The NSA Data Science Examination: Useful Info and Tips
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What is the NSA Data Science Examination?

The NSA Data Science Examination consists of three sections: Computer Science, Mathematical Foundations, and Statistics. The test includes forty-four multiple choice questions in total, which the candidate must complete within two hours. Candidates are not permitted to use calculators, only a pen and scratch paper.

The NSA Data Science exam is provided and administered by Pearson VUE, which is a leading contractor for various Federal agencies. For this reason, it is also sometimes called the Pearson VUE data science exam.

Let's examine each section of the test:

Computer Science

The Computer Science section of the Pearson VUE Data Science exam evaluates the candidate’s general computer science knowledge as it pertains to handling statistical data. As such, knowledge of any specific software is not required. (So-called pseudocode will be used for the questions).

This section includes questions that evaluate your ability to work with data from different tables, regular expressions, orders of operation and algorithm analysis.

Mathematical Foundations

Numerous aspects of the NSA’s mission have to do with mathematics. Whether it is the analysis of encrypted communications or metadata, certifying encryption algorithms, or other intelligence tasks, advanced knowledge of mathematics is a key part of all NSA activities.

Because data analysis is at the core of the NSA’s mission, you will be required to demonstrate knowledge of linear algebra and calculus. This will include questions on differentiation, integrals, linear equations and linear transformations, vector spaces, eigenvalues, and eigenvectors.

While it is called the ‘Mathematical Foundations’ section, it is generally considered particularly challenging. It is intended to help the agency find candidates who are not merely good at mathematics, but candidates who actively excel in it. Particularly, a strong understanding of linear algebra, number theory, and combinatorics is needed due to the agency’s focus on cryptography and cryptoanalysis.


Intelligence analysis is impossible without statistics. NSA analysts need to go through vast bodies of material, whether it is documents, phone call intercepts, or emails, and statistics form the main tool for them to sift information from the vast sea of documents they need to work with.

For instance, an increased volume of phone call traffic between several numbers that are being monitored, or the increased use of certain place names, may tip off agents to the threat of a terror attack or a potential crime.

For this reason, the exam covers some of the most important aspects of statistics: probability, correlation, regression, hypothesis testing and regressive statistics. It is not enough to just be passingly familiar with them – the NSA is looking for people who are high performers. Your NSA data science exam practice strategy must include more than just looking over your old textbooks – you really need to work for your success.

The NSA Matrix Test

Some NSA positions also require that candidates pass the Matrix test – a challenging, computer-based assessment that evaluates the candidate’s logic and abstract reasoning skills. Learn more about this test and try your hand at some practice questions on our NSA Matrix test page.

Visit our designated page to learn more about other NSA assessment tests.

Strategies for Success - Passing Your NSA Data Science Examination

NSA Data Science Exam practice consists of two things. On one hand, you should revise using your college or school mathematics, computer science, and statistics textbooks. The DSE will not include anything that you have not seen before in your education, and so revising your existing knowledge is a good start.

On the other hand, it is also important to practice for your exam by solving multiple-choice questions similar to the ones that appear in the real examination, ideally, with a timer or a stopwatch so that you can introduce a time management element to your training. In this way, you can practice in conditions that are as close as possible to the real exam.

After the exam, you might not necessarily be contacted or notified about your results. For this reason, it is useful to check your application’s page regularly to check if your exam results have arrived. Assuming you succeed, you will be asked to move on to the next stage of the NSA hiring process, typically the hiring authority’s final approval, followed a job offer from the National Security Agency.

About the NSA

The National Security Agency is among America’s leading intelligence agencies and is tasked with protecting the nation’s information and communications infrastructure, as well as gathering and processing intelligence information from around the world. Moreover, the NSA assists the US government in developing new encryption tools and works with the software industry to develop new industrial standards for encryption software.

By its nature, this role requires that the Agency constantly maintain a large force of trained and highly qualified agents and employees. NSA agents work as investigators, analysts, or researchers in highly technical fields, requiring them to have advanced levels of knowledge.

To ensure that its employees are qualified and ready to perform the challenging work that they are tasked to do, the NSA has them go through several challenging examinations – the NSA Psychological test, NSA Data Science Examination, or DSE, as well as other tests that may be relevant for your role in the organization.

What is Working at the NSA Like?

However, passing the challenging NSA assessments is well worth it. NSA employees are entitled to Federal employee health and life insurance benefits, retirement plan benefits, as well as the regular Federal government employee pay scale, which means your pay increases every year based on seniority.

The NSA as an agency is constantly at the forefront of issues such as cyberwarfare, intelligence monitoring, and national security. Because of the nature of the national security missions that the NSA is given, its agents and analysts work constantly in an intellectually challenging and fascinating environment.

For some, the research and national security work the agency does is a reward in itself, and for others, it is a career step towards jobs in industry or in government. But in either case, it is clear why the agency needs only the best candidates for these tasks.

To learn more, visit our main NSA assessment test page.

JobTestPrep is not affiliated in any way with the NSA. All trademarks mentioned on this page are the property of their respective trademark holders and none of the trademark holders are affiliated with JobTestPrep or this website.
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