By Daniel J. Borowick, M.S., CSCS® and Daniel G. Graetzer, Ph.D.
Sports and Health Sciences Alumnus and Faculty Member, School of Health Sciences
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal law enforcement agency tasked with battling the trafficking and distribution of narcotics within the United States. To become a DEA Special Agent, applicants must first pass the DEA Physical Task Assessment Test, commonly known as the PTA test, in order to be accepted into the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The PTA test is administered at set times and locations by a DEA Certified Physical Task Assessment Administrator.
Why Is It So Important for DEA Special Agents to Be Physically Fit?
The DEA is comprised of many professionals, such as Special Agents, Diversion Investigators, Chemists and Intelligence Research Specialists. However, Special Agents are sworn federal law enforcement officials who can effectively make arrests due to their Title 21 authority.
High levels of strength and endurance enhances the personal confidence of special agents. They are prepared to perform their physical and mental job responsibilities without excessive fatigue, make better decisions such as exerting a level of force appropriate to a given situation and are less likely to be injured themselves.
Running, climbing, jumping, lifting, carrying, dragging, pushing and use of force are often needed to subdue drug traffickers. Also, offenders are more hesitant to challenge officers who appear strong, fast and confident.
Individuals who do not maintain adequate physical fitness may have a decreased ability to handle extreme physical and mental stressors. In addition, they are also more likely to develop medical conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
How the DEA PTA Test Assesses a Candidate’s Physical Fitness
The DEA PTA test assesses the muscle endurance of the applicant’s chest, back, abdomen, and arms, as well as his or her weight-bearing anaerobic and aerobic capacity. The PTA test consists of four tests: sit-ups, 300-meter sprint, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run. There is a 10-minute break between the tests.
To successfully pass the DEA Physical Task Assessment Test, an applicant must score at least one point in each of the four tests and can earn up to 12 points from all four tests. If an applicant receives a negative point in any test, he or she fails the entire PTA test.
First DEA PTA Test: Sit-Ups for One Minute
For this test, applicants start by lying down on the floor with the tops of the shoulder blades touching the floor. The arms are crossed over the chest with the fingers of each hand in contact with the top of the opposite shoulder, and the knees are bent at a 90-degree angle with the soles of the feet resting flat on the floor.
The applicant’s feet are held in place by a partner. The partner’s hands touch the tongue of the applicant’s shoes, and the partner rests his or her knees on the applicant’s toes. Keeping the hands in their position on opposing shoulders, the applicant then raises his or her torso and head upward past an imaginary vertical line and then returns to the starting position with the tops of the shoulder blades touching the floor. The hips must remain in contact with the ground throughout each sit-up.
This test is a one-minute continuous motion test. If the candidate pauses at any time before the minute is up, he or she forfeits the rest of the minute.
Second DEA PTA Test: Timed 300-Meter Sprint
The 300-meter sprint test usually takes place on a quarter-mile oval track. The applicant starts from a standing position and must run three-fourths of one lap (equivalent to 300 meters) while being timed by the DEA Certified Physical Task Assessment Administrator.
Third DEA PTA Test: Pushups
For this test, the applicant faces the floor, leaning slightly upward with the hands extended one to two hand-widths beyond the shoulders. The elbows are positioned away from the body with the arms fully extended. The applicant’s body is held straight with the feet no more than three inches apart and the toes touching the floor.
As the arms are flexed, the body is lowered toward floor until the upper arms are parallel to the floor (in a straight line from the center axis of elbow to the center axis of shoulder). The applicant performs a continuous set of untimed pushups until he or she reaches exhaustion.
Fourth DEA PTA Test: Timed 1.5-Mile Run
For this test, the candidate starts in a standing position and runs for one and a half miles while being timed by a DEA Certified Physical Task Assessment Administrator. This test usually takes place on a quarter-mile oval track with candidates being required to run six laps.
Why Some DEA Applicants Don’t Pass the PTA Test
Approximately 20% of DEA applicants successfully meet the minimum qualifications of the PTA test on their first attempt. Reasons for not passing the PTA test include:
- Not following test protocol and demonstrating incorrect technique during testing
- Insufficient physical conditioning prior to attempting the PTA test
However, it is possible to pursue a training program to improve your physical fitness prior to attempting the PTA test. If you are interested in a training program, email Daniel Borowick for more details.
About the Authors
Daniel J. Borowick graduated from American Military University in 2020 with a master of science in Sports and Health Sciences. His capstone project, “Program Design Based on Genetically-Determined Type I and Type II Fiber Typing In Order to Achieve Optimal Athletic Performance,” was written under the guidance of Professor Daniel Graetzer and is available online.
Daniel is a former DEA Special Agent and Physical Task Assessment Administrator who has over 27 years in state and federal law enforcement, of which over seven years were served in Mexico. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS®) with certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA®). CSCS and NCSA are registered trademarks of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Daniel G. Graetzer, Ph.D., received his B.S. from Colorado State University/Fort Collins, MA from the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, and Ph.D. from the University of Utah/Salt Lake City and has been a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences, Department of Sports and Health Sciences, since 2015. As a regular columnist in encyclopedias and popular magazines, Dr. Graetzer greatly enjoys helping bridge communication gaps between recent breakthroughs in practical application of developing scientific theories and societal well-being.