When it comes to screening individuals for high-security positions, the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) agency is one of the many organizations that rely on polygraph testing. This test has been used for many years as a method of detecting deception and ensuring that individuals are suitable for the position they’re applying for.

a polygraph test administered to a subject by an investigator.

The CBP began using the polygraph test as part of its pre-employment screening process in the 1980s. The initial adoption of the test was largely driven by the perceived need to enhance national security by rooting out potential individuals who could pose a threat to the United States.

Since then, the CBP Polygraph Test has gone through several changes, including modifications to the test itself, the scoring system, and the training of examiners.

This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive overview of the CBP polygraph test, its format, and its purpose. You’ll learn what to expect during the test, what types of questions may be asked, and how the test is scored. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of what to expect during the CBP polygraph test and how to increase your chances of success.


What is the CBP polygraph test?

The CBP hiring process is highly competitive, and the agency places a premium on ensuring that its employees are trustworthy and have the ability to make sound decisions under pressure. The polygraph test is a pre-employment tool used to assess an applicant’s suitability for a variety of positions, including border patrol agents, customs and border protection officers, and air and marine interdiction agents. It is primarily designed to detect deception by measuring physiological responses to specific questions, such as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing patterns.

A trained examiner will ask you a series of questions, some of which may be personal or sensitive in nature, and will be looking for changes in your physiological responses that may indicate deception.

The CBP polygraph test typically lasts between two and four hours and is divided into three parts. The first part involves a pre-test interview, in which the examiner will ask you about your background and the position you’re applying for. The second part is the actual test, during which you will be hooked up to the polygraph machine and asked a series of questions. The third part is the post-test interview, during which the examiner will review your results with you.

It’s important to note that the CBP Polygraph Test is not a standalone tool for assessing an applicant’s suitability for a high-security position. The test is just one part of a larger screening process that may include a background check, drug test, medical exam, and other assessments.


The importance of the test for CBP applicants

One of the primary reasons why the CBP polygraph test is so important is because of the nature of the job. CBP officers are responsible for protecting the United States from various threats. These positions require a high level of trust, and the CBP needs to ensure that its officers are honest, reliable, and capable of handling the job.

Research has shown that the polygraph test is an effective tool for detecting deception in individuals. In fact, a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that, when used properly, the polygraph test is accurate at a rate of 80% to 90%. This means that the CBP can have a high level of confidence in the results of the test.


Types of CBP polygraph questions with examples

a lie detector test administered to a woman by an investigator.

One type of question you may encounter is called a “control question.” These questions are designed to establish a baseline for your physiological responses. Control questions may be something like, “Have you ever lied to get out of trouble?” or “Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you?” These questions are meant to be somewhat ambiguous, and most people have probably done something similar in their lives. The idea is that your body’s response to these questions will be similar to your response to other questions, so the examiner can tell when you are lying or telling the truth.

Another type of question is called a “relevant question.” These are the questions that are directly related to the matter being investigated. For example, if you are applying for a job as a border patrol agent, you may be asked questions like, “Have you ever knowingly hired an illegal immigrant?” or “Have you ever smuggled drugs across the border?” These questions are more specific than control questions and are meant to determine if you have any relevant knowledge or experience that might make you a risk to national security.

Finally, you may encounter “irrelevant questions.” These are questions that are not related to the matter being investigated but are included to also establish a baseline for your physiological responses. Irrelevant questions may be something like, “Is today Tuesday?” or “Do you have a dog?” These questions are meant to be easy to answer truthfully and to give the examiner a sense of what your physiological responses look like when you are telling the truth.

Question topics typically include:

  1. Questions about personal history, such as employment history and drug use.
  2. Questions about criminal activity, such as theft or fraud.
  3. Questions about associations with foreign nationals or organizations.
  4. Questions about previous involvement with law enforcement or security agencies.


It’s important to note that the questions you will be asked during the CBP polygraph will vary depending on the job you are applying for and the specific matter being investigated. The examples given here are just meant to provide a general idea of the types of questions you may encounter. It’s also worth noting that the examiner will likely ask follow-up questions to clarify your responses.


Duration of the test

The duration of the test can vary depending on the type of position being applied for and the complexity of the questions being asked. Typically, a polygraph exam for a CBP applicant can take anywhere from 2-4 hours, but it’s important to note that some exams may last longer.

The actual polygraph test can take between 60 and 90 minutes to complete, although the examiner might ask a series of questions multiple times to ensure accuracy and that the results are consistent. In addition, the examiner may need to clarify or follow up on certain answers, which can extend the duration of the exam.


How to prepare for the CBP polygraph

While the examiner watches the screen, a polygraph examinee is attached to the device.

1. Get plenty of rest the night before

The night before your polygraph, make sure you get plenty of rest. A well-rested mind and body can help you stay focused and calm during the test.

2. Follow instructions carefully

Make sure you understand the instructions before the test begins, and follow them carefully. The polygraph examiner will likely go over the instructions with you beforehand, but don’t be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear.

3. Relax prior to the exam day

The polygraph can be a stressful experience, so it’s a good idea to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation in the days leading up to the test. These techniques can help you stay calm and focused and reduce anxiety.

4. Review the job requirements and your application

Before the test, review the job requirements and your application to make sure you understand the expectations of the position and have a clear understanding of your own qualifications. This can help you feel more confident and prepared during the test.

