Firefighter Written Test: What to Expect and How to Prepare

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If you’ve recently decided to pursue a career as a firefighter and you’ve done some research on the process, you know that the first major step toward achieving this goal is passing the written firefighter examination. Passing the written exam is much more than a basic requirement. In fact, this may determine if and where you get a firefighter job in the near future.

The firefighter written test can include; basic math, reading and oral comprehension, memory, spatial orientation, mechanical aptitude, written expression, and reasoning. It does not usually require previous firefighting knowledge.

Before you even think about scheduling an exam date or beginning to study for the test, you should focus your attention on understanding the test’s format and preparing yourself for test day. Knowing the content on the exam is great, but not knowing what to expect on test day can be detrimental to your test performance.

For information about the process to become a firefighter, read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide

Studying for the Exam

Due to the limited availability of test dates for entry-level firefighters, studying for the test and getting the highest score possible is incredibly important if you don’t want to set your career back another year or more. No pressure here.

To better prepare for the test and guarantee a higher score, you might want to invest in firefighter written exam prep books that overview the format of the test, review some subjects you’ll be evaluated on, and allow you the opportunity to take practice exams to see what the test is really like.

Here is the number 1 test prep book I suggest to help you ace your written exam.

There are also many online tools and resources you can use to help you review the types of questions you’ll see on the test and the content you’re expected to know.

For more information on the best study resources, read The 14 Best Firefighter Exam Prep Books and Tools.

Test Format

Though the actual content and questions on your written firefighter exam may be different than the exam somewhere else, the general format of the tests are all the same. The test is formatted in a way that makes it easy to complete and easy to grade without room for misinterpretation.

Generally speaking, the written exam has anywhere between 100 and 150 questions all formatted to be multiple-choice. Rather than having open-ended responses that can stir up controversy related potential bias, illegible handwriting, and objective grading, multiple-choice questions guarantee that you either got the answer completely right or completely wrong.

The entire test is expected to take between 120 and 180 minutes (2 to 3 hours), but this again is dependent on the number of questions on your exam and how quickly you typically complete tests. They will stop the test at the end of the time limit, regardless of whether or not you have finished, so manage your time wisely.

What You’ll Be Tested On

The written firefighter exam doesn’t usually test you on fire science content as much as it examines your ability to analyze situations and come up with appropriate responses. Fire science concepts are weaved into many of the questions, but the questions are actually testing your cognitive skills and reasoning.

Here are some sections you might encounter on your firefighter exam and what types of questions you should expect in each.

1. Memorization

In the memorization section of the written exam, you may be provided an image or diagram to view before answering questions. Once you’ve memorized the data, patterns, or information in the diagram or image you’ll proceed to the questions about the visual.

To demonstrate your memorization skills, you won’t be allowed to refer back to the image once you’ve moved on to the question portion. You’ll be given a time limit for how long you can view the image.

When viewing the diagram or image, you should focus on all possible aspects. Some things you should focus more on include:

  • Physical locations on the map
  • Names
  • Numbers
  • Order of events
  • Directional cues

For example, if you’re given a map diagram, you might be asked about intersecting streets, a location of a specific landmark, or the distance between two locations. With that said, while you’re looking at the diagram, consider the types of questions you might be asked and that all information in the diagram has the potential to be important to you.

2. Math

The math section of the firefighter exam is usually straightforward, but may not be easy, depending on your strengths. It doesn’t usually include advanced calculus and trigonometry. As a firefighter, you will need to be able to use math to calculate friction loss and pumping pressures for the water flowing from the fire engine to different types of hose-lines.

The types of math that you will be tested on include:

For example, you may be given a word problem that asks you if a fire engine uses 525 gallons of water out of a 1200 gallon water tank, what percentage of water is left in the tank? (1200 – 525 = 675) (675 / 1200 = 0.56) So, 675 gallons (water left in the tank) is 56% of the 1200 gallon water tank.

