Making The Grade In Fire Service Tests-Part 1

A look at the differences between good and bad tests and how to prepare for each type.


How to prepare for a test depends on the quality of the test, whether it is well made or not. We will refer to well-made tests as "good tests" and poorly made tests as "bad tests." First, let's identify what makes a test good or bad. Good Tests There will be a published book list, from...


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How to prepare for a test depends on the quality of the test, whether it is well made or not. We will refer to well-made tests as "good tests" and poorly made tests as "bad tests."

First, let's identify what makes a test good or bad.

Good Tests

There will be a published book list, from which all questions will be drawn, which may include other references as well, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs). These will be current, available books and other written references, published in plenty of time to prepare for the test, usually 60 to 90 days ahead.

There will also be published a list of other factors which will influence the outcome of the test, such as points for time in grade, minority status, supervisor's input and previous evaluations. There will be both opportunity and procedure given for how to "squawk" at any of the preceding.

Questions will be well constructed. If multiple choice, there will be one correct answer and three incorrect ones. There will NOT be instructions to pick "the best answer" or "the most correct" answer. Questions will not be ambiguous. You may not know the answer but you will know with certainty what is being asked.

Questions and answers will be drawn from the listed references, whether textbook, local plans, departmental SOPS, etc. There will NOT be any arbitrary questions — "What is the best hose lay?" — or matters of opinion which are not clearly found in the references.

Questions will be clear and understandable. You will either know the answer immediately or realize immediately that you don't know the answer. You should never encounter a question where you simply can't understand what is being asked.

There should be a clearly explained squawk procedure available as you take the test. You should squawk at a question if:

  1. There is no correct answer.
  2. There is more than one correct answer.
  3. The question didn't come from the reading list.
  4. The question was too hard to understand.
  5. Other.

There should be no cheating allowed during the test. Although it goes against peer pressure, cheating should be stopped or reported. Challenges leading to lawsuits can arise from cheating. All candidates taking the same test should take it at the same time.

Grading should be prompt and done in public view, such as by an instructor, alone, in a room with glass in the doors. Squawks should be dealt with BEFORE the test results are known. A question found to be bad should be removed from the test, not just credit given to those who missed it.

A good test has most or all of the above characteristics.

Bad Tests

A test has to be missing only a few of the above points, in some cases only one, to be a bad test. Here are the characteristics of a bad test:

  • No book list.
  • No time to prepare.
  • No listing of all the factors which will affect grade.
  • Questions poorly constructed.
  • Ambiguous.
  • Arbitrary.
  • Undocumented/not provable.
  • Incomprehensible.
  • Bad administration practices.
  • Cheating allowed.
  • Same test, different days.
  • Same test used over and over.
  • Doubtful grading practices.

Preparing For A Good Test

Having described both good and bad tests, now we will look at how to prepare for each kind of test.

Obtain the books and other references on the reading list as soon as possible, and begin study. The only sure way to do well on a good test is to know the material. Read all you can, and learn all you can on your own. Then, if something doesn't make sense, ASK SOMEONE WHO KNOWS. Most people will venture some answer whether they know or not, because everyone feels foolish saying, "I don't know."

It is pure foolishness to realize you don't know something that will be on a test and then not take steps to have it explained to you, even though it may be a little embarrassing to have to admit to someone else that you don't get something.

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