Four Effective Learning Strategies for Firefighter Promotional Exams


There is no shortage of voices and distractions out there telling you the best way to prepare for a test. The recommendations I’ve been given personally include audio books, note cards, reading books multiple times, studying captions, memorization, study guides, study groups, outlining, and on and on and on. It’s hard to cut through the chatter to find what really works, but there is a lot of data that debunks the theory of learning styles. Here’s what else science says — there are four studying methods that are proven effective, according to a study conducted by the University of Indiana. If you’re gearing up for a fire department promotional exam, increase your chances of success with one of these four learning strategies.

1. Space Out Study Sessions Over Time

The most efficient learning occurs by studying for one hour once per day. That’s really the secret formula — no more and no less. If you’re studying more than that, two strikes — you aren’t being efficient with your time and your learning is less effective after that first hour. Use that hour to answer the age old question of when you need to start studying before your fire promotion test. How much time do you need to fully prepare? If you’re studying an hour a day, you need enough time to get through all of the material that will be on your test.

2. Experience Material in Multiple Modalities

This is going to a personal preference, but sometimes it helps to see how others approach this multiple modality idea. I started by reading the book. Then I took notes and wrote an outline. Next, I completed the study guide for the book and made note cards of the information I didn’t know to study later. I used an online practice test software to test my knowledge of the book. Lastly, I revisited and fine-tuned any information I hadn’t completely retained. I also discussed material and went through practice problems with my study group. Find what works for you, but try to see the material in at least three to four different formats before your test.

3. Test Yourself on the Material as Part of Study Practices

This can be done in a few different ways, including flashcards, study guides or practice tests. Personally, I preferred to use all three of these methods at some point during my studies (and as step two just showed us, it’s a good approach). As it happens, online practice tests are the most efficient way to get lots of practice in before your test.

4. Elaborate on Material to Make Meaningful Connections

This is probably the most difficult study strategy, but it can give you the best results. Having a study group is ideal for this effective learning method, but you can also discuss topics that challenge you with your family, friends or coworkers. Find a way to talk out loud about complex areas of the material you are learning. If you’re taking a fire captain or lieutenant test that includes an assessment center, make a point of attending a seminar like those put on by Chief Kastros. It’ll force you to discuss and practice out loud in front of others.

The Best Advice

Ignore the noise and advice from other firefighters who claim to know what is best. And yes, I’m a firefighter offering advice here, but I’m really just sharing the science that tells us the best way to learn and retain information. And science says these are the most effective learning strategies for passing your fire department promotional exam. Don’t waste your precious time and effort using methods won’t do the trick. I want you to pass your promotion test and get promoted, and this is how to do it.