TSA Test 2021: Get X-Ray Prep, Study Guides & Free Practice

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What is the TSA test?

The Transportation Security Administration Test, often called TSA CBT Test, is used to assess your competency in 2 areas: X-ray object recognition and English skills.

On the object recognition test, you will have to look at X-ray images and determine whether or not there are any weapons or other dangerous objects in the image. On the English skills test, you will be tested on vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, and grammar.

The CBT test takes 2.5 hours and is divided into five sessions with breaks between them. There are 100 images in the object recognition section and 50-60 questions in the written section.

The test’s goal is to find the candidates that will ensure travelers' safety across the country. Along with good English skills they must also attain a great aptitude for quickly recognizing objects, such as Dangerous objects, such as knives, guns, or grenades, as well as harmless objects including electronics, phones, toys, or shoes.

The TSA X-ray test – everything you need to know

On the X-ray test, also known as the Object Recognition Test [ORT], you will inspect images of luggage. You will be asked to find various types of items buried in the luggage that have gone through the X-ray machine.

Here is an example of a scan - try to find the pen here:

tsa x ray
Here it is!


After identifying the target objects in the bag, decide whether to pass, alarm, or hold the bag. If the bag has no harmful items – pass it. If you find dangerous items like a grenade – you alarm it. And if you find a suspicious item that requires further screening – you hold it.

It may sound pretty simple, but the truth is that interpreting X-ray images can be more challenging than you would anticipate.

Is the TSA test difficult?

The TSA CBT test is considered hard. This is especially because of the X-ray object recognition test, which includes complex questions and a strict time limit. Let’s see exactly what are some difficulties that may arise.

Firstly, some questions are objectively hard.

  • The items might be overlapping or rotated in odd angles which makes them hard to recognize.
  • On black and white images, the items you are looking for are visible and easily found. But for colorful scans - understanding the X-ray color principles is complex. Especially when trying to recognize items that have multiple color combinations.
  • Some items just can’t be discerned, unless you know how they look on an X-ray in advance.


Secondly, there is a strict time limit. You will have only 15 seconds to look through the luggage and find objects such as weapons, bottles, drugs, or electronics.



And lastly – the CBT test is super long. It is an exhausting 2.5 hours, which makes it difficult to stay focused throughout the whole time.

TSA X-ray test sample questions

Rotated items sample question

Can you see a weapon here?

x ray


Answer and explanation:

There is a knife in the bag but it’s a 90 degrees angle. You can recognize it by the screws connect the blue blade to the handle.

x ray answer

Some items can appear at an angle that makes them almost impossible to recognize. To prepare yourself for those images you need to go over all the popular items and learn their shape from different angles. This kind of preparation is crucial to passing the exam.

In the TSA PrepPack™, you’ll get a guide that will show you the items in various directions along with practice questions as well.


Overlapping items sample question

Is there a grenade in this bag?

Answer and explanation:

In this question there is a grenade. When identifying an object that may be a grenade, look for the most prominent features of the grenade – the lever and safety pin. The grenade in this question is masked by a pot.

grenade answer

When the bag is cluttered, the objects can overlap, making it difficult to distinguish between them. The best approach for coping with these kinds of images is to look for the unique features of the target item. You basically need to become an expert in identifying the parts of a range of weaponry and other popular targets.

The TSA PrepPack™ will focus on a range of target items while providing you exclusive strategies.


Test yourself and get a feel for the exam! 


Unique items sample question

Is there a toy in this suitcase?

x ray
Answer and explanation:

Toy is a general term, and here there is a toy car. There are no specific ways of identifying this item other than knowing it in advance.

x ray answer

There are unique items that can’t be recognized by their color. That's because they can be made from different materials and thus have different densities. So, you need to learn to rely on their outline rather than memorizing their colors as they may change from one question to another.

In the TSA PrepPack™, you’ll find more accurate questions for this category that mimics the real exam. So you won’t encounter any surprises on your TSA test!


