How To Prepare For A Polygraph

man taking a polygraph exam

Know Why You Are Taking A Polygraph Exam

Understand exactly why you are taking a polygraph exam. Polygraph exams are voluntarily taken and therefore you cannot be forced to take one. Be clear in your own mind why you are taking the exam and that you are going to answer all questions 100% truthfully. This includes all the questions asked by the polygraph examiner prior to the actual exam. For example, if you are taking an exam as part of a Pre-employment Investigation, understand that everything you say to the polygraph examiner is for the sole purpose of investigating you as a potential candidate for employment. Similarly, if you are being asked to take a polygraph exam under suspicion of theft or inappropriate behavior, be clear in your own mind of your innocence and good character. 

Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Although you may be worried about taking a polygraph exam, don’t. So long as you are forthcoming with all questions asked by the polygraph examiner and tell the truth, you will do well. With that said, it is important to get a good night’s sleep. Try to stop worrying. Eat a satisfying meal, relax and go to bed with enough time to get 6-8 hours of sleep. Lack of sleep can make someone forgetful, vague or irritable. You want to be clear, focused and accurate. 
Take all routinely prescribed medications. Do not take any new medications and do not take any medications to help you “relax” during the exam. Nervousness does not affect the polygraph results. 
woman asleep
man with suit and expensive watch

Dress To Impress

Although what you wear does not assist in the actual results of the polygraph exam, it is nevertheless important. Wearing shorts, flip flops and a sweatshirt may send the wrong impression to the polygraph examiner as to how seriously you are taking the exam. Like everyone, examiners are subject to first impressions. The more professional and conscientious an examinee dresses subconsciously conveys how serious the examinee views the polygraph process and results. After all, it is the polygraph examiner that initiates the interview questions and if a poor impression is immediately given the examiner may ask more difficult and probing questions. Again, know why you are taking the polygraph exam and dress appropriately. 

Meeting Your Polygraph Examiner

Polygraph examiners come in different shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. Do not judge the experience or intelligence of your examiner by the first impression. Often polygraph examiners have enhanced experience in interview techniques and frequently have extensive experience in law enforcement. The examiner will do their best to put you at ease and help you to relax. They may joke and act as though the polygraph exam is “no big deal.” A relaxed examinee is more likely to freely expand on answers, tell stories and engage in casual conversation with the examiner. The examiner is not trying to trick you but rather wants you to feel comfortable. Relax but do not forget why you are having the exam. It is a big deal. The examiner will undoubtedly request cell phones be silenced. Additionally, a Consent to Polygraph Exam and Waiver of Liability will be presented and reviewed for the examinee to sign. 

two men shaking hands
office with desk and chair

Acclimate To The Room

The exam room may be a regular size office or a very small room or something else completely. The size or appearance of the room should in no way affect your mood or opinion of the procedure. Whether the space is small and undecorated or large with a number of framed certificates and awards it should make no difference to your level of confidence in the examiner or of your own state of mind. Do not be intimidated by an impressive office and do not dismiss the effectiveness of the examiner with a small sparse one. From the moment you enter the room until you exit after the exam, you are being recorded both audibly and visually. Enter the room, look around briefly, sit down and block the room, and record from your mind. Your surroundings have nothing to do with your results. No one other than the examinee and examiner is allowed in the room. No lawyers, no spouses, no friends. The only allowed exception is a polygraph examiner trainee. 

Pre-exam Interview

A pre-exam interview takes place before the actual exam. During the interview, the examiner will review the entire process and answer any questions. The “how” and “why’s” of polygraph and the physiological principles behind the polygraph exam will be explained. The examiner will familiarize the examinee with the equipment. All questions regarding the exam, procedure, equipment and process should be asked at this time. Any concerns regarding medication or medical conditions should be addressed. Discuss any unusual anxiety or fear at this time. 
As a result of the pre-exam interview, the examiner will formulate the questions for the exam. The questions will be reviewed with the examinee and discussed. Express dissatisfaction with confusing or misleading questions. Once the questions are agreed upon, they will not change during the exam. The examinee will know exactly what questions will be asked. No surprise questions will be given during the exam. 
two men at a desk
man viewing polygraph machine results

Know The Polygraph Equipment

Polygraph equipment has come a long way from the ink-filled prongs seen on television. The newest equipment stems from a small box about the size of a man’s loafer. Several cords run from the box; one to a computer or laptop, one to a sensor pad placed on the examinee’s seat and four are hooked up to the examinee. It feels like a lot of cords but do not be intimidated. The cords hooked to the examinee simply record breathing, heart rate and perspiration. It is through the recording of these physical measurements that charts appear on the computer screen and subsequently scored by the examiner. Relax, breathe normally and give truthful answers. 

Breathing: Two stretchy cords will be placed to record breathing; one above your heart and one below. They will feel snug but not too tight. Do not focus on the cords, breath normally. If you need time to become accustomed to breathing normally, just ask. Trying to control your breathing may result in an inconclusive test result. 
 
Heart Rate: A cuff similar to a blood pressure cuff will be placed on an upper arm. Immediately before the exam begins it will be inflated, partially released and set. During the exam, it will remain snug but not uncomfortable. Immediately after the exam, the pressure will be released. If you find the cuff causes significant discomfort, tell your examiner. 
 
Perspiration: Two small Velcro straps will be placed on your pointer and ring fingers on the opposite hand from the arm with the blood pressure cuff. Your hand will rest on the armrest of a chair or table. 
After the equipment is placed, ask for a minute or two to acclimate yourself to being hooked to the instrument. It is normal if you become more nervous at this point. Take a deep breath or two and remind yourself why you are taking the exam. You may want to tell the examiner that you feel nervous so that more time and explanation can take place to relieve anxiety. Nervousness or anxiety will not affect the test results. 
 

Taking The Exam

The actual exam will take approximately twenty minutes. After being hooked up to the sensors and the blood pressure cuff set, a series of pre-determined questions will be asked. Answer YES or NO depending on your answer. The exam although short may be repeated three times depending on the type of exam given. The questions asked will be the exact questions agreed upon in the pre-interview. No surprise questions will be given. 

man connected to a polygraph machine
two men talking

Post-exam Interview

After the exam, the examiner will typically step out of the room and score the exam. It is common for the examiner to return to discuss the exam results and any concerns regarding particular questions. It may be suggested that one or more questions be repeated or another set of questions given. If the examinee failed the polygraph perhaps additional background information is provided by the examinee explaining why that might be. The examiner will decide whether or not to re-test. 

Test Result

Test results are typically scored as Deceptive (DI), Not Deceptive (NDI) or Inconclusive for evidentiary testing and Significant Response (SR) or Non-Significant Response (NSR) for screening tests. Purposeful Non-cooperation (PNC) is used when the examinee’s compliance with the instructions necessary to conduct a valid examination is non-cooperative. The outcome of the exam is told to the examinee but the written report is typically provided to the requesting party or agency. Polygraph exam results of issues of infidelity are not provided at the time of the exam but typically sent to the therapist or involved parties at a later date.

man taking a polygraph exam