Overcoming Firefighter Test and Exam Anxiety

Dec. 11, 2006
A common stumbling block in the pursuit of becoming a firefighter is 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.

Brent Collins is currently Assistant Fire Chief, Cleveland Fire Department and President of Don McNea Fire School. Since 1950, Don McNea Fire School has prepared over 40,000 fire applicants with our entry level seminars and products. Fireprep.com has over 250 pages of FREE information and career articles to help you reach your goal of becoming a firefighter. Visit his website for more information on test taking strategy and advice. Click here to send an email or call 1-800-989-FIRE.

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