Are you applying for a job with law enforcement? Whether it’s state, local, or a Sherriff’s Department, you’ll have to take a polygraph exam as part of the standard background check process. The polygraph is an essential part of your background check, and its purpose is to ensure you didn’t lie on your job application.
Undergoing a polygraph exam can be a nervous experience for many. The examiner connects you to instrumentation that measures your physiological data, such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, skin electrical activity, and sweat production. If your answers trigger the “fight-or-flight” response during the test, the examiner notices elevations in these vital signs, indicating deception.
They won’t hire you if you fail the polygraph exam, so it pays to prepare for the test. Part of proper preparation for the lie detector exam involves understanding the types of questions the examiner asks during the session.
We put together this post on the common questions the examiner asks during the polygraph exam to give you an idea of what to expect from the process.
The Types of Questions Involved in the Police Polygraph
Before we get to the questions, let’s talk about the types of questions the examiner asks during the polygraph session. The core of the lie detector test involves your response to the questions the examiner asks during the exam.
The structure of these questions represents the difference in polygraph methodologies used in these exams. There are four types of questions used in polygraph methodologies, and the examiner may ask a variation of them to create the framework for the exam.
The distinctions between the questions are important, with the CQT (Control Question Technique) being the most extensively researched due to its use in criminal investigations. The types of questions used for polygraph testing are “relevant questions,” “irrelevant questions,” “control questions,” and “concealed information” or “guilty knowledge” questions.
Relevant questions surround the topic under investigation, in this case, your background check. They encompass things like contact with foreign agents, theft, and drug use. They’re the most interesting to polygraph examiners.
Irrelevant and control questions are usually grouped together and used for comparison purposes to relevant questions. It’s important to note that the class of questions the examiner presents depends on its specific context of use.
So, it’s challenging to give examples of relevant or control questions because relevant questions may appear as control questions in different situations and times during the polygraph exam. Similarly, irrelevant questions may seem relevant, depending on your response.
Let’s look at the types of questions in detail before moving on to the list of common questions asked in the police polygraph exam.
Typically, relevant questions refer to questions directly relating to the background check and the information you provide on your job application. Police services can ask broad questions concerning your history of drug use, crimes, and other disqualifying criteria preventing your hiring.
It’s important to note that subjects aren’t expected to present physiological responses to them all when the examiner asks several relevant questions regarding different issues. The examiner presents pertinent questions that don’t create a physiological response as a type of control question after the fact.
So, relevant questions are those inquiring about your background. However, topics can cover a long period and be specific. It’s unclear what effect relevant questions have on polygraph exam results, and there’s little research into the issue.
Irrelevant and control questions are used for comparison purposes during the polygraph exam. As mentioned, no evidence exists of the exact physiological response created when we tell lies. However, the examiner looks for the elevation of vital signs made by the “fight-or-flight” response.
If the examiner only asked you relevant questions, they can’t establish a baseline response to evaluate when they think you’re telling the truth. We discussed how the polygraph exam could make people feel nervous. By using irrelevant questions during the lie detector test, the examiner can remove the possibility of creating a false positive due to you feeling anxious and creating a similar response to the fight-or-flight mode.
However, even when we include nonrelevant comparison questions, it’s required for the examiner to run several charts with the same questions, usually in a different order. This methodology ensures consistency in analyzing your reactions to the questions they ask during the lie detector test.
If the examiner doesn’t run several charts, they may interpret your responses to anxiety, physical movements, or surprise. Alternatively, using several charts theoretically might repeat the initial physiological response if the cause isn’t random.
So, the essence of the polygraph exam is the comparison of your responses to relevant and nonrelevant questions, labeled as control and irrelevant questions.
The examiner uses the control questions they ask you for comparison purposes. Essentially, if you’re being truthful during the lie detector test, the examiner becomes more interested in your reactions to the control questions rather than the relevant questions.
The examiner compares your responses to both relevant and control questions during the lie detector test. However, like the control questions, relevant questions can vary in type and breadth. One type of control question asked during the exam concerns what the examiner hypothesizes is the same issue under investigation during the lie detector test.
Subjects answering truthfully during the lie detector test are presumably more concerned about having done anything relating to the question the examiner asks. In other words, they don’t want to paint themselves into a corner because they might have done something similar in the past to the question asked by the examiner.
If you’re lying about your answer, you’ll also be concerned about the control question. Therefore, your response exhibits more physiological reactions to the relevant questions. There are several views about what distinguishes a relevant question from a control question.
One key distinction in control questions is whether the question is exclusive or exclusive. An inclusive control question relates specifically to your background check. Exclusive control questions will cover a period that’s not under investigation by the examiner and unrelated to the time frame relating to the inquiry.
There’s controversy over how far back the examiner goes with exclusive control questions and how they relate to you, considering it psychologically separate from incidents under investigation, thus making it an irrelevant question.
