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    TOP SCORING TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES

    Career articles on the following test-taking strategies can be found below:

    • Test-taking Tactics:  Understanding the Test Makers Tactics
    • Test-taking Tactics:  Word Clues
    • Test-taking Tactics:  Evaluating Answer Choices
    • Top Scoring Examination Strategies
    • Strategies Before the Examination
    • Final Days Before the Examination
    • Arriving for the Examination
    • Test Anxiety
  • Listed below are examination preparation strategies to increase your chances of becoming a firefighter.  We strongly suggest that you take the time to review these strategies before you take an examination.  These strategies have been developed by experts in the field who have helped thousands of firefighter applicants increase their score and land the best job in the world – the job of a firefighter!
  • TEST-TAKING TACTICS:
    UNDERSTANDING THE TEST MAKER'S TACTICS

    As a test taker, you will be more skilled if you know how a test maker thinks.  Your test taking strategies must anticipate the test maker's strategies.  With multiple-choice questions, the problem for the test maker is to create three bad answers for every good answer.

    To appreciate the test maker's problems and to improve your own ability as a test taker, you should practice making up a few questions yourself.  Here is some material to work with.  Below is a short reading passage from a Fire Academy training manual, followed by four answer choices.  As it appears below, all the answer choices are correct.  You should try to come up with some other answer choices that would be wrong, or make some little changes in these answer choices so that they are no longer correct.

    • Sometimes it is necessary to cut holes in the roof or floors of a building to release bottled up heat and smoke.  During roof or floor cutting operations, everyone in the vicinity of a saw in operation shall observe, as near as possible and practical, a 20-foot radius Circle of Danger.  Only the Officer, the Operator and the Guide Man may enter this circle.  All persons directly to the rear of the operating saw blade must be warned away, as the saw may throw debris 20 feet or more.
    • Side pressure or twisting of the blade when operating should be avoided.  The saw should never be forced.  If too much pressure is applied to the blade, the hazard of blade breakage (carbide tipped) or blade shattering (aluminum oxide or silicon carbide discs) is increased.  A blade that breaks or shatters during cutting may cause serious injury to the Operator or others in the area.
  • Based on the information above, it would be most correct to say that:
    • A) No one should be within 20 feet of the operating saw except the Officer, the Operator and the Guide Man.
    • B) Even someone who is 20 feet away can be in danger if the person is directly behind the saw when it is operating.
    • C) Carbide tipped blades will break, not shatter, if too much pressure is applied.
    • D) Side pressure may cause shattering of the blade if the blade is an aluminum oxide or silicon carbon disc.
  • No doubt, you can think of many ways to make three of the above answer choices wrong.  But you probably would not want to make an answer choice so obviously wrong that no one would ever choose it.  There is no point making up answers if no one will choose them.  The idea is to make an answer wrong, but still give it some appeal so that it will be an effective "distractor" from the right answer.  Here are some test maker tactics for doing that:
  • 1. Overstate the point.  In the example, you could change 20 feet to 25 feet.  Or you could say that side pressure will definitely or always cause the blade to break or shatter.  Or you could insist rigidly on the 20-foot circle, forgetting that the rule says, "as near as possible and practical."  Of you could say that the Officer must be in the circle instead of that he may be in the circle.

    2. Ignore the fine points.  In the example, you could substitute something general like "a safe distance" for the exact rule of 20 feet.  Or you could ignore the detail that 20 feet may not be adequate for someone directly behind the saw.  Of you might overlook the fact that these rules apply only when the saw is actually in operation.

    3. Change just one detail.  In the example, you could switch "breaking" and "shattering" for the different kinds of blades.  Or you could switch the kinds of blades.  You could change the rule about people directly behind the saw to make it people directly in front of the saw.

    4. Provide some bait to make false answers attractive.  An easy way to do this is to keep some exact words from the "fact pattern" in the false answers.  Another way to do this is to make a two-part answer; start with something that is correct, then add something that is wrong.  For the example, you might say, "Other firefighters should remain at least 20 feet away when practical, and the Operator should especially warn anyone directly in front of him."

    5. Twist the meaning around.  In the example you could say that the saw operator must go at least 20 feet from other people instead of the rule that other people must keep 20 feet from the saw operator.  Or you might try saying that the saw cannot be used less than 20 feet from the edge of a roof.

