Understanding Spanish Public Workers: Oposiciones

Dear Gabriela,

On Tuesday we talked about funcionarios, a word that is common in everyday life in Spain. And, if you stay here for any period of time, you will hear the word oposiciones attached to it. If you asked me for their basic definition, I would tell you that they are the entrance exam for (oposiciones) and the position of public workers in Spain (funcionarios). However, today I want to get into what oposiciones really mean for the people here.

A sign for oposiciones in Granada, Spain

What are Oposiciones?

Oposiciones is the word used to represent the exam or set of exams that a person needs to pass in order to obtain a position in the system of Spanish public workers or, in other words, to become a funcionario. They are structured in a way that should make the system as objective as possible to the applicants for different positions*. Some professions that are included are: public school teacher, police officer, administrative assistant in public offices, etc. Every type of job has its own, specific exam and depending on the job description they are either theoretical, practical, etc.—for example, a teacher or an administrative officer—but they can also require physical tests, etc. if you want to work as a police officer or firefighter.

I have quite a lot of friends who are studying for (or who have studied for) the above mentioned types of exams and they are hard! Normally each exam has a minimum of 20/25 temas or complete sections that you have to know in order to pass but I know people who have studied upwards of 70 temas for their exams. Therefore, studying for the exams often becomes a full-time job as students often don’t have time to work or study something else if they want to pass in a year or two (considered to be a relatively short period of time to study) and they dedicate themselves completely to the oposiciones. Because the exams are so hard, it is common for people to study with a private tutor or a specialized school that knows what is important to pass. Tutors and schools often focus on one subject or a very specific area because the temario, or range of subjects and sections teachers have to know for even one exam, is absurdly high.

And it is even harder than it sounds so far (if that wasn’t enough for you) because not only are you competing to pass—which isn’t easy itself—you also have to do well enough to beat out the competition and get a placement, or plaza. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to pass the exam and not get anywhere close to getting the job. In this case, they can become interinos or people who basically take substitute positions for people who are out on leave for an indefinite period of time. Another thing to consider when hoping for a spot is that, in addition to the grade of the test itself, most oposiciones count ‘points’ from different activities that help you raise this grade. For example, having taken the exam before, a masters degree, foreign language, or time spent working in the field you are opositando for, etc. all count towards your final score (albeit in different amounts). This means that people who have been studying for longer and who are working to build their specific curriculum have a better chance of getting in than a newbie who just gets a really good score on the test part of oposiciones.

The life of an  opositor  is full of books and hours spent at libraries.

The life of an opositor is full of books and hours spent at libraries.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the number of plazas available on any given year are different depending on how many people the local and national government needs. In fact, in some regions, they might only sacar oposiciones, or have the exams, every couple of years of so. This means that people sometimes study for longer periods of time (to become a judge an average amount of time would be 5 years) to take the oposiciones. This can also lead to people deciding that they would be better off trying to take the exam in another region. At the end of the day this makes things slightly more complicated because they will have to work outside of their region for a period of time but, in most cases, they will be able to transfer back to where they want to live eventually.

Note: Oposiciones are announced, or sacadas, with the official Boletín of the State or region. Normally the special schools that help people prepare for oposiciones will have a good idea of when exams will be but nothing is actually official until the Boletín comes out.

However, even though it seems like a bit of a pain to study for and try to pass the exam and get a placement that fits what you are looking for, thousands of people study for and pass every year. In fact, I have several friends who are already part of the system and they really enjoy the good pay and security that comes with the job.

If you haven’t read our post on funcionarios, you should do so now and let us know if you have any questions or comments. We understand that this subject isn’t easy, but we want to help you understand a bit more about basic Spanish life and culture.

Sincerely,
Spain

*I don’t actually believe the system achieves this goal but, then again, it is not exactly an easy goal to achieve.