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Whether you’re studying for a career in the justice system or simply taking this exam to diversify your college experience, Criminal Justice is a fascinating and important subject for all members of society.

The Criminal Justice DSST exam is designed to assess test-takers on similar material covered in a full semester (3 credit) entry-level college course. Test takers must answer 100 questions within two hours and achieve a minimum score of 400 to receive credit (though always double-check with your university for any stricter requirements).

Criminal Justice
Study Guide

criminal justice dsst

Topics covered are outlined below. They include criminal behavior, the criminal justice system, law enforcement, courts, and corrections.

  • Criminal Behavior – 15%

    This section requires you to understand how crime is defined and identify different types of crime. Additionally, there will be questions related to juvenile delinquency, including trends and causes. You will need to know who monitors and measure crime statistics within the U.S., as well as explain various theories of crime (i.e., its causes, demographics).

  • Criminal Justice System – 25%

    The criminal justice (CJ) system covered from a historical perspective, dating back to pre-revolutionary times will be assessed. You will want to know how primary government documents, such as the Constitution and Bill of Rights, impact our system of justice. Furthermore, you will be asked questions related to the parts of the criminal justice system.
    Criminal justice in the United States exists to prevent, mitigate, and punish criminal actions against citizens and their property. It is a complex system that includes protections for both accused/criminal and victim.
    Starter Information: The justice system in the United States is primarily based upon that of England. Early colonies, however, did not utilize persons trained in law. The system was made up of common law, meaning a system used to make decisions based upon legal decisions of prior judges which were known to colonists at that time. Early common law differentiated severe and lesser crimes by separating them into categories, known as felonies and misdemeanors. It was not until 1791, with the codifying of civil liberties through the Bill of Rights, that a unified American legal system was created.
    The U.S. justice system is comprised of three parts; they are law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Each portion of this system is complex, containing local, state, and federal levels. Within each governmental level, there are often varying approaches to each practice.

  • Law Enforcement – 20%

    All sections have a historical component. Therefore, you will want to know the history of policing in the U.S., including law enforcement roles both past and present. A survey of law enforcement agencies is likely to be measured as well.
    Starter Information: Police are responsible for both prevention of crime, as well as apprehension of criminals. They are often the first to make contacts with offenders and victims. They often make determinations regarding how to proceed in various conflicts.
    A symbolic presence of police within the community may act as crime prevention. Many citizens feel secure knowing that police are present in their neighborhoods. Police hold most CJ jobs. Of the 1.8 million criminal justice professionals, nearly 1 million are law enforcement professionals. Law enforcement agencies exist at local, state and federal levels. Each operates within its own jurisdiction.

  • Court System – 20%

    This section will include questions about structure and levels within the courts system. You will want to know the difference between adult and juvenile courts, in terms of process. As with all sections of the exam, an understanding of courts’ history will be evaluated.
    Starter information: The court system in the United States was primarily promoted by Quakers in Pennsylvania, who wanted a system more humane than judicial measures of the time. The court system is adversarial meaning that each side of an argument has equal opportunity to represent its views in accordance with formal rules.
    There is a federal court structure and 50 separate state court systems. Each system varies slightly in its operation and rules. As with law enforcement, courts operate within a jurisdiction, limiting the matters each court may hear. Most legal issues are handled within the state courts, including juvenile courts, traffic courts, criminal or civil courts, and magistrate courts.
    Both federal and state systems have appellate courts. These are courts that do not hear original filings, but instead they review findings of lower courts to determine if decisions should be upheld, reversed, or modified.

  • Corrections – 20%

    There are several philosophies of punishment; know them. There will be numerous questions related to jails, prison, and other types of confinement. However, you should also be familiar with intermediate sanctions such as probation, fines, and service. Your knowledge of state-controlled corrections (i.e., capital punishment) will be assessed.
    Starter information: The United States is primarily known for humane punishment. During colonial America, many of those sentenced for criminal action were put to death or held in deplorable conditions.
    There are numerous types of corrections within the criminal justice system. Each is based on a philosophy of punishment or rehabilitation. Ultimately, the goal of criminal corrections is to avoid recidivism, meaning repeat offense.
    A leading form of correction is imprisonment within local jails, state prisons, or federal facilities. Different facilities house different security levels, including supermax, maximum, medium, and minimum. Each has various security measures, types of housing, inmate privileges, and services.
    The most severe punishment within the United States justice system is capital punishment, also known as the death penalty. Over time, means by which offenders have been put to death have varied from hanging, shooting squad, electric chair, and lethal injection. Much controversy surrounds capital punishment related to human rights. Use of capital punishment is left to each state to implement or deny.
    Lesser punishments include probation and parole. These often require an offender to regularly check-in with court agencies, as well as submit to home inspections and/or drug screenings. To address prison overcrowding, there has been a recent upswing in electronic monitoring, a punitive measure that permits offenders to remain in their home for large portions of time. House arrest recipients may be allowed to travel a certain distance for work or school.

Criminal Justice
Practice Quiz

Do you feel confident to give the practice test a try? The format of the test will be nice and familiar for most as it will be multiple-choice with only one correct answer. When you write your answer make sure to tap (or hover over) the question to give you the answer and an explanation.

All test questions are in a multiple-choice format, with one correct answer and three incorrect options. The following are samples of the types of questions that may appear on the exam.

Please do keep in mind that we can’t guarantee the accuracy of this quiz, so we do recommend you also run through a full-length practice exam.  We’ll recommend some good options in the resources section at the bottom of this page.