    The following additional test-taking strategies can be found in the Encyclopedia of Firefighter Examinations:

      • Deductive Reasoning
      • Inductive Reasoning
      • Information Ordering
      • Judgment, Human Relations and Problem Solving
      • Memorization
      • Reading or Verbal Comprehension
      • Visualization
  • TEST-TAKING TACTICS:  WORD CLUES
  • With multiple-choice questions, only one of the answers can be correct.  If there are four choices, three must be wrong.  An answer may be correct because it is precise or because it is vague.  An answer may be wrong because it is too exaggerated or too restrictive.  Consider the following question:

    • A firefighter is required to wear the mask at any fire scene where there is a lot of smoke and whenever there is clear danger of hazardous chemicals in the air.  If a firefighter's mask fails to work properly, the firefighter is to report this immediately to the officer in charge at the scene.  The officer will usually order the firefighter to work off the immediate fire scene, such as at a hydrant.  The firefighter may attempt to get the mask working properly and then request to be reassigned to the fire area.
  • Based on the paragraph above, it would be most correct to say that:
    • A) a firefighter should wear the mask only when there is a lot of smoke at a fire scene
    • B) a firefighter must attempt to repair a mask which is not working properly
    • C) a firefighter whose mask is not working properly will be assigned to work at a hydrant
    • D) the firefighter whose mask has been repaired can be reassigned to the fire area
  • In the above example, certain key words are used to make answers right or wrong.  The A) choice is wrong because it contains the word "only."  Without "only" A) would be a correct answer.  The B) choice would be correct if it said "may" instead of "must."  The C) choice is wrong because it says "will."  The C) choice would be fine if it said "may" instead of "will."  The D) choice is correct; it only says "can."  The D) choice would be wrong it if said "must" instead of "can."
  • When evaluating answer choices, the words to be on the lookout for are the little words that tend to either "harden" or "soften" statements.  Words which "harden" statements, and make them difficult to defend, are strong words like:  all, every, always, will, must, certainly, invariably, surely, no one, ever, any, no matter, nothing, etc.  Words which "soften" statements, and make them easy to defend, are words like:  some, many, sometimes, may, possibly, generally, probably, usually, often, can, could, might, occasionally, etc.  Notice how these words appear both in the "fact pattern" and in the answer choices of the example.

    There are times when a very "hard" statement can be a correct answer choice.  For instance, in the example above, it would be correct to make up an answer choice that states, "If a firefighter's mask fails to operate properly at a fire where there is a lot of smoke, the firefighter must always notify the officer in charge."  Do not automatically rule out "hard" statements, but be careful about accepting them.

    Remember that the test maker must be able to defend the correct answer and defend the claim that the other three answers are wrong.  These little words which "harden" or "soften" statements often help to justify whether an answer is right or wrong.   (They also reflect the difference between prudent, reasonable statements and exaggerated or overly rigid statements.)  Hence, be sensitive to these little words when you are reading questions and evaluating answer choices.  Get in the habit of using your pencil to underline or circle such words.

    TEST-TAKING TACTICS:  EVALUATING ANSWER CHOICES

    Answer on the basis of the information given in the question.  When answering test questions, you must base your answer solely on the information contained in the test question.  The test for a Firefighter requires no previous knowledge of the job.  The test questions do not have to reflect the way the job is really done or the actual procedures of the Fire Department.

    Problems arise when a person who is familiar with procedures of the fire department encounters a test question based on something that contradicts actual practices.  It is in this kind of situation that you must ignore actual practices and answer on the basis of what the test question says.  For example, you might know that kitchen stove fires are usually extinguished with a portable fire extinguisher; but a test question might describe a stove fire being put out with a fire hose attached to a hydrant.  In this kind of test situation, never mind the actual practice; go by the information in the question.

    Tell yourself the answer to a question before you look at the answer choices.  Sometimes the question is too vague for you to anticipate the answer ahead of time.  But often the question stem is a question precise enough for you to answer it before you look at the answer choices.  For instance, suppose you had studied the diagram of an apartment and then the question asked, "The most direct route from the dining room to the fire escape is...."  You should be able to answer this kind of question in your head before you look at the four answer choices.  If you answer the question in your head before you look at any of the four answer choices, you are more likely to get the right answer.

