FBI Pistol Qualification Course – an evolution

(Updated: adding the 2019 revision of the course).

During the Rangemaster Instructor Course I attended in 2013, one of the tests we had to pass was the FBI Pistol Qualification Course.

It’s worthy of note that just a few months ago (in 2013), the FBI changed their qualification course.

QUANTICO, Va. — The FBI has quietly broken with its long-standing firearms training regimen, putting a new emphasis on close-quarters combat to reflect the overwhelming number of incidents in which suspects are confronting their targets at point-blank range.

The new training protocols were formally implemented last January after a review of nearly 200 shootings involving FBI agents during a 17-year period. The analysis found that 75% of the incidents involved suspects who were within 3 yards of agents when shots were exchanged.

The move represents a dramatic shift for the agency, which for more than three decades has relied on long-range marksmanship training.


“The thing that jumps out at you from the (shooting incident) research is that if we’re not preparing agents to get off three to four rounds at a target between 0 and 3 yards, then we’re not preparing them for what is likely to happen in the real world,” says FBI training instructor Larry “Pogo” Akin, who helps supervise trainees on the live shooting range…. A Justice Department analysis of 63 killings of local police in 2011 found that 73% were ambushes or execution-style assaults.


Until last January, the pistol-qualification course required agents to participate in quarterly exercises in which they fired 50 rounds, more than half of them from between 15 and 25 yards. The new course involves 60 rounds, with 40 of those fired from between 3 and 7 yards.

The new exercise also requires that agents draw their weapons from concealed positions, usually from holsters shielded by jackets or blazers, to mimic their traditional plainclothes dress in the field.

So of course during the class, we shot the new qualification course.

I asked Tom Givens for a copy of the new FBI test and he was kind enough to provide it. So with that, let’s look at the old test vs. the new test.

Old FBI Test

This is the previous FBI Pistol Qualification Course, as documented here.

This standard, revised April 1997, is used to qualify both agents and instructors.

Target: FBI “Q”
Ammunition: 50 rounds service ammunition
Scoring: Hits in our touching “bottle” count 2 points; misses and hits outside bottle count 0 points
Qualification: 85% to qualify, 90% for instructors


Starting Point: 25 yard line
Time Allotted: 75 seconds
Total Rounds: 18

Start with a fully loaded weapon. On command shooter draws and fires 6 rounds prone position, decocks, fires 3 rounds strong side kneeling barricade position, 6 rounds strong side standing barricade position, and 3 rounds weak side kneeling barricade position. Upon completing stage, the shooter will conduct a magazine exchange and holster a loaded weapon.


Starting Point: 25 yard line
Time Allotted: 2 rounds in 6 seconds; 4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds each
Total Rounds: 10

Start at the 25 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 15 yard line, draws and fires 2 rounds in 6 seconds, decocks, and returns to low ready. The shooter will fire 4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds, decock and return to low ready after each string. Upon completing Stage II, the shooter holsters a loaded weapon [without reloading unless gun capacity is only 10 rds –ed].


Starting Point: 15 yard line
Time Allotted: 15 seconds
Total Rounds: 12

Start at the 15 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 7 yard line, draws and fires 12 rounds in 15 seconds, to include a reload. Upon completing stage III, the shooter holsters a loaded weapon. Shooter then arranges remaining 10 rounds to have 5 rounds in the weapon and 5 rounds in a spare magazine.


Starting Point: 7 yard line
Time Allotted: 15 seconds
Total Rounds: 10

Start at the 7 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 5 yard line, draws and fires 5 rounds with strong hand only, reloads, transfers the weapon to weak hand and fires 5 rounds weak hand only. Upon completing stage IV, the shooter will unload and holster an empty weapon.

New FBI Test (2013)

The following is the new FBI Pistol Qualification Course (revised January 2013), as provided to me by Tom Givens, of Rangemaster. I’ve retyped it only for format/layout.

Target: QIT-99 silhouette
Ammunition: 60 rounds
Scoring: 1 point per hit
Qualification: 48/60 (80%) for agents; 54/60 (90%) for instructors

All fired from concealed carry (you will draw from your concealed holster).

Stage 1 is the only stage involving one-handed shooting. All other stages are shot two-handed.


Starting Point: 3 yards
Total Rounds: 12

  1. 3 rounds, 3 seconds, SHO
  2. 3 rounds, 3 seconds, SHO
  3. 3 rounds SHO, switch hands, 3 rounds WHO, 8 seconds


Starting Point: 5 yards
Total Rounds: 12

  1. 3 rounds, 3 seconds
  2. 3 rounds, 3 seconds
  3. 3 rounds, 3 seconds
  4. 3 rounds, 3 seconds


Starting Point: 7 yards
Total Rounds: 16

  1. 4 rounds, 4 seconds
  2. 4 rounds, 4 seconds
  3. Start with only 4 rounds in the gun (1 in the chamber, 3 in the magazine). 4 rounds; empty gun (emergency) reload; 4 more rounds; 8 seconds


Starting Point: 15 yards
Total Rounds: 10

  1. 3 rounds, 6 seconds
  2. 3 rounds, 6 seconds
  3. 4 rounds, 8 seconds


Starting Point: 25 yards
Total Rounds: 10

  1. Move to cover; 3 rounds standing; kneel, 2 rounds; 15 seconds
  2. again

Commentary (comparing 1997 vs 2013)

The differences are pretty stark. Neither test denies the “other case” is possible, but the emphasis is certainly different. The old test certainly puts the emphasis on long-range shooting, with more than half of the test being shot at 15 yards and beyond. In fact, very little emphasis is placed on anything “close-in”. The new test is mostly about close-in, with two-thirds of the test being at or within what the old test considered “close”!