Here is a video that talks more about firefighter math:

The Math Behind Firefighting | Simulated Workplace

3. Visualization

This section of the exam requires you to be able to visualize events or patterns in your head and make your best judgment. The questions you’re given are typically associated with a diagram or image that you’ll be allowed to refer to while answering the question (unlike the memorization section).

Here are some types of things you might be required to visualize.

  • What a home looks like from a different angle/direction
  • What the inside of a structure may look like based on its exterior
  • What would happen to a structure or home if XYZ occurred

For example, you might be provided with a drawing that displays the front of a home. Based on this drawing and what the home looks like from the front, you might be asked what the home would look like from either side, from above, or from behind. Your answer choices would also be drawings.

4. Spatial Orientation

This section centers on being able to identify an object’s physical location in relation to another object (or even yourself). These questions demonstrate your ability to follow directions and maintain spatial awareness while viewing a map, drawing, or a diagram.

The focus of these questions may include:

  • How to get from Point A to Point B by following a set list of rules or guidelines
  • Following a set of directions and determining your approximate endpoint

For example, you might be provided with a local city map and be asked to determine the most direct route from the fire station to a local structural fire. In this situation, you might even be asked to consider traffic laws or avoid certain streets. Your answer choices will be step-by-step directions regarding how to get there.

Here is a video about spatial orientation tests:

7 SPATIAL REASONING TEST Questions, Answers and TIPS!

5. Reading Comprehension

This section of the exam will demonstrate your ability to read a passage or sentence and determine its meaning. You may also be asked to make an inference based on what you read or answer a question about the direct contents of the passage.

The reading comprehension section is one of the more straightforward sections, but there are endless possibilities when it comes to what questions you’ll actually be asked about a passage. Here are some things you might be asked after reading your provided paragraph or sentence.

  • The overall meaning of the entire passage
  • What the __ step is in the process described
  • What a certain word means in relation to the text
  • What the text suggests you do in a specific scenario

For example, you might be given a passage describing how to respond to a specific fire-based emergency. The passage will describe step-by-step how to respond and steps to avoid taking. The questions you’re asked may be about the fourth step of the process or the danger of performing a specific task, as described in the passage.

6. Written Expression

This section is similar to the reading comprehension section but requires a bit more of an understanding of the actual text you’re provided with and an advanced understanding of the English language. Considering the information you’re provided, you need to determine the best way to express the ideas you’re given.

This section is all about being able to communicate ideas concisely, accurately, and effectively. Based on a provided passage, here are some possible question focuses.

  • The best way to communicate the general idea of the given passage
  • The appropriate order of events that occurred in the text
  • An overview of what actually happened in the passage.

For example, you could be given a passage about the steps a firefighter took when responding to a medical emergency. Based on the events described, you might be asked to summarize the events surrounding the emergency to include a concise official report. This will show that you understand the steps taken and know how to summarize appropriately.

7. Mechanical Aptitude

This portion of the exam will evaluate your ability to recognize and apply certain mechanical properties. This is frequently done by showing pictures of different simple machines and asking you questions about how the function.

They may ask questions about mechanical advantages like:

For example, they may ask a question about gears. Something like: Gear A has 60 teeth and Gear B has 20 teeth. If Gear A makes make one full revolution, how many revolutions does Gear B make? (answer= 3 revolutions).

Here is a video on mechanical aptitude tests:

Mechanical Comprehension Tests (Questions and Answers)

8. Information Ordering

This section has the potential to be the most direct questioning method on the firefighter exam and is relatively easy to ace. Simply put, you’ll be required to analyze a passage or brief text and regurgitate the correct order of the process explained.

Information ordering questions typically require you to:

  • Read a passage that explains a specific rule or process
  • Read a sample scenario that relates to the given process (from above)
  • Determine the next step in the process OR correctly order the steps of the process to relate to the sample scenario.

For example, you may be given a passage describing how to respond to a fire emergency. You’ll then be given a scenario that requires the person in the scenario to follow the process outlined in the previous passage. The scenario may explain the first three steps the person took and then ask you what step they should take next.