Color interpretation sample question

Scan this suitcase and decide whether:

  • There is a gun
  • There is a knife
  • There is no weapon
x ray
Answer & Explanation

In this question, there is a gun with a full magazine inserted. To recognize it you can use a few factors:

The handle of the bag is used to cover its barrel, which appears dark blue–black since it is metallic.

The grip appears blue and has bullets inside.

The cases of the bullets appear brighter than the tips.

x ray answer


Understanding the meaning of colors is extremely helpful in preparing for the X-ray test since it allows you to become familiar with the characteristics of the targeted objects.

The color indicates the density of the scanned items. The denser the material, the darker it will appear.

The meanings of the colors are as follows:


The color blue usually denotes hard materials including metal, hard plastics, and alloys. Any wires, batteries, sunglasses or guns, will show up on the blue/ black scale.


x ray


Green represents less dense plastics and alloys. Stones, ceramics, plastic, and toys may be colored green. The combination of plastic and metal will most likely be some kind of electronic device.

x ray


Represents the least dense material, which is mostly biological material. All organic objects such as wood, food, plants, powders, rubber products, and leather will show up as orange. It’s important to pay attention that drugs and explosives are often partly composed of organic materials, so they are classified as organic products as well.



It’s important to understand how to cope with all those pitfalls effectively. Practicing will help you gain the skills to solve the questions within the tight time limit, and with exhaustion.

In our PrepPack™ you’ll find 11 practice X-ray tests for popular items that will improve your ability to recognize targets on X-ray scans by their color. You’ll also learn how to classify items by various color combinations in seconds under pressure.


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So, after you got all these useful strategies to face the X-ray object recognition test, let’s move on to discuss the writing skills section.

What to expect on the TSA Writing Skills Assessment?

The TSA Writing Skills Assessment test has 50-60 multiple-choice questions given with strict time constraints. This section evaluates your proficiency level in English:


Reading Comprehension

The TSA-CBT writing skills test questions evaluates your speed-reading ability, general attention to details, and overall grasp of the language. Each question contains a short paragraph followed by multiple-choice questions.

The task itself is not very complicated, but you need to practice reading quickly to successfully answer each question correctly within approximately 90 seconds.


🕑 Let’s try to solve this question in under 90 seconds:

It's little wonder Russians are toasting oil: These are boom times. Global oil prices have increased tenfold since 1998, and Russia has pulled ahead of Saudi Arabia as the world's top crude oil producer. The Kremlin's budget now overflows with funds for new schools, roads, and national defense projects, and Moscow's nouveau riche are plunking down millions of dollars for mansion-scale "dachas."


The Russians now produce crude oil because:

  1. They just found it
  2. Prices are down
  3. Prices are up
  4. Growing demand
Answer & Explanation

The correct answer is (C).

According to the passage: "There's little wonder Russians are toasting oil: These are boom times. Global oil prices have increased tenfold since 1998." Russia has been producing oil as the prices rise.



Here, your vocabulary knowledge and spelling capabilities will be assessed. You will be given a word and asked to find its synonym or opposite word from several options.

To succeed in this section, you need to revise lists of common synonyms, antonyms (words having opposite meanings), homophones (words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings), and commonly misspelled words.


Try this question:

IMPERIOUS is the opposite of:

  2. MOODY
  4. QUIET
Check if you got it right:

The correct answer is (C) subservient.

Imperious means "domineering in a haughty manner; dictatorial; overbearing," so the antonym is subservient. Arrogant is a similar word but not a synonym. Quiet and stormy are not related. Therefore, the correct answer is subservient.


Written Communication

On those questions, you will be provided with a sentence and asked to fill in the blanks. The twist is that you will be provided with a list of word pairs. Some will be appropriate for the blanks but with spelling errors, while other pairs will not be correct at all.


Here is an example:

By ________ the fossil remains of animals, paleontologists can learn much about their ________.


  1. exxamining, apearence
  2. examining, appearance
  3. examinning, appearing
  4. examination, appearances
  5. None of these
See if you answered correctly:

The correct answer is (B).

By examining the fossil remains of animals, paleontologists can learn much about their appearance.


