There are many professional options that we professionals can have once we have completed our basic training. But one of them, especially chosen by those who are looking for a stable and essential job in order to become a civil servant in the public sector, is to prepare for some competitive examinations.

Several professions and disciplines are represented in the civil service, and the figure of the psychologist is one of them. But within this discipline there are many branches in which it is possible to enter. For this reason, in this article we will briefly review some of the different competitions in psychology, as well as the most basic access requirements and recommendations for preparing them.

Opposing: what is it and what does it imply?

Before delving into the type of competitions that exist in psychology and the type of requirements that they usually have, it is necessary to make a brief mention of the concept of opposition and what it implies.

Oppositions are the set of selective processes through which candidates applying for a position within the public administration system or any of the services that are part of it, receive the name of competitions. The competitions may be called by different institutions, both at the level of the Central Administration and at the level of the Autonomous or Local Community, and there may even be competitions at the international level.

To compete implies taking one or more tests or exams that serve to evaluate the knowledge and/or skills necessary for the performance of the position offered. These tests may aim to assess theoretical or practical aspects or both.

In order to carry out such tests, it is first necessary to meet a number of conditions or prerequisites without which the application for access will be rejected. These requirements include training, although in the case of a competition professional merits and/or languages, among many others, may also be assessed. If the candidate obtains a position , he/she may be incorporated into the company or in the case of public administration competitions, obtain a civil servant position.

However, it should be noted that the fact that passes the tests does not necessarily mean that a place is available : there are a certain number of vacancies, and only those with the best score in the final calculation between tests, merits and other factors will be able to fill them. In other words, it will be those with the best final score who will achieve the place, with each person’s position depending on the results of all the participants (although there may be minimum criteria).

Main competitions in the field of psychology

Psychology is a scientific discipline that can be divided into different branches, most of which are recognized and represented within the public system. Thus, the State and the Autonomous Communities of Spain frequently offer different positions for psychologists, which can be accessed through competitive examinations.

Some of the most frequent types of competitions within the field of psychology are the following.

Resident Internal Psychologist (PIR) Competition

We begin this list with one of the most well known processes within the field of psychology and the only one through which clinical psychology can be practiced within the Public Health Network: the PIR or entrance exam to training as an Internal Resident Psychologist.

This is a rather special case, given that it is not a real competition: those who take it do not directly aspire to a job as a civil servant but to a four-year training course to become a Specialist in Clinical Psychology , after which they will be able to practice in the public health system.

After this training, there is no guaranteed employment, but you will have to apply for the corresponding position. However, in a generic way, the IRP is usually considered as a competition, since the requirements and access to such training follow the same principles.

The person who intends to go through this selection process will have to carry out a series of preliminary procedures (fill in and submit the 720 application form within the established dates, together with the graduate/bachelor’s degree, the academic record and the ID card, and pay the examination fees) and then sit for an examination of 225 questions plus ten booking questions on the appointed day (generally the last weeks of January or the first weeks of February).

Civil Service Examinations

Within the field of psychology, the type of competitive examinations that are most frequently held and that offer the greatest number of places are those referred to the Public Administration. Within this, a great variety of different subtypes can be found, since they include the whole set of demands that may be made in the different institutions and public services to the civilian population .

Some of the most common functions involve carrying out specific training in different areas and for different types of groups (population at risk, professionals, ethnic or social minorities, population with specific and/or special needs…), carrying out assessments, reports and monitoring with respect to the status and situation of users of different devices, planning and implementation of training, prevention and intervention projects, work with minors and their families, monitoring of adoption and fostering processes, study and research into social and community factors and phenomena and their effects, or within the health branch, diagnosis, intervention and monitoring of patients who require it.

Within the different areas of public administration, exercise may be required in schools, penitentiary and judicial institutions, Social Services and Primary Care Teams or Psychopedagogical Care. Although we could consider them as part of this type of competition, we are going to break down two of the most frequent ones

Competition for Senior Psychologists in Prisons and Forensic Psychology

An interesting branch that psychology professionals can oppose is that of Penitentiary Institutions and Forensic Psychology. In this sector, the professional specializes in practice in penitentiary centres and centres for minors .

Among its functions we can find the realization of psychological evaluations to the prisoners, their evaluation and interpretation and the expertise of the psychological state of the inmates. Also the intervention (individual or group) with them, the investigation and design of preventive measures regarding risk factors or relapse in criminal behavior, the implementation of prevention programs of health problems within and outside the prison environment (use and dependence on substances, prevention of risk behaviors …), planning and development of workshops held in prison, behaviour modification programmes, carrying out counselling, guidance and intervention with other professionals in the field or carrying out interventions or treatment programmes for prison populations with certain disorders, as well as for specific problems such as drug addiction or stress or anger management.

Ministry of Education competitive examinations: secondary school teachers and technical vocational teachers

Another area within the public administration that usually offers places through competitive examinations is education , either demanding school psychologists or educational psychologists . In the second case, it is not essential to have completed the degree in psychology, although the Master’s in Educational Psychology is required. This is so because the aforementioned master’s degree also admits professionals who have completed the degree or diploma in teaching or education.