9. Problem Sensitivity

This section requires a combination of commonsense and skilled situation analysis. For the most part, this section will ask you to identify problems within a provided scenario, not to actually solve the problem at hand.

Here is an example of the general format of problem sensitivity questions.

  • Read a passage about a rule or strategy that firefighters must follow
  • Read about a scenario that is impacted by this rule or strategy
  • Determine where in the scenario the problem actually is (ex: Where the rule or strategy should be followed or isn’t currently being followed)

For example, you might be given a passage that explains the proper protocol for setting up a ladder at a structural fire. The question may then ask you which of the four answer choices demonstrates a possible problem and/or danger for setting up a ladder at the scene.

10. Deductive Reasoning

This section requires a bit more thinking and extensive analysis of the questions you’re asked. In this section, you’ll be given a set of rules to apply to a specific scenario that you’re given and ultimately make a judgment based on this data.

The deductive reasoning questions will challenge you to develop insight into a situation and apply basic rules of logic and commonsense. Here are things you’ll need to consider when answering these deductive reasoning questions.

  • The general rule that you’re provided
  • The specific situation you’re analyzing
  • The relationship between the rule and situation
  • Possible exceptions to the rules or situation

For example, you might be given an overview of several different types of incidents related to fire. Then, you’ll be provided with a short scenario and have to determine which of these types of incidents best describes the actual incident that occurred.

11. Inductive Reasoning

Many people believe that these questions are the most complex of the questions you’ll see on the written firefighter exam. The general theme of these questions is being able to piece together small bits of information and make an inference based on the data you’re given.

There are several different types of questions that test your inductive reasoning skills. These types of questions include:

  • Making a general inference or judgment based on specific data
  • Recognizing similarities between several situations and drawing a conclusion

For example, you might be provided with a diagram of a sample daily maintenance log that clearly logs the vehicle’s issues and performance on a daily basis. Based on the issues the truck is experiencing, you could be asked what major issue the truck needs to have fixed.

For a free practice test to help you prepare, go to Job Test Prep.

Before the Test

All prospective firefighters are required to pass a written and physical examination prior to being considered for any paid firefighter positions. The general concepts, content, and ideas on the test are similar in every state and jurisdiction, but each of these areas is allowed to develop its own version of the written exam

Before scheduling a written exam, you should make sure that you learn about the importance of passing the test, figure out when the test will be administered next in your area, and then begin the studying process. Once you feel confident in each of these concepts, you’re officially ready for test day!

Passing the Test

As mentioned previously, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the firefighter written exam. However, what remains the same between all states and jurisdictions is the requirement that you pass the test before you’re able to proceed to the physical exam. A passing score is usually 80%, but that may vary.

The score you earn on the written exam has a significant impact on your future as a firefighter. While a score of 80% technically makes you qualified and allows you to advance to the physical exam, your goal should be to get the highest score possible.

Getting a solid score on this test is an important part of the hiring process, to set yourself up for more job interviews and job offers once you complete the remainder of the requirements to be a firefighter.

Scheduling the Test

For the most part, departments offer the written firefighter exam about once per year, but some major cities and states may only offer the test once every several years. It’s extremely important that you enroll within the designated application period, which opens up several months before the actual test date in order to be eligible to take the exam come the day of the test.

Unlike many tests and certifications, you really don’t have the option to schedule the test a few weeks in advance or whenever you feel most ready. If your state has scheduled an entry-level firefighter exam for March, you’re either taking the test in March or waiting for the next test date to roll around.

Test Day

When test day finally arrives and it’s time for you to prove that your future involves being a firefighter, the most important thing is following the rules and regulations set by the testing center and the department. Failing to do so may result in being ineligible to take the test or an automatic failure, neither of which looks good to future employers.

