So you’ve applied for your promotional test and you have the lengthy list of study materials (books, policies, manuals, etc.) in hand. Step two is figuring out how to study all of this material most effectively so you’ll pass that test. And your plan of attack should include a study plan that identifies proven methods of studying for maximum retention. Science tells us that we benefit from mixing up our study modalities. Limiting yourself to a single study method, whether it’s flashcards, reading, or taking and reviewing notes, means limiting your ability to retain as much information as possible. So what are your options? If you’re studying for your fire department promotion, here are seven ways to do it.
This is studying 101 and a great place to get started. Be sure to read the entire book, including appendices. Don’t miss tables, charts or photo captions — you never know where that testing information is coming from! Read everything listed on your promotion test announcement, in its entirety. If there’s time — and if you start studying well ahead of your fire promotion test, that won’t be a problem — you can always reread this material as well. But reading can be a time-consuming approach to studying, so don’t get hung up on the idea that you need to read every book multiple times. Better to get through the information, take pertinent notes, and move on.
If you take diligent notes and write thorough outlines with those notes the first time you read a book, you’ll save you time down the road. Use your favorite note-taking method to condense the important information from the books. One strategy is to highlight the book as they read, then go back and write out notes. Another is to type out notes as you read so you have them in a digital format and can even print them out if you like. The goal is to write out the material you are learning to experience the information in a different medium.
Most fire service textbooks found on firefighter promotional exams have an accompanying study guide or workbook. Check Amazon — they have everything. Read the book, then complete the workbook. That way, you’re not only writing out and thinking about the material, you’re also testing yourself on the information. It can take time, but it’s a great approach. Spend the little bit of extra money and challenge yourself.
Making flashcards for any questions I missed when I completed the study guide for a given book has been a really effective method for me. Study guides are great for highlighting your areas of weakness, and flashcards help you learn the material in two separate ways. First, you benefit from the actual act of writing out the material. Once you have your cards, you have a portable study guide with which to test yourself. Flashcards can be used to study a mix of material for a fire service promotional exam, including learning definitions, acronyms, policies, NFPA standards, wildland firefighting watchout situations and fire orders. Because of their flexibility for studying and repetition, I recommend using flashcards to focus on your areas of weakness. Use Quizlet to make online flashcards that are easy to keep organized and study on any device.
Using practice tests to test your knowledge and experience information in the same format as you will be tested has been proven to be one of the most effective study methods. Practice tests can be found in study guides, but the most effective and efficient method are online practice tests. Like flashcards, practice tests will quickly identify areas of weakness so you can focus your learning with other study methods. They also help you catch information you may have overlooked during reading or taking notes. Testing yourself as you study with shorter practice tests is a great strategy, but as you get closer to test day, I recommend taking at least two to three longer practice tests to better prepare.
You should have formed a study group or at least found one study partner as part of your study plan. Open discussion with them will lead to greater learning of the material. As many people have said, your greatest learning comes when you are teaching others. Take advantage of your study group or partner and try to explain concepts to them — it will benefit you both.
If you have a long commute, like many firefighters do, then audio books are a great way to get through all the books on your test. Unfortunately, not all books have this option, but if they do, it’s worth getting. Even if you have read the books already, I still recommend listening to the audio book. Adding an auditory approach to your study plan can help boost retention, and it’s a good way to squeeze in study time. Plug in some audio books during your workouts or chores and you’ll be surprised by how much you retain.
The best study plan is highly personal, so build in time to figure out what works well for you. Taking a well-rounded approach to studying, with at least three different study methods, will pay off. There are no shortcuts here. Do the work, and get promoted!