Among its functions we could find the planning, development and implementation of policies and dynamics that allow to face the present difficulties at an educational level, the training of teachers and other professionals in contact with the minors, the detection and treatment of educational difficulties (including the evaluation and monitoring of specific problems and of the possible degree of disability of some minors, although the diagnosis as such must be made by a clinician), the prevention and development of strategies and protocols for the prevention of specific problems and the advice, guidance and accompaniment of professionals, families and minors in different circumstances.

These professionals are part of the Educational Guidance and Educational Psychology departments . They may practice and specialise in Educational Guidance and/or Labour Guidance.

The functions of these professionals are carried out either in public or subsidized schools or in specific centers in the area, such as the Psychopedagogical Attention Teams. They can also act as counsellors in secondary schools, and in the case of authorisation, also as teachers.

Military Psychologist Oppositions

In addition to the above, another area where a psychologist can take part is in the military sphere: the army or the armed forces . Specifically, the military psychologist is assigned to the Military Health Corps and provides support to the different corps of the Armed Forces, being within the Officer Scale (if they pass the instruction, they enjoy the rank of Lieutenant Psychologist).

Within this sector, the functions of the military psychologist can vary greatly , incorporating organizational aspects such as Human Resources or entering the branch of the Clinic (treating for example cases of post-traumatic stress disorder). He or she can also be in charge of providing training to soldiers and instructors or studying and analyzing social phenomena or psychic processes within the army and in relation to the areas where the army carries out its activities.

As part of the Armed Forces, military psychologists must also pass physical tests to be eligible, and in addition to the actual psychological knowledge they must undergo basic military training.

General requirements

So far, we have been able to see different areas in which a psychologist can be opposed. However, for each and every one of them it is necessary to first meet a series of requirements .

Although some posts have particular and specific conditions of such opposition, in general, several characteristics are necessary to be able to compete.

Firstly, in order to be able to apply for any of the above options you must be Spanish, a citizen of one of the countries of the European Union or have an authorisation to reside in Spain in accordance with Organic Law 4/2000 and Royal Decree 557/2011.

It is essential to have the official university degree of Graduate or Bachelor in Psychology , whether this is Spanish or officially recognised. In some cases other postgraduate or master’s degrees may be required.

Another of the main requirements is not to suffer from any medical illness or mental disorder that prevents, limits or interferes with the professional’s performance of his/her duties.

It is also an essential requirement not to have reached or exceeded retirement age , or not to have reached it during the period in which the training is carried out.

In addition to these basic requirements, it is also common to demand the absence of a criminal record, especially of intentional or sexual offences (in the case of educational, judicial and military offences), as well as not having been removed or discharged from the public administration through disciplinary proceedings.

In competitions such as those for military psychologists, it is required to pass physical aptitude tests , as well as the absence of tattoos and other visible accessories (with standardised exceptions) and not to test positive for the consumption of psychotropic substances (at least one year without consumption).

Tips for preparing and studying

Opposing is a process that can provide us with a stable job, but it is undoubtedly a complex challenge that requires extensive preparation in order to succeed. Not for nothing, every year thousands of people apply to each of these competitions, and the places offered are usually small .

In order to prepare yourself, here are some tips or indications.

1. Be aware that it will cost effort

First of all, it should be noted that taking the exam is a difficult process that requires a great deal of preparation: it is necessary to bear in mind that we will have to spend a great deal of time studying for the exam . For some examinations, we even talk about one or two years of preparation. You need to be aware of this.

We must also put opposition in its place: it is an opportunity to find a job, but it is not our whole life. Not passing or not getting a place at the first time is not uncommon but in fact it is the norm , and it usually takes several attempts: it is not a failure, and in fact it is an opportunity to get in touch and get used to the kind of process that the opposition entails.

2. Be updated through official pages

Before starting to study, it is necessary to be properly informed. To do this you must go to the BOE or to official and updated pages . Using other types of pages may give us partially incorrect information, or there may have been changes with respect to when the publication in question was made.

3. Managing time and making plans

It is then very useful to plan our time: from the moment we are here until the date of the exam, it is advisable to anticipate how much time we are going to spend reviewing the information and how we are going to divide that time . One option is to divide it up by subject and by area.

Likewise, we must take into account that although we can do “sprints”, it is advisable for the own mental health of the interested party to reserve at least one day a week to rest, go out and have a social life: we must be ambitious, but also realistic regarding the rhythm we can manage to endure.

As soon as time, although it is not uncommon for those who are considering taking an exam to spend periods of up to eight hours trying to study, unless they have enough savings or have just left the career, most people must divide their time between preparing and working.

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4. Evaluate the possibility of going to academies

There are several alternatives for training. Although the prices are generally high, it may be useful to join one of the academies that prepare opposition psychologists , since they not only help us with information but also facilitate the structuring of the times. In some academies it is even possible to certify the training as a master’s degree.

Another option is to purchase books from these academies, and a third option is to search for the recommended bibliography yourself. In some competitions, the syllabus to be studied is already provided.

5. Relying on a variety of study materials

As for the study itself, it is advisable not to limit itself to reading but also to use and make summaries and outlines of them . It can also be useful to use graphic material or even employ methodologies that integrate practical elements.

6. Study in groups and solve doubts together

If possible, it is not a bad idea to form a study group with other psychology opponents who are in the same situation, since it facilitates learning, allows for the resolution of doubts and makes it easier to keep up with the pace.

7. Conduct mock examinations

Finally, taking mock exams is a good way to check your level and get used to the format of the exam you are taking.