Two Tips to Help Manage Test Anxiety for Fire Service Promotional Exams


Anyone taking a fire department promotional exam knows it’s a big deal. There’s a lot riding on your success, which means the pressure is on to not just test well, but to score in the top ten, five, or even two spots. Unfortunately for many, the promotional exam experience itself is often compounded by test anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affected over 40 million adults — more than 18% of the population. This isn’t the usual pre-test jitters and edginess. True testing anxiety can actually derail weeks or even months of diligent preparation. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, here are two tips to help manage test anxiety for fire service promotional exams.

Defining Test Anxiety

We’ve all heard stories of people in our departments who have taken — and failed — written promotional tests two, three, even four and five times. But why? Was it a lack of preparation, not enough sleep, fear of failure, or true test anxiety? The Princeton Review describes test anxiety as “racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, or feelings of dread” that may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as “a fast heartbeat, headache, or nausea.” The good news is that there could be a specific reason triggering your text anxiety. And once you understand the root of the problem, you can take steps to manage it.

Avoiding Lack of Preparation

Lack of preparation is a common culprit of test anxiety. And it’s completely avoidable. Instead of trying to wing it — and panicking when you sit down to test and realize you’re in way over your head — put in the work on the front end. Knowing that you’ve done all you can to properly prepare for your exam will go a great distance in reassuring yourself that you can do this. Start with practice tests that you can take on the go. Organize a study group. Create a schedule for yourself that gives you enough time to stud properly. Make a plan and stick to it so that you’re ready and confident come test day.

Managing Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is another trigger for test anxiety. Experts outline these methods for using fear of failure to your advantage:

    • Set mini goals first: Sure, your goal is to ace the promotional exam. But start smaller — set a goal to study one hour per day, maybe, or to complete 100 questions in your FiredUp software every time you open it.
    • Visualize obstacles: Walk through the possible scenarios in your mind. Visualize yourself taking the test, facing question after question that you don’t know, and feeling the anxiety and pressure. Then, visualize specific steps you can take to overcome this obstacle, like studying, scheduling, preparing. You may still face questions you can’t confidently answer, but by visualizing this obstacle ahead of time, you’re far less likely fall apart.
    • Think positively: Positive thinking has been shown to boost self-confidence and minimize self-sabotage. Don’t pick yourself apart — build yourself up!

The Takeaway

Any firefighter has the ability to promote — it simply boils down to how willing you are to properly prepare. Take ownership and accountability for the reasons behind your test anxiety, and don’t give up on your goals.