In the PrepPack™ you’ll find 47 tests with answers and detailed explanations necessary to increase the speed and accuracy of your reading and grammar skills. No matter how difficult the text on your exam may be and no matter how many unfamiliar, ambiguous words it contains, with our assistance, you will answer questions correctly, and get a high score on the English section as well.

TSA test results

After the calculation of your test score, you will be placed into one of 3 categories:

  • Best qualified - candidates in this category are the first to get a job offer.
  • Highly qualified – those in this category are chosen second after the ‘best qualified ’ candidates.
  • Qualified - Passed all selection criteria successfully, but will be picked only after those in the two higher categories fill up all available positions.

What is a good score for TSA?

If you got into the TSA CBT Test “best qualified” category, then you have done extremely well. Scoring high is extremely important because those who are placed in the best-qualified category have the highest chance of getting the job they want.

The other applicants might have to wait for a job offer for several months up to 2 years.

You may think you can just take the TSA test again, but that’s not possible. You can’t retake the test during the waiting period to improve your score.


How to score high on the TSA test?

To get a really high score, you must understand all question variants and also how to avoid all the traps that most candidates fall into.

We recommend putting in effort to ensure that you pass the test with the highest score you can achieve. Give yourself the competitive edge you need to get a job offer quickly.


Want to hear the best tips for solving the TSA CBT from our experts? Watch this short video:


Play Video preview image


If you want to learn more about the TSA scores visit our ultimate scoring guide.

Can you study for the TSA test?

The answer is absolutely yes. You can and should study before you take the TSA test. Our expert team made the TSA comprehensive PrepPack™ to give you the most accurate preparation materials. It will help you to polish your skills and pass the test with a high mark!

Here is what it includes:

  • A TSA study guide that will teach you all the tips and tricks to interpret the X-ray images easily. The detailed guide will help you understand the underlying techniques that are essential for succeeding on the test.

You will learn to interpret images of luggage that went through X-ray imaging: how to recognize different materials, identify threats, and eliminate distractions.

  • Practice questions that cover all the test topics. Each question comes with a step-by-step explanation to help you develop a solving strategy.
  • Timed tests, resembling the actual TSA test as closely as possible. It will help you get used to the demanding time constraints while reducing your anxiety. That way you’ll come to the test calm and ready to succeed.


Make sure you achieve a high grade and don’t wait in the ready pool!


What is the hiring process for TSA?

To get to the TSA CBT test, your first step is to apply to a position online. If your application is accepted, you will go through stages of screening to become a TSA agent, which includes:

  • The CBT test
  • Color vision test
  • Personal interview
  • Drug screening
  • Medical condition test
  • Background investigation (Criminal history will be subjected to a thorough investigation)

If you want to learn more about the TSA hiring process and understand exactly what happens in each stage visit our dedicated TSA hiring page.


What to do if I couldn’t answer the question within the time limit?

Your final TSA test score is based on the number of correct answers. There is no penalty for answering a question incorrectly. So, if you're not sure what is the correct answer is, and you are running out of time - take an educated guess. Leave no answer blank on the X-ray test nor the writing skills test.

Who can take the TSA CBT test?

Only US citizens who are at least eighteen years old and have a valid high school diploma or equivalent will take the TSA-CBT examination.

How Many People Pass the TSA test?

The object recognition test is the most difficult section of the exam, which only 30% of test-takers pass it. In certain cases, those who pass the exam will be asked to retake it to prove that they passed because of their visual and cognitive ability and not by chance.

What happens if I fail the TSA test [Transportation Security Administration]?

It is crucial to try and pass the TSA CBT test on the first try. If you fail the test, you must wait six months before applying for any TSO positions. After a second failed attempt, the TSA-CBT test cannot be taken again.

How much does a TSO make per hour?

A TSO paid approximately $17 per hour. It changes slightly between different airports.

What should I wear to my TSA CBT test?

You can dress “smart casual” for your TSA CBT test.
You need to look professional and presentable. However, there's no need to dress up. It's fine to wear a shirt and tie.

How long is the TSA hiring process?

The approval process takes about 2-3 weeks, but many applicants obtain approval in a matter of days and can check the status of their application online. Members will be notified of their eligibility status by TSA.

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