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How to master your next written test

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How to master your next written test

By Stacy Bell

If you have ever taken any written test — in school or for employment purposes — you've likely felt annoyed or upset at some of the questions you were asked. It could be anything from feeling like there was no correct answer, there was more than one "right" answer — meaning that several of the distractors could be possible correct answers, or that the test question just didn't seem relevant.

If you've ever experienced these feelings you are not alone. This is a common complaint by candidates who take entry-level firefighter tests. Despite the perception that the test items weren't fair or were intended to trick the candidates, you should know that test developers do not set out to intentionally trick or confuse the candidates.

Quite the contrary — in today's times where recruitment processes are challenged and can tie up fire departments in litigation lasting years and resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars, test developers are very sensitive to the way they construct written tests. Listed below are some helpful hints that you can employ the next time you take a written test:

• Read the test question twice in its entirety! Some test questions are designed to have several parts to them. This is particularly true of math questions. If you are asked a question that first requires multiplication and then addition, the distractors may be answers that you would chose if you only performed the first step of the problem.

Example: You and three other crew members are at the store shopping for food for dinner. The total grocery bill comes to $30.76. Everyone decides to contribute equally to the total grocery bill. After paying the grocery bill, you decide you want to purchase a pack of gum for yourself. The gum costs $.75 (no tax). What is the total amount of money you will pay at the store?

A. $ 7.69
B. $ 7.88
C. $ 8.44
D. $10.25

Choice A may appear to be correct as this is the amount if $30.76 was split by all four crew members, but it doesn't take into account the $.75 pack of gum. Choice B is the amount spent if the $.75 pack of gum was added to the $30.76 total and was then split by all four crew members, but the gum shouldn't be included in the total grocery bill as you elected to purchase this for yourself. Choice D is the amount that if "three other crew members" split the $30.76 bill. If you didn't read the question thoroughly you may select this choice. Choice C is the correct answer. If you first divide the $30.76 total grocery bill all four crewmembers who agreed to equally split the total grocery bill, you would have $7.69 but you then need to add the $.75 you are going to pay for the gum which makes your total $8.44.

• When answering situational questions, respond as you think an "ideal" firefighter would respond to the situation on-the-job. Many entry-level firefighter tests now include test items that put the candidate in a real life situation they are likely to encounter on the job and ask them how they would respond to the situation. It's important to remember that these test questions are often reviewed by actual firefighter personnel who have identified the best answer and that your response should mirror how you think a future colleague or supervisor would want to you respond on the job.

In summary, while you may feel that test questions are intended to trick you keep in mind the real goal: to identify the candidates who perform the best on the test. This will certainly require you to slow down, read the question in its entirety, rule out obvious incorrect choices, and think like a Firefighter!

Test your firefighter readiness online with the National Fire Select Test™ today by visiting

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