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Webservant (Member)
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Post Number: 208
Registered: 03-1997
Posted on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 - 07:03 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Submitted by email to the webservant on 9 Jan 07:
I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I am scheduled to take a fingerprint comparison test ("shape test") for a position I am applying for as a Forensic Scientist Student. I just graduated from college and I don't know what to expect. The position doesn't require prior experience. I read some information about latent prints, but I really don't know how to prepare for this test. If you have any advice/information that you think would help, I would really appreciate it.
Thank you,

Short Answer:

You will probably be given fingerprints and asked to compare them. Other than getting a good night's sleep and being ready to concentrate (while wearing prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses if you need them), there is little preparation to consider for the test.

Long Answer:

In past decades, some crime laboratories spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to train a Latent Print Examiner (normally 104 weeks or more, full-time training) only to realize as the intern neared the end of training that they were form blind. Despite being very bright intellectually and having great motivation and good intentions, form blind students lacked the natural ability (some would say brain wiring) to retain a mental picture of fine details and the unit relationship of fine details when going back and forth between two images (comparing fingerprints). Thus, after huge resource investments in training it was determined that the person could be an excellent technician for evaluating, detecting, processing, recording, etc., latent finger and palm prints... but may never be effective at comparing them without it taking that person much longer than other persons... and being much more difficult for them to accurately accomplish (as compared to other Latent Print Examiners).

Jon Byrd describes form blindness as follows:
Form blindness is a combined physical and mental fault, an imperfection in the brain that causes the inability to interpret and correctly store what is actually focused on the human retina. Problems in comparison training, due not only to the failure to see the outside of things but to the failure to recognize the real differences and the fundamental similarites and to understand them and interpret them when they are seen.
To help preclude wasting a student's time and the government's training resources, form bindness testing (also known by other names) is now often a part of the applicant screening process.

When screening Latent Print Examiner student applicants/candidates, there are several key things an efficient interviewer will consider. In addition to normal eyesight (or corrected to normal with lenses) the ability to effectively communicate orally is important because that means good potential for effective presentation on the witness stand. A great expert who cannot effectively communicate can fail at appearing knowledgeable and believable on the witness stand. Also, more and more laboratories nowadays look for indications of form blindness.

The "shape test" you will be given could include any of a number of image examination components. As mentioned above, there is a good chance it will include a comparison exercise with questioned and known (probe and gallery) fingeprints. Sometimes applicants are asked to compare the differences between handwriting samples or between handprinting samples. Sometimes the test is a series of shapes in a row on a page, and the student is to pick-out the two or more which are the same (or different).

Can you easily spot the eleven differences between the two school buses here?

Can you spot the hidden images in the large drawings here (playing at level 2 or 3)?

If you have a difficult jigsaw puzzle (1,000 pieces or more), do you have a relatively easy time picking up a piece and comparing it to the picture on the puzzle box lid to understand what area of the picture and what orientation is consistent with that piece? Some excellent Latent Print Examiners are great at working with difficult jigsaw puzzles (not that they enjoy doing something that is so much like work, but recognizing the spatial relationship of pieces and assembling such puzzles is much faster and easier for them than for many other persons).

One last thought... my personal observation is that female students in general have a slight advantage over most males insofar as the natural ability at comparing questioned and known images. Some males can equal most females in natural (untrained) comparison ability, and both sexes seem to be able to polish their skills to equally high efficiency and reliability through years of specialized comparison work. Just my observations from 30 plus years working as a Latent Print Examiner in crime labs.

Good luck in the application process!

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