Many of the illegal cabdrivers arrested in a citywide D.C. police crackdown Thursday said they were working without a proper license because they were unable to pass the hackers esoteric examination.

Until recently, the exam included questions such as this:

"All but one of the following words describes a person who displays a low dominance: 1) a follower; 2) agreeable; 3) cooperative; 4) persuasive."

The preferred answer was "persuasive."

Yesterday, Lucille Johnson, vice chairwoman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said the cabdrivers were right to criticize the exam, and that the new commission has made sweeping changes in the course work and test questions to emphasize the practical aspects of driving a cab in the city.

Gone are the questions more appropriate for college-level pyschology students. They are replaced by course material taken from the city's required 12-hour class, and exam questions that deal with the practical side of making a living as a cabbie in Washington, Johnson said.

"There was a lot of foolishness in that old exam," she said. "The object now is to give the hacker a body of information which he can apply to his hacking, such as knowledge of the rules and regulations, how to compute a fare and . . . how to relate to the passenger and how to get around the city."

Thursday, in an operation dubbed Operation Face Lift, more than 1,200 D.C. taxi drivers were stopped at several checkpoints around the city. About 110 tickets were handed out for as much as $500 and about 40 illegal cabs were impounded. Police stress that most cabdrivers are legal and that the crackdown was aimed at the illegal drivers.

Johnson, who also heads the taxi commission's Education Committee, said the new exam will be given for the first time Monday, but that the course work was changed this summer.

An example of a new question -- one that is not on the exam but that reflects the new emphasis -- is this one, Johnson said:

"A passenger gets into your cab on Capitol Hill and says he wants to go to 'J.W.' You head toward the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge and the passengers says, 'No, you are going the wrong way.' So, you turn around and head toward Southwest {D.C.} and again the passenger says you are going the wrong way. What do you do?

"1) Tell the passenger to get out; 2) Go to the nearest police precinct and ask where J.W. is; 3) Flag down another cabdriver and ask his help; 4) Ask the passenger where J.W. is."

Johnson said the right answer was the last one. And "J.W.", according to Johnson, refers to the J.W. Marriott Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

In 1985, the D.C. Council passed a measure requiring prospective cabdrivers to pass a $25 hackers course taught at the University of the District of Columbia before taking the city's license examination. The pass rate at UDC for classes during the last two years was 30 to 35 percent, Johnson said.

Before 1985, individual taxi companies taught hacking courses for a fee of $150 to $200. City cabdrivers say it was easier to pass the exam after taking the cab company classes.

However, Johnson's figures for 1985 show that during the last four months of company-run classes, 28 percent of applicants passed the hackers exam, while in the first four months of UDC classes, 37 percent of applicants passed the exam.

Under the new exam policy, Johnson said would-be cabbies will no longer be required to pass the university course before taking the hackers examination.

Many of the illegal cabdrivers stopped by D.C. and U.S. Park Police in Thursday's crackdown were immigrants from Iran, India and Africa, and several of them cited difficulties with the hackers exam when asked why they were driving without the mandatory hackers license.