    Remember that part of the test maker's job is to provide three false answers for every correct one.  It is a multiple-choice test, not a true/false test.  A skillful test maker will offer you some false choices that seem pretty good in order to distract you from the correct answer.  Among test makers these false choices are called "distractors."  But if you have already decided what answer you should be looking for, you will not be distracted so easily by bad answers which might look pretty good and which come before the correct answer.  A seductive (A) and a half-true (B) will not prevent you from reaching a correct answer (C) if you know what you are looking for.

    Sort answers into three categories.  As soon as you read a particular answer choice, decide if it is True, False, or Uncertain.  If you are quite sure that an answer choice is True, use your pencil to write a "T" in front of that answer choice.  But continue to read the other answer choices because you might find another True one and then have to make a final choice.

    If you are quite sure that an answer choice is False, use your pencil to write an "F" in front of that answer choice.  You may find that an answer is False even before you have finished reading the whole answer.  Stop reading it as soon as you are sure it is false and mark with an "F".

    If you are Uncertain about whether a particular answer choice is correct, use your pencil to put a question mark (?) in front of that answer choice.

    When you have finished reading all four answer choices, each one should be preceded by a "T" or an "F" or a question mark (?).  If there is only one with a "T", that is probably your answer.  If you have more than one with a "T", or a "T" and a question mark, you may need to think a bit before choosing your final answer.  But you should not have to bother any more with answers you have already given an "F".

    Negative Questions:  Using "T" and "F" to evaluate answer choices is better than using something like a check mark to denote a correct answer when it comes to answering negative questions.  Negative questions are questions that ask you to pick out an answer choice which is "not true."  If you are evaluating each answer choice one by one and marking each one "T" or "F", negative questions will be easy for you to handle.

    Half-true Answers:  Sometimes an answer choice really contains two different statements.  For instance, an answer choice might say, "there is a bedroom on the right and the kitchen is on the left."  Maybe it is True that "there is a bedroom on the right," but False that "the kitchen is on the left."  With this kind of answer choice, put a slash mark between the two different statements, and write "T" or "F" over each separate part of the answer choice.  But out in the margin write "F" since an answer choice must be completely True to be valid.

    When it is difficult to choose between two answer choices, look back at the question stem.  Sometimes there are two answer choices which both look good.  Or maybe all of the answer choices look bad.  When you find yourself having trouble making the final choice of an answer, stop staring at the answer choices.  Go back and look at the question stem and the information the question is based on.

    A skillful test maker tries to make two or three of the answer choices look very good.  All the answer choices may contain some truth, which make them tempting.  Or all may look wrong.  But the test maker has to have put some detail into the "fact pattern" of the question to justify the claim that one of these answers is better than the others.  If reviewing the answer choices themselves has not helped, the clue to which answer is correct is likely to be in the question stem or "fact pattern" rather than in the answer choices.  So go back to the question stem and the fact pattern the look for the deciding factor.

    Choose the best answer.  A very common problem for test takers is the problem of recognizing that the best possible answer to a question has not been included among the answer choices.  None of the answer choices seems to be fully adequate to the situation.  In part, this is often a result of the way multiple-choice questions are constructed.  The exam maker does not have to include all the correct procedures in answer choices; that might make for terribly long answer choices.  Hence, some correct answers are only partial answers.  Sometimes you will be given more than one partial answer and asked to choose which is the best among these.  In this sort of situation, work at eliminating the answer choices which are definitely wrong or most seriously incomplete.  For your answer choose the best one remaining after this kind of elimination process.

    TOP SCORING EXAMINATION STRATEGIES

    1. Read the directions very carefully or listen closely to the moderator or instructor if directions are given orally.  If at any time you are unsure of any of the directions, raise your hand and a test monitor will come over and explain your question to you. Many types of these examinations differ from one section to the next.  You should pay particular attention to the instructions for these types of examinations.

    2. Before you begin, make sure you have all the pages in the examination.  In most examinations you will be told the number of pages in your booklet; check to make certain that you have all the pages or sections.  If any page is missing, immediately raise your hand and inform the test monitor.

