solid skills in these areas, you probably will test well. The exam consists of three components: the first tests writing ability, the second tests reading proficiency and the third tests reasoning skills. You must identify common grammar and punctuation errors on the writing test, and you will be tested for vocabulary use and spelling. For the reading component, you must answer questions based on a passage, and you will complete a fill-in-the-blank section where you determine the missing words in a passage. In the reasoning portion, you'll determine patterns and relationships in groups of information. A passing grade is determined by a bell curve of all test-takers' scores.

Assessing Your Skills

To begin preparing for the PELLETB, inventory your strengths and weaknesses in written communication. If you struggle with spelling or don't have a strong vocabulary, for example, focus on those areas. If English was easy for you in high school, you probably won't have to spend much time studying; if you've been out of school a while, brush up on language arts basics. Don't worry about needing professional writing and editing skills; the grammar and punctuation questions cover common errors, such as sentence fragments and misplaced modifiers, and the vocabulary section tests words you'd likely encounter in law enforcement.

Reviewing Test Prep Material

Even if you have confidence in your language skills, spend some time completing practice questions so you're familiar with the test format. The Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training provides a downloadable preparation guide that includes a short practice exam. There are also some independently published police exam study guides, such as Mometrix's "Police Exam Secrets Study Guide." The Police Link website recommends using other test-prep materials, too, such as ones created for the verbal section of the SAT, and the CHP's "Applicant Study Guide" suggests using high school language arts review books, especially if you need help with grammar and reading skills.

Deepening Your Skills

The skills tested on the PELLETB are acquired through years of education and consistent practice, so simply reading and writing often are the best ways to prepare. The CHP's "Applicant Study Guide" recommends that aspiring officers keep a personal journal to practice writing. Sgt. Betsy Bratner Smith, writing on the Police Link website, recommends choosing a good novel and writing about it as you read. By paying careful attention to language in the world around you, you'll naturally improve the communication skills needed as a police officer.