Since inconclusive control questions might include the act under investigation from your perspective, many polygraph examiners contend they’re actually relevant questions and cannot be used for comparison purposes.
Irrelevant questions serve purposes other than providing the examiner with a physiological baseline in your responses. Irrelevant questions asked among relevant questions usually give you a rest period to reduce the nervous system’s excitement, which prevents a false positive.
Concealed Information Questions
Unlike relevant and control questions, which ask if you’ve committed a crime or lied on your application, concealed information questions allow the examiner to detect information about incidents only guilty people have.
For instance, they might be questions relating to details of past behaviors considered illegal, such as drug use. Examiners assume that guilty people exhibit different physiological responses to the relevant information than to irrelevant details, but if you’re innocent, you’ll respond the same way to all questions.
Examples of The Relevant Questions Asked in the Police Polygraph
- How many jobs have you had?
- Have you ever been fired from a job?
- Have you ever been asked to resign from a job?
- Have you ever quit a job to avoid being fired for any reason?
- Have you ever lied to an employer?
- Have you ever stolen from an employer?
- Have you ever stolen merchandise over the value of $500 from an employer?
Armed Forces Service History
- Have you ever served in the Armed Forces?
- Have you ever been AWOL?
- Were you ever given a judicial punishment?
- Were you ever confined to the brig, guardhouse or stockade?
- Were you ever reduced in rank?
- Were you ever given a court martial or had any type of disciplinary action taken against you?
- Did you ever sell anything on the black market?
- Did you ever convert any government property to your own use or sell any property?
- Do you have a house, mortgage, or rent?
- Do you owe any school loans?
- Do you have any doctor or hospital bills?
- Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
- Have you ever had anything repossessed?
- Have you ever had unsatisfactory credit?
- Do you have any accounts past 30 days due?
- Do you hold any other state licenses?
- If yes, please list the following: state, license # and expiration.
- Have you ever had your license revoked or suspended?
- Have you ever received a warning or safety notification letter?
- How many citations have you received in the past year?
- Total number of citations you have ever received?
- How many accidents have you had in the past year?
- Total number of accidents you have ever been in?
- Were there any injuries?
- Have you ever operated any motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, drove recklessly, or driven while under suspension?
- Have you ever smoked marijuana?
- When was the first time you smoked marijuana?
- When was the last time you smoked marijuana?
- How many times have you smoked marijuana in the last twelve months?
- How many times have you smoked marijuana in your entire life?
- Have you ever injected, or had injected, any illegal drugs into your body?
- Have you ever used:
- Hashish? G. Uppers?
- Heroin? H. Downers?
- Acid/LSD? I. Crack?
- Cocaine? J. Quaalude?
- Speed? K. Hallucinogenic?
- Inhalants? J. Magic Mushrooms
- If yes, indicate number of usage’s and when last usage occurred:
- Have you ever misused or illegally used prescription drugs?
- Have you illegally used any of the following:
- Zanax F. Ritilan
- Percocet G. Percoden
- Dilaudid H. Oxycontine
- Oxycodine I. Methadone
- Valium J. Steroids
- Have you ever been present when any of the following were used, but you did not use them?
- Have you ever purchased marijuana or any other type of illegal or prescription drug not prescribed to you?
- Have you ever sold marijuana or any other type of illegal or prescription drug?
- Have you ever bought an illegal drug or a prescription drug for someone else?
- Have you ever grown, harvested, packaged, stored or transported any type of illegal drugs?
- When was the last time you used or possessed any illegal drug?
- Have you ever illegally started a fire?
- Have you ever intentionally set fire to anything?
Fish & Game
- Have you ever been convicted of a Fish and Game violation?
- Have you ever hunted or fished without a license?
- Have you ever night hunted illegally?
- Have you ever committed any fish and game violation?
Immoral & Illegal Activities
- Have you ever sexually fondled a child since you’ve been grown?
- Have you ever committed an indecent exposure or held the urge to do so?
- Have you ever accepted or given any money for the act of prostitution?
- Have you ever given someone a drug before engaging in sex with them?
- Have you ever forced someone to have sex with you, (rape)?
- Have you ever possessed or produced child pornography?
- Have you ever accessed child pornography on the Internet?
Criminal & Civil Record
- Are you presently involved in any litigation: criminal or civil?
- Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony?
- Have you ever been arrested or detained?
- Have you ever stolen any money from a place where you work(ed)?
- Have you ever stolen any property or merchandise form a place where you work(ed)?
- Have you ever been with someone when they stole something from a store?
- Have you, in the past five years, stolen anything from a store?
- Have you ever broken into a house or business not under your control?
- Have you ever engaged in any type of fraud over the Internet?
- What is the most serious crime in which you were involved?
- Have you been completely truthful on your application for employment and during the entire hiring process for the agency, you are currently seeking employment with?
- Have you accurately and truthfully completed this questionnaire?