    3. Make sure that you are marking the right answer to the right question.  All it takes is skipping one question and not skipping the corresponding number on the answer sheet, to cost you the examination.  Every five questions or so, it is a good idea to take a look at the number in the test booklet and the number on your answer key to insure they match.  Also pay strict attention to whether the answer key numbers are vertical or horizontal.  You don't want to find out that you have been answering the questions on the wrong numbers.

    4. When marking your answers, make sure that you mark only one answer for each question.  Do not make exceedingly large markings on your answer sheet; most of these examinations are graded by computer.  If the marking is too close to another marking, it will be double keyed and you will lose credit for that question.

    5. If you need to erase an answer, be sure you erase it completely.  Do not leave any shadows that could possibly show up when the computer is grading the examination.

    6. If you come across a question during the examination that you find difficult and you are spending too much time on it, skip over the question and leave a mark on your answer key.  Do not mark in the area where you will be answering; mark to the left of the number so that you know to come back to this number.  It is also a good idea, if you are allowed to mark in your test booklet, to mark out choices you have eliminated as being incorrect.  This allows you, when you come back at the end of the test, to go back to only the choices remaining when you are seeking the best answer.  If you come across a question on the examination that you find difficult, don't allow any more than two minutes on the question.  If you don't know the answer, mark it, skip it, and return to it after you have completed the remainder of the test.

    7. Check the time during the examination.  For example, if there is a 200 question test and a three hour time limit, you should be on question 100 with 1-1/2 hours left.  You should check the remaining time every 10-15 minutes to ensure you are on an appropriate time frame. 

    8. Do not change answers unless you are absolutely positive.  Time after time, studies have shown that when you change answers, 75-80% of the time you change it to a wrong answer.  The only time you should change an answer is if you are absolutely positive or if you have miskeyed an answer.  (For example, you intended to mark "C" and you inadvertently marked "B".)

    9. Don't be afraid to guess at an answer.  Most firefighter examinations are scored based on the number of correct answers.  On most examinations, there is no penalty for a wrong answer.  If you have three minutes remaining on the examination and 15 questions to answer, try to answer as many as possible, but if time does not allow, at least put an answer down for every question.

    STRATEGIES BEFORE THE EXAMINATION

    While taking these practice examinations, highlight the areas and questions that you find difficult.  Go back over these areas continuously until you understand the strategies and philosophies behind these questions.  This is the time to find out what you don't understand and the time to correct any testing deficiencies you may have.

    Find a comfortable area that is well lit.  The area should be free from distractions, and located as far away as possible from any potential distractions, such as televisions, radios, or where conversations are taking place. 

    Set aside a time of day where your concentration is at its peak.  For some individuals, this may be early morning, while for others it could be afternoon or evening.  Try to study for 1-2 hour sessions, which are more productive than several 20-25 minute sessions.

    For those individuals who are smokers, remember that during examinations, all smoking will be prohibited.  This means that you will not be allowed to smoke for this entire 2-3 hour period.  You should try eliminating smoking for 2-3 hour periods so that you will not have high anxiety or frustration from not smoking during the examination.

    Exercise regularly and stay in good physical condition.  People who keep themselves in good physical condition have a competitive edge over their competition.  A good, physically fit body makes for a good, mentally fit mind.

    Finally, it is important that you receive an adequate amount of rest, not only the day before the examination but also for the preceding period.  If you are used to going to bed at 11:00 p.m. and getting 7 hours of sleep, do so.  Do not think that if you go to bed at 9:00 p.m. the day before the examination, those extra two hours will help you.  More than likely, you will wake up two hours earlier and this will cause you more anxiety and a tendency to be more tired during the examination. 

    FINAL DAYS BEFORE THE EXAMINATION

    Diet :  Try to eat foods high in carbohydrates two-three days before the examination to give you the extra energy you will need.  You will be nervous the day before and the day of the exam; much of this nervousness and high anxiety will cause you to use up energy.  The night before the exam it is a good idea to have a pasta dinner to load up on carbohydrates to give you the needed energy for the test. 

    It is a good idea to have someone call you to make sure you don't oversleep the morning of the exam.  If you have a friend who is also taking the exam, you should follow each other.  In case your car would break down on the way to the exam, you could ride along with your friend and still arrive at the examination.

