Preparing for a firefighter exam involves both academic study and physical training. A typical fire department uses a written examination to select applicants with the necessary knowledge and mental ability to serve as firefighters. A physical exam then ensures that these applicants also possess the strength and endurance needed to do this demanding work. Prospective firefighters should generally train at a steady pace for both phases of the firefighter exam. Some departments also employ a video testing program that is designed to ascertain an applicant's ability to function as a firefighter and make correct social and technical decisions.
The specific material covered on the written portion of a firefighter exam varies from region to region. Information about the contents of a specific test is typically made available to the public, and some sample questions are often included. If key facts or pieces of information must be memorized, these are also generally listed in an official publication. All people have different individual learning styles, but most can benefit from active learning. Writing material out, reading it aloud, or even explaining it to others can serve to fix it in the memory more effectively than silent reading alone.
Pacing is important when studying for the written portion of a firefighter exam. A human brain can absorb and retain only a limited amount of information at a time. Studying gradually over the course of several weeks or months is more effective than cramming for an exam in an afternoon. Short breaks in the middle of study sessions can also be helpful in allowing the brain to process and retain more information.
A long-term plan is also essential for success on the physical section of a firefighter exam. Most departments announce the specific types of fitness and conditioning that are required to pass the exam. Typically, an applicant will be expected to demonstrate both short-term physical strength, including the ability to carry a simulated victim, and long-term endurance. Applicants are often asked to climb stairs or run while wearing enough weight to mimic a set of firefighting gear.
Training for the physical portion of a firefighter exam should begin gradually. The body responds best to slow, steady increases in the duration and intensity of physical activity. Both aerobic activity, such as running, and resistance or weight training should be included in a training program, and both should focus on gradual improvement. Rest days are essential as well, since the body needs some time to recover and build new muscle between workout sessions.
The video response section that appears on some firefighter exams requires an applicant to assume the role of a firefighter in simulated situations and to make good social and professional decisions. This part of the test is often used to simulate conversations with members of the community. As such, applicants should focus on communicating clearly and in responding appropriately to the potentially distraught men and women in these simulations.