5. Be honest about any concerns or issues

If you have any concerns or issues that you think may come up during the polygraph, be honest about them with the examiner. This can help you address any potential issues before the test begins and may help put your mind at ease.


Common mistakes to avoid

There are certain typical mistakes that people make that can have a negative impact on their results. Here are some things to avoid:

  1. Not telling the truth: This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that lying during the test is the surest way to fail it. Trying to deceive the examiner in any way is likely to be detected by the machine and will be viewed as a major red flag.
  2. Overthinking the questions: It’s natural to feel nervous during a polygraph test, but overthinking the questions can lead to inconsistent or confusing answers. Instead, try to focus on the specific question being asked and give an honest answer based on what you know.
  3. Focusing too much on physiological responses: While it’s true that physiological responses such as heart rate and breathing can be indicators of deception, they can also be influenced by other factors such as anxiety or stress. Focusing too much on trying to control these responses can actually make them more noticeable to the examiner.
  4. Not disclosing relevant information: One of the goals of the polygraph test is to uncover any relevant information that the applicant may not have disclosed during the background investigation. Failing to mention any relevant information can raise suspicions, and even result in disqualification from the application process.
  5. Not taking the test seriously: While it’s important not to overthink the questions or become too nervous, it’s also important to take the test seriously and give it your full attention. Treating the test casually or making jokes during the examination can be seen as a lack of respect for the process and could also raise concerns.


Tips for passing the CBP polygraph


What Is the CBP Polygraph Test Pass Rate?

The passing rate for the CBP polygraph test can vary depending on the time period and location where the test is administered. According to a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, the overall passing rate for the CBP polygraph test in fiscal year 2016 was 60%. However, it can differ between the various CBP sectors, with some sectors having a higher rate than others.


Can you retake the CBP polygraph if you fail?

A hand pointing to a lie detector graph on a computer screen

If you fail the CBP polygraph, you may be given the opportunity to retake the test. However, the decision to allow a retake ultimately rests with the CBP. The specific policies and procedures for retaking the exam may vary by location and situation.

In general, you will need to wait a certain amount of time before you are eligible for a retake. The length of time can vary, but it is typically at least a few months. During this time, it is recommended that you undergo additional counseling to address any issues that came up during your initial exam.

It’s important to note that even if you are allowed to retake the exam, that does not mean that you will necessarily pass. If you failed the first time, it’s likely that there were issues with your responses that will need to be addressed before you can pass.

In any case, if you are given the opportunity to retake the exam, it’s important to take the time to review your previous exam and work with a qualified expert to identify areas where you may need additional support. By doing so, you can increase your chances of passing the exam and moving forward with your application or career with CBP.


Common Misconceptions about the CBP Polygraph Test

The CBP polygraph test can be a source of anxiety and uncertainty for many applicants. And there are a number of misconceptions about the test that can make the process seem more daunting than it actually is:

Misconception #1: The polygraph test is infallible and always accurate.

Contrary to some beliefs, the polygraph test is not 100% accurate. While it is a useful tool for identifying deceptive behavior, it is not foolproof. The accuracy of the test can be affected by a number of factors, including the skill and experience of the examiner, the specific questions asked during the test, and the physiological responses of the examinee.

Misconception #2: You can “beat” the polygraph test by manipulating your physiological responses.

Some people believe that they can manipulate their physiological responses to “beat” the polygraph test. However, this is simply close to impossible. While it is possible to control your breathing or heart rate to some extent, the examiners are trained to detect such attempts and can usually identify when an examinee is attempting to manipulate their responses.

Misconception #3: The polygraph test is primarily designed to trick people into confessing.

While the polygraph exam can also induce confessions from examinees. It is mainly designed to measure physiological responses to specific questions in order to determine the truthfulness of an individual’s responses. The examiner is not trying to trick or deceive the examinee but is simply asking questions and analyzing the physiological responses to those questions.

Misconception #4: You have to disclose every minor detail about your past during the test.

During the CBP polygraph test, you will be asked a series of questions about your past behavior, drug use, criminal activity, and other relevant topics. However, you do not have to disclose every minor detail about your past. You should only disclose information that is relevant to the questions being asked. If you are unsure about whether or not to disclose something, it is best to ask the examiner for clarification.

Misconception #5: If you fail the polygraph test, you will never be able to work for CBP.

While failing the polygraph test can be a setback in the hiring process, it does not necessarily mean that you will never be able to work for CBP. If you fail the test, you may be given the opportunity to retake it at a later date. Additionally, some people fail the test due to nervousness or anxiety and are able to pass it on a subsequent attempt.



In conclusion, the CBP polygraph is a comprehensive tool used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to screen candidates for positions that require a high level of security clearance. While there is some controversy surrounding the use of polygraphs, they remain a critical part of the CBP’s vetting process.

The CBP polygraph exam takes approximately three to four hours to complete and includes several phases, including the pre-test interview, the in-test phase, and the post-test interview. It is important to understand that the examination is not a one-size-fits-all process and can vary based on the specific job requirements and the individual candidate’s circumstances.

It is important to note that if you fail the CBP polygraph, you may be given the opportunity to retake it at a later date, but the process can be time-consuming and may require additional review.

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