Fall 2022
Can You Pass the DEA’s Physical Task Assessment Test?
Daniel Borowick, MS, CSCS, former DEA special agent


The Drug Enforcement Administration, more commonly referred to as the “DEA,” is a United States federal law enforcement agency that is given the specific authority of focusing on and battling the trafficking and distribution of narcotics within the United States. The DEA has the authority to investigate, pursue and coordinate United States drug investigations that have a nexus both domestically and abroad. The DEA was created on July 1, 1973, by President Richard Nixon. The DEA is given its investigatory powers under Title 21 of the United States Code USC Controlled Substances Act, which established a federal US drug policy that regulates the manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of certain substances. The DEA is comprised of many professionals, such as Special Agents (SAs), Diversion Investigators, Chemists, and Intelligence Research Specialists, but it is the SAs, who are solely the sworn federal law enforcement officials within the DEA, who can effectively make arrests that are derived from their Title 21 authority.   

In order to become a DEA SA, the applicant must complete and successfully pass a series of tests that assess the suitability of the prospective applicant to be accepted to the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. If the prospective applicant is approved, a conditional letter of employment will be offered to the individual. The first assessment of a candidate’s suitability in the application process is the DEA Physical Task Assessment Test, more commonly referred to as the “PT Test.” The DEA PT Test measures the prospective individual’s ability to physically perform the requirements of a SA. Furthermore, and more appropriately, it is an assessment to determine whether an applicant is physically able to meet the rigors of the DEA Training Academy. The DEA PT Test is administered by DEA Certified Physical Task Administrators (PTAAs), who are SAs. 


What exactly is the DEA PT Test?

The DEA PT Test consists of both anaerobic and aerobic events which utilize the glycolytic and oxidative energy systems. Furthermore, they are events that involve the utilization of sub-maximal muscular contractions or local muscular endurance, maximal anaerobic capacity, and maximal aerobic capacity. The events are administered in the following order, they are (1) sit-ups, (2) 300-meter run, (3) push-ups, and (4) 1.5-mile run. The push-up and sit-up events are measurements that are included under the category mentioned above as sub-maximal muscular contractions or local muscular endurance. The 300-meter run is a measurement of one’s maximal anaerobic capacity and the 1.5-mile run is a measurement of an applicant’s maximal aerobic capacity. 

What energy systems should I train in to prepare for the PT Test?

The anaerobic and aerobic exercises utilized in the PT Test primarily utilize two of the three energy systems. In order to perform their best, the applicant should conduct the majority of, if not all of their training, in either the glycolytic or oxidative energy zones prior to taking the test. These energy systems clearly define the process of how energy is transferred between these systems based on the power output and length of exercise. The first energy system, the phosphagen or ATP-PC, utilizes adenosine triphosphate or ATP as its dominant form of energy and does not require the presence of oxygen for its maximum power output. Maximal athletic power in this system is expended between one to 10 seconds. No portion of this test measures this energy system and therefore, training in this zone is not beneficial for a positive performance in the exam. Once the exercise shifts from this time frame to primarily between 30 seconds to three minutes, the energy system utilized are the glycolytic energy system. This system has a higher propensity to store energy through slow and fast glycolysis through its usage of carbohydrates as its main molecule to produce ATP. Lastly, once an athletic event continues past the three-minute time frame, the oxidative energy system is the dominant form of energy utilization through the breakdown of protein and fats for endurance type or sub-maximal exercise.  

As described above, during exercise there are biological changes between energy systems that utilize different sources of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) to provide the body fuel for its optimal performance through the principle of specificity. Understanding that the way one trains prior to the exam will be one of the several determining factors as to how an applicant performs on the test. For example, a strength or power athlete, whose resistance repetition count lies primarily below six repetitions or 85% of their one-rep max, is utilizing their phosphagen or ATP-PC energy system. Therefore, resistance training in this range will not be specific to the physiological adaptations needed for this PT Test. Higher repetition ranges and, specifically ranges above 12 repetitions or 67 % of their one-rep max, will utilize the energy systems that are required for this test.    

In order to prepare for taking the DEA PT Test, it is suggested that the prospective applicant become familiar with and self-administer the actual test on their own prior to the actual exam date if they choose to pursue a career with DEA. Additionally, it is paramount to pay close attention to the proper and required forms in the push and sit-up events. In preparation for these two events, the prospective applicant can divide their preparation into max event days and slow tempo or sub-maximal days to further increase their muscular endurance. The same can be applied for the 300-meter run with maximal efforts and sub-maximal efforts or interval runs. The applicant should be well enough conditioned in their 1.5-mile aerobic capacity. Running much further than this distance is counter-productive and will not improve the overall 1.5-mile run time as it is the final of a series of test measurements.  

What are the required passing scores for a prospective applicant?

The required scores to successfully pass the DEA PT Test are an accumulation of at least one point in each of the four events, but a cumulative total of 12 points are required from all four events. If an applicant receives a negative number in any event, they are considered to have failed. If 12 points are not achieved, the applicant does not pass the test and is rescheduled for a later date. 

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Preparation considerations for taking the PT Test

This test may sound easy to some and challenging to others. Through my years of experience as a DEA Physical Task Assessment Coordinator, applicants from various backgrounds take and either pass or fail this test for several reasons. The DEA protocol and exact techniques that this test requires are thoroughly explained prior to the applicant taking the test. According to records that this writer has personally compiled through the years, approximately 21% of applicants successfully meet the minimum qualifications of the DEA Physical Task Assessment Test on their first attempt. The low passing rate of this writer’s compiled statistics range from the applicants not following protocol on the exam, demonstrating ineffective techniques during the test for which points are deducted from a total score and individual event, and lastly through an inefficient program designed by the applicant to be physically prepared for the exam. A clear example of this is an applicant doing a lot of their training in the ATP-PC energy system when their training should be based on the slow/fast glycolytic and oxidative energy systems previously mentioned above.  

Daniel J. Borowick, M.S., C.S.C.S. is a former DEA Special Agent and Physical Task Test Administrator who has over 27 years of experience in state and federal law enforcement of which over 7 years were served in Mexico. Currently, he is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S) for GAP Solutions Inc., as a private contractor in serving the US Army’s 1ST Armored Divisions H2F/ (Health and Fitness) Program. Any inquiries concerning this article and a program design in order to confidently take the DEA PT Test, and/or tactical conditioning, can be directed to Borowick at Dmexfit@gmail.com