Question 1: Three parts of the criminal justice system are as follows:

a) Command, control, contain
b) Police, judges, corrections
c) Law enforcement, courts, corrections
d) Enforcement, laws, punishment

Answer: C.
The three parts of the criminal justice system are Law Enforcement, Courts, and Corrections.

Question 2: The standard definition of crime is as follows:

a) An offense against the state that is punishable; the act of omission may also be actionable.
b) An action which may not break law, but could be considered evil.
c) Killing of another person
d) Any thought that is illegal or unethical.

Answer: A.

For a crime to be committed, a law must be broken. Most legal systems require that the accused exhibit both guilt mind and guilty act, meaning physical requirement of actions. Guilty thoughts alone are not enough to qualify a crime.

Question 3: All parts of the criminal justice system operate with a jurisdiction. Which of the following does not relate to jurisdiction?

a) Jurisdiction is a physical territory within which law enforcement may operate
b) Jurisdiction is the power of a court to act in a specific type of case
c) Jurisdiction includes the lawful ability to research issues not within one’s scope of influence
d) Jurisdiction of a state court may extend to persons outside that state

Answer: C.

Jurisdiction can include physical jurisdictions, such as law enforcement’s charge to operate within a town, state, or cross-nation. It also includes procedural jurisdiction, such that courts have a scope of cases they can or cannot receive (i.e., juvenile courts, traffic courts). What is not explicitly specified is one’s power/ability to conduct independent research beyond one’s jurisdiction.

Question 4: Which group of U.S. citizens is credited with the establishment of the state prison system?

a) Immigrants
b) Quakers
c) Catholics
d) Native Americans

Answer: B.

Pennsylvania during the 17th century abolished capital punishment for all crimes except murder. Early prisons, known as ‘workhouses’ were established to give inmates a means of contributing to society whilst they were contained for a time. This was mostly due to the influence of the Quaker faith and tenets of humane punishment.

Question 5: As a form of punishment, electronic monitoring has the following advantage.

a) Increases direct supervision by corrections officers
b) Reduces cost to state and/or federal penal agencies
c) Encourages offenders to contribute to society positively
d) Leads to greater communication between offender and victim

Answer: B.

The cost of electronic monitoring is lower than imprisonment in local jails, state prisons, or federal penitentiary. On average, EM reduces per participant costs to local agencies by $580 and saves federal agencies $920. (source: Roman, J. (2012) Urban Institute: Washington DC).

Question 6: Which of the following lists contain ONLY criminal acts?

a) Assault, collusion, theft
b) Video monitoring, trespassing, murder
c) Malicious intent, vandalism, battery
d) Assault, trespassing, vandalism

Answer: D.

Although varying by country and jurisdiction, collusion, video monitoring, and malicious intent without action aren’t necessarily criminal.

Question 7: Justice within colonial America was based on what?

a) Individual judgement of local law enforcement
b) Common law
c) Both A & B
d) Neither A nor B

Answer: C.

Early justice was based upon common law, which included what was previously known about justice, based upon English and French systems, then applied to current circumstances. Beyond this loosely organized system of justice, local law enforcement had leeway to decide the fate of alleged offenders.

Question 8: What is not true about appellate courts?

a) Appellate courts often uphold or reverse the decision made by other courts
b) Appellate courts hear arguments made in original filings
c) Appellate courts may uphold, but also modify prior decisions
d) Appellate courts exist on both state and federal levels

Answer: B.

Courts of appeal do not hear original case filings. They are a body of reviewers, researching procedural and statutory claims filed after the lower court decision has been made.

Question 9: Which branch of the criminal justice system has the most employees?

a) Law enforcement
b) Courts
c) Corrections
d) Each branch has a similar number of employees

Answer: A.

Of the approximately 1.8 employees of the US criminal justice system, roughly 1 million of them are affiliated with law enforcement.

Question 10: Which of the following is NOT true of capital punishment?

a) An offender sentenced to death is automatically awarded an appeal
b) Methods of capital punishment are determined by individual states
c) 25% of offenders sentenced to capital punishment die of natural causes
d) The United State Supreme Court has banned hanging as a means of capital punishment

Answer: D.

Hanging remains an uncommon, but permissible means of execution. Additionally, states are authorized to use firing squads, gas chambers, electrocution, lethal injection, hanging, and even guillotine.

More DSST Study Resources

Are you at the beginning of your study process, or just looking for a couple more practice questions to finish prepping for your exam? In either case, you can find some of my favorite resources below. Some of the links below are affiliate (Amazon for instance), which means they’ll pay us a few bucks for every purchase through the link. Feel free to use those links if you want to support the site, but you can also just Google the title or pick the book up at your local library.

Official DSST Practice Test: Ok, so the DSST website isn’t the most inviting, but it will give you the best approximation of the real exam experience. Also, the official practice test is quite affordable (currently just $5 per practice exam).

Pass Your Class – DSST Criminal Justice: Textbooks are great as far as they go, but I’d generally recommend you opt for this exam guide instead. It tends to cut through the confusion and help you accelerate your learning process.

InstantCert Academy: Another website with a very dated design, but as ancient as it looks, this is actually an incredibly valuable resource. Basically, you get a massive set of flashcards that you can use to learn Crim Justice and to really solidify that knowledge so you’re ready for the exam.

Plenty of other resources exist – just do a quick internet search – but these are a fantastic start, and probably all you really need. I’ve personally done some exams with just InstantCert and the official practice test.

Congrats on starting your DSST study journey! Study hard, earn credit, and most of all remember to have fun.