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2011 PMF Assessment Preparation: Open Thread

The PMF application period for 2011 is closed, although schools still have until October 31 to send in nomination forms. As of 10/22/2010, over 9100 applications had been received (not all of these will turn into nominations). That’s a 4.5% increase over last year’s figures (8700).

Now that the application period has closed, it’s open season for assessment preparation. I am intending that this article be used to gather materials and resources to help people prepare for the assessment process.

This year’s program brings with it some adjustments to the assessment process. In prior years, the assessment was a one-step process consisting of a proctored exam with three sections: 1) Critical Thinking (like a logic test), 2) Life Experience, and 3) Writing (wherein the tester is given some passages to revise and some grammar questions). This year, the assessment apparently has been broken up into two phases, an online (unproctored) exam and an in-person interview phase (though I need some confirmation of this). Further, online assessment has been altered to a new format and now consists of the following parts (described more fully below): 1) Situational Judgment, 2) Life Experience, and 3) Writing Sample. The combination of these changes represents a larger shift in methodology for the PMF program, at least in my short history with it. I will leave it to my audience to speculate on the impact of these changes to the rigor and prestige of the program, as well as its ability to meet some stated goals (diversity, namely). First let’s look at what the assessment restructuring looks like. Since I don’t have any additional information yet, I am drawing this from the contents of the PMF Program Office’s latest preparation guide.

  • Situational Judgment: These questions pose scenarios drawn from real-life situations that a PMF may encounter on the job and asks the tester to select a response from the given choices. The response is supposed to be what the tester would actually do in the given scenario, not what he/she thinks the right answer should be. The preparation guide gives some sample questions that presumably prepare one for the kinds of things that appear on the actual test. No special knowledge is needed to succeed on this portion.
  • Life Experience: This is not different from the same portion in previous years. Like the previous section, there is not really a set of right or wrong answers, so you are encouraged to be honest about your experiences here. Again the sample questions provide an indication of what to expect.
  • Writing Sample: The final section is the writing sample. This has not appeared in the last few assessment cycles, so I couldn’t say whether or not it’s ever been included. Instead of presenting the tester with passages in need of correction, this year testers are expected to write on a given topic. The writing sample assessment concentrates on written communication skills; consequently, testers will be judged on clarity of writing, coherence and organization of ideas, and proper use of grammar. As far as I can tell, the actual content is not graded (I could be wrong).

The second phase consists of in-person interviews, presumably for those who have achieved some minimum score. I need confirmation of this, so if you can point to any information on it, let me know. Until I have such confirmation, everything I write about the interview is highly speculative. Also, having never been through this particular interview, I could only guess at its structure. It has analogs in other programs (United Nations National Competitive Recruitment Exam and the Foreign Service Officer Test come to mind), but I simply don’t know enough about the PMF version to provide meaningful advice.

Since the format is greatly altered this year, materials that were helpful in previous years may have limited utility this year. Specifically, the shift from the Critical Thinking assessment to the Situational Judgment assessment means that guides like the DHS Manual of Job Related Thinking Skills is probably no longer suitable. Does anyone know of other exams that have sections comparable to the Situational Judgment assessment? Any other materials you’d like to share? Comments are always welcome.

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PMF Fellow

Thanks, Dalton.

I agree, the new format does look incredibly subjective. OPM does employ Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, however, and one of their specialties is employee assessment. So perhaps they also have tools to determine best fit.

Out of last year’s 8700+ applicants, 880 ultimately were selected as finalists.


I think what’s tough with these big tests is if they get too objective (like just 1 to 100 score on multiple choice) that is kind of lame. And gets into issues about questions – like a lot of city firefighter tests which have been sued and people wonder if taking a test makes you a good firefighter.

But the subjectivity is also worrisome….but I’d probably argue that most of the programs like this in private sector (GE leadership programs, Big 4 accounting firms, big banks) use a pretty similar approach

Jo Snelling

Excellent suggestions – I am thankful for the specifics ! Does anyone know where my assistant would be able to get access to a fillable KS DoR K-19 example to work with ?