But this is all good. If you look at private citizen encounters, FBI agent encounters, DEA agent encounters — all similar in the sense that they are people in plain clothes and thus all look “like potential victims” to criminals (just the criminal failed the victim selection process) — it all added up to what became the established “typical gunfight”: 3 shots, 3 steps/yards, 3 seconds. So if that’s what the typical gunfight is going to be, shouldn’t we ensure people can perform in that capacity?

For those of you that think this is easy, good for you, because you evidently have the necessary skill. No one is born with this skill. I teach many levels of classes, and I see many people who cannot pass this test. I see many people who cannot manage “3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds”. Or rather I should say, 3 acceptable hits. Of course, through instruction and practice, it doesn’t take too long for folks to achieve this level of skill.

Back to the tests.

I appreciate the new test’s one-hand shooting at 3 yards. This isn’t to say that within 3 yards you should be shooting one-handed, but rather that you ought to be able to. Why? At that distance, you may well be using your other hand for other things, like moving someone out of the way, blocking a punch, etc..

One thing that’s a bit of a bummer about both tests? Scoring is “anywhere on the target”. Take a look at the targets. While they are fairly correct in their shaping, it’s an acceptable hit to get it anywhere within the main outline. Now while I can understand that from a procedural and regulatory side, it’s not really an ideal thing from a personal-defense side. I mean, if you have to pull your gun, it’s because your life or the life of someone you are responsible for is in imminent jeopardy of death or serious bodily injury; thus you need to get the attacker to stop as quickly as possible, and a marginal hit through the belly fat doesn’t do it. So make the test harder on yourself: use that QIT-99 but only count as acceptable those hits within the inner rectangle.

I like the new test. I think it presents a better representation of modern reality. Try it out and see how you do. Be honest with yourself. If you can clean it, awesome; you obviously know what to do to achieve a high level of skill, so keep moving forward. If you cannot clean it, analyze where you need work (25 yards!!), seek instruction, and get to work.

2019 FBI Test

In January 2019, the FBI released another update to their qualification course. Tom Givens had direct input into this update of the qual, and some good improvements were made.

Target: QIT-99 silhouette
Ammunition: 50 rounds
Scoring: 2 points per hit
Qualification: > 90 for instructors (45 acceptable hits)


Starting Point: 3 yards, One handed

  1. Draw, 3 rds SHO, switch, 3 rds WHO, in 6 seconds


Starting Point: 5 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 3 rds in 3 sec
  2. Ready, 3 rds in 2 sec
  3. Ready, 6 rds in 4 sec


Starting Point: 7 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 5 rds in 5 sec
  2. Ready, 4 rds, empty gun reload, 4 more rds, all in 8 sec (start with only 4 rnds in gun)
  3. Ready, 5 rds in 4 sec


Starting Point: 15 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 3 rds in 6 sec
  2. Ready, 3 rds in 5 sec

Stage V

Starting Point: 25 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 4 rds standing, drop to kneeling, 4rds, 20 sec

Commentary (comparing 2013 vs 2019)

When you look at 2013 vs 2019, the differences are not as stark as vs. the 1997 version. What I’m going to say here is my review of the differences (not Tom’s, the FBI’s, or anyone else’s reasoning for why the changes).

The first thing that jumps out is the qual is now 50 rounds, which helps administration since ammo commonly comes in boxes of 50 rounds.

One-handed shooting changed a good bit. It went from 3 strings to 1, and the 1 string in 2019 is akin to a string in 2013 but with a tighter par time.

At 5 yards, the round count is the same, but the strings vary. Instead of 4 of the same, it varies up each string. I think this is good because it tests different skills and provides opportunity to see where something might break down so it can be fixed. For example, maybe someone can’t make draw and 3 in 3 but can make ready and 3 in 2 – that would expose slowness on the draw.

I also like how at both 5 and 7 yards you get a longer string, akin to Bill Drills, which can better help assess recoil control issues, eyesight, and other things that Bill Drills are good for.

The loss of cover at 25 I reckon may be to facilitate administration.

Also, notice how some strings are “draw and shoot X in Y”, followed by “from the ready, shoot X in Y-1”? That’s not quite a 1-second draw, but it is a 1-second get the gun out and into ready – because from there both strings are the same (going from ready). That’s still peppy.

If you like the 2013 version, nothing stopping you from using it. It’s still a good qual. I’ll probably continue to use the 2019 version because of ease of administration and being part of my training to date.