Five Things to Do Immediately if You Fail Your Fire Department Promotion Test


It’s a huge punch to the gut when you learn that didn’t pass your promotional test in the fire service. You poured a ton of time and energy into preparing for that test, and coming up short is an experience no one wants to have. I've been there myself — I poured my heart and soul into my first captain test, and still I fell short in the testing process. I was devastated and felt alone on an island. But failing is a normal part of life. And while it’s fair to feel sorry for yourself for a little while, the best way forward is to jump straight into action so you can learn from the experience. Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t numb yourself. Don’t blame your department. Take some time to process how you feel, and then get to work. Here are five things to do immediately if you fail your fire department promotion test.

1. Review your Test Results and Take Notes

At my department, we have the opportunity to meet with the civil service department to review the individual results of our testing process. If this opportunity is open to you, take it. If it isn’t, ask if you can get it. Seeing the actual feedback on your test puts you at a huge advantage, so try contacting HR, administration, or the civil service department to schedule a meeting for reviewing your results. Your hand should be hurting by the time you leave because of all those notes! Do what you can to make this happen. I know the last thing you want to do after failing a fire promotion test is go back to headquarters or city hall, but it’s one of the best ways to learn from the experience and move forward.

2. Write Down Everything you Remember from the Test

This is an opportunity to rehash every aspect of your test, from the questions you remember on the exam itself to what other candidates wore or did. Write down what felt good and what made you nervous. Clarifying the parts of your test for which you didn’t feel prepared gives you the opportunity to get it right next time. And by writing everything down while it’s still fresh, you’ll be able to pinpoint all the areas where you fell short so you can develop a more effective plan of attack for the next test. It’ll come at you faster than you think.

3. Write Down What Worked Well for Studying — And What Didn’t

Reflect on your studying process and how you prepared for the test. Are there some things you did that had zero payoff? If so, great. We can remove those from your study plan for the next test. Was there something that really prepared you for specific parts of the test? Also great. Let’s include that in your study plan for the next test. Do you wish you had used a study group or just a study partner? Was there an effective study tool that worked well for you? Did you try blocking out time for your study sessions? Did you avoid ineffective study techniques?  Write down all the good and the bad — get it out of your head and onto paper for easy reference for next time.

4. Talk with Other Firefighters who Tested

Brainstorming with others who went through the same testing process can help you put together a complete picture of what happened. I recommend talking with people who both passed and failed the same test you did. This is a great way to see where you may have misinterpreted a direction or piece of information. Find out how others handled a situation or scenario that troubled you. Jot down notes on ideas you get from others to improve your performance for the next test. Be a little vulnerable here and reach out to your coworkers. Be the one to admit you came up short, and ask others what they did to test so well. And then listen to what they have to say.

5. Save all of your Study Materials

Save everything. Save your outlines, note cards, practice problems, workbooks, mock ups and whatever else you created for studying. Resist the feeling of frustration and the urge to throw it all away. You put a lot of work into building your study material. Don’t waste it. Odds are good that you can reuse a bunch of your study materials on the next testing process, and save yourself tons of time. Combining the information gathered from the previous four actions and combining those with your study materials will give you a massive head start for the next test.

Everything you put together in this process should be kept in a neat package with all the study material you used to prepare. Put it all in a box out of sight and forget about it, until next time. You’ll probably find that it takes a few tweaks to your study plan or study materials to get you right back on track for preparing — and passing —  your next fire department promotional exam. Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself. Push past the pain and embarrassment by reminding yourself that everyone fails at some point — it’s how we grow and improve. This may be the experience you needed to ensure your success next time you test.

Plan. Work hard. And keeping pushing forward, no matter how many times it takes.