The format of the test and the concepts and skills you’ll be tested on are generally the same no matter where you take your test. Whether you’re doing your own research, attending a written exam prep course, or simply reviewing a test prep book in your own time, the goal is to be prepared for what’s on the test and how you’ll be tested.

Arriving at Your Testing Facility

Like any important test, interview, or event, you should arrive reasonably early. Depending on your testing center and state, you might be required to arrive anywhere between 30 minutes and a few hours early to guarantee that you’re checked in and ready to go.

It’s extremely important that you abide by your testing center’s arrival guidelines.

Before the day of the test, you should locate your testing center on a map and determine the best way to get there when the day of the test finally arrives. You should do a practice drive to the facility to see how long it actually takes to get there and take into account potential traffic, accidents, or roadwork that may be occurring at the time you’ll be on the road.

When the day of the test comes, make sure you have all of the documents you’re required to bring physically in your possession. If you’re leaving the house to get there early, there’s a greater chance that you’ll remember to bring these items because you won’t be rushing around as much.

Get to the testing center early and check-in as soon as possible.

Rules & Regulations

chalkboard says "know the rules"

Both the department and the testing center will have rules and regulations that you’ll be required to follow in order to take the test. Not bringing the proper documentation or breaking the rules during the test may prevent you from taking the exam.

Here are some rules, regulations, and processes you should expect on test day.

  • Bring your driver’s license or another acceptable form of photo ID (passport, military identification, etc.).
  • No food and beverages are allowed in the testing facility.
  • Only those taking the test are permitted in the testing center, so do not bring family members or friends along with you.
  • You are highly encouraged to turn your phone off or completely mute the device during your test. If your phone audibly goes off during the test, you’ll be asked to leave the testing facility and your test will be voided.

After the Test

Once you complete and submit your exam, you likely won’t find out what your score is until a few weeks after. The stress and anxiety of waiting can be a real doozy, but if you studied and prepared yourself appropriately, you should feel a bit more confident during your wait.

After receiving your passing score, you can begin to take the next steps in the process and bring yourself even closer to achieving your goal of being a firefighter. The written test was simply the first step of many to get you to your end goal.

Taking the Next Steps

Once you’ve passed your written firefighter exam, your next step is to pass the physical abilities test. (Some departments may have you pass the physical test before applying) The actual test you’re required to take depends on your state and the fire stations you’re applying at.

Here are two examples of firefighter physical abilities tests you may be required to pass. Keep in mind that both tests are pass/fail which means as long as you complete all events properly within the given timeline, you’ll pass the test.

  • The Candidate Physical Abilities Test (CPAT) is the more common firefighter physical abilities test and is likely the test that you’ll be required to take to fulfill this requirement. In this 10 minute and 20-second test, you’ll be engaged in 10 consecutive events that require you to perform tasks that a firefighter is likely to face in the field.
  • The Biddle Test is a less common physical abilities test that is required in some areas of California. In this 9 minute and 34-second test, you’ll be required to complete 11 rigorous events that will demonstrate your abilities to perform physical tasks that firefighters could face on a daily basis. 

Here is a video explaining the CPAT test:

FCTC S. El Monte - CPAT Orientation

For more information on the CPAT and Biddle tests, as well as how to train and prepare, read: 8 Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT and The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained.

To schedule your CPAT, test go to FCTonline.org or nationaltestingnetwork.com

Once you’ve passed both the written and physical components of the firefighter exam, you’ll be able to move on to the interview processes and eventually the fire academy. You officially got the ball rolling on your firefighter career.

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Conclusion

Passing the written firefighter exam isn’t just a requirement to earn a position as a firefighter. The score you receive on the test also has the ability to alter the trajectory of your career as you know it. When it comes to the written firefighter exam, you should:

  • Learn about the contents of the test and schedule yourself for the next available test date.
  • Study, study, study! A good score is important and can impact your ability to get a job.
  • Take and pass the written firefighter exam.
  • Move on to the physical abilities test to demonstrate how physically capable you are of being a firefighter.

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