    ARRIVING FOR THE EXAMINATION

    Make sure you know the exact location of the examination.  It is a good idea to do a test run to find out the time frame it will take you to get to the examining site.  Remember that if it is a weekday and the examination is at 9:00 a.m., you will have to factor in rush hour traffic.  Remember, an accident on your route could cause you to be late for the examination.  Allow yourself at least an additional 45-50 minutes if you will be driving at a busy time period.  You should arrive at the examination site at least 30 minutes ahead of time.  This gives you adequate time in the event of any problem.  Bring along this booklet to review the strategies and questions during the extra time you will have.

    Upon arriving at the examination site, give yourself a chance to get your thoughts together and relax.  To relieve anxiety, take 4-5 deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly.  This will help release any anxiety that you may have.  Always remember, it is better to have some anxiety and be well prepared for your examination than to have no anxiety and be unprepared.

    Many examinations are held in large auditoriums or halls.  It is a good idea to bring a light sweater or sweatshirt that you can put on before the test.

    You will find that most firefighter examinations have a 2-3 hour time limit.  You should build up to concentrating for these extended periods of time.  If the examination is 3 hours, you want to be just as sharp at the end as you were at the beginning. Take some type of snack with you to eat after the second hour of testing to keep your blood sugar up.  This will increase your concentration level and keep you from becoming drowsy.

    TEST ANXIETY

    A problem that many fire applicants are having that is causing a stumbling block in their pursuit of becoming a firefighter is test anxiety.  Many applicants have completely prepared themselves for the examination only to be overcome with test anxiety when they walk into the room.  This can be dealt with and brought under control.  A small level of adrenalin at the beginning of the exam will keep your mind sharp.  The problem occurs when the adrenalin and anxiety are too high, preventing you from concentrating and doing your best in the examination process.

    What can you do to help control test anxiety? 

    • First and foremost, be well prepared for the exam.  Nothing gives you more confidence than knowing you are adequately prepared for the exam.   Remember that it is better to have a little anxiety and be well prepared than to have no preparation and no test anxiety.
    • Weeks before the actual exam, visualize yourself walking into the exam, sitting down, and getting ready for the exam.  For many applicants, this initial start of the exam causes the greatest anxiety.  This first 15-20 minutes of the exam is valuable time that you don't want to waste.  You may need it at the end of the exam to go over questions you weren't sure of. 
    • While you are sitting and waiting for the exam to begin, take deep breaths to relax yourself.  Visualize yourself scoring well on the examination.
    • As you anticipate the exam, think positive.  Tell yourself that you are prepared and ready and that you have confidence in your abilities.  Try not to put any negative thoughts in your mind such as, "I've never taken this type of exam before."  Reverse the negative thoughts and turn them into positive ones:  "This will be great practice for this type of examination; I will just do my best."
    • Focus on the exam and not the people around you.  Keep telling yourself, "I am going to do better on this exam than anyone else here."  Tell yourself confident messages.
    • Don't waste your time worrying about the consequences of not doing well on the exam. 
    • Take deep breaths to relax yourself.  If you feel overcome by anxiety during the test, put your pencil down, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.  It only takes 30-40 seconds.  Inhale and exhale deeply.  Don't worry about the people around you.  Your goal that day is to do the best you can – if you need to relax and refocus, do it.
    • The day before the exam, eat a good meal that is high in carbohydrates, such as pasta.  On exam day, you will be nervous and your anxiety will use up needed energy.
    • Be sure to get a good night's sleep.
    • Have someone call you to make sure you don't oversleep the morning of the exam.
    • If you have a friend who is also taking the exam, follow each other.  If your car should break down on the way, you could ride along with your friend and still arrive for the exam on time.
    • Be sure to allow yourself enough travel time to allow for traffic jams.  Nothing will cause more anxiety than arriving for the exam 2-3 minutes late.

 

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Locating Firefighter Examinations

Top Scoring Test-taking Strategies

Capt Bob’s Oral Interview Strategies

Top Scoring Physical Agility Strategies

Resumes

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Encyclopedia of Firefighter Examinations

Reading Comprehension & Mathematics Preparation

Psychological Examination Preparation

Capt Bob’s Oral Interview Preparation

Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package

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Understanding Oral Information Exam Preparation

Capt Bob’s Becoming a Firefighter – The Complete Guide to Your Badge

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