Firefighting is a rewarding career with opportunities for growth and high job satisfaction. As a result, competition is strong for open positions. The firefighter written exam is one way fire departments narrow down the pool of candidates.
There is not one specific written exam, but most fire departments use similar assessments.
Application & Hiring Process
Just as there is not one specific written test, there is not a standard process for hiring, as each fire department has its own procedures. However, the steps to landing a firefighting job are usually similar enough that you can have a good idea of what to expect.
- Application: the first step is to find an open firefighter position and submit your application and resume.
- Physical and psychometric assessments: the next step is to show that you are mentally and physically able to perform firefighting tasks. There is usually a written assessment as described below. There is also a physical fitness test known as the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test).
- Interview: if you pass the psychometric tests, the next step is to interview with the hiring department.
- Training: if your interview goes well and the fire department decides you are the best fit for the job, they will extend a job offer. Once you have accepted you can begin training.
What Is the Firefighter Written Exam?
The written exam usually contains between 100 and 200 questions and candidates have 2 to 2.5 hours to complete it. Some fire stations consider 70% a passing grade, while others require 80%.
The question formats are multiple choice and true or false. There are up to 9 sections on the exam, usually divided into two parts. The first part covers mathematical and mechanical reasoning and reading comprehension, and the second part includes the personality and situational judgment questions.
This section covers basic math functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and ratios. There may be geometry questions such as calculating the area or volume of a shape. Some questions may involve interpreting data from a graph or chart.
Questions on this section are about the equipment and tools firefighters use and how they work. Examples include pulleys, levers, and gears. The questions require basic knowledge of physics principles such as energy, inertia, and equilibrium.
This section tests a candidate’s grammar skills including sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation. Questions may involve choosing the most correct sentence or selecting the correct word to fill in a blank.
Candidates read a passage and answer questions about it. The passage often relates to situations firefighters encounter on the job.
Questions in the spatial orientation section involve viewing a diagram, such as a street map or building layout, and answering related questions.
For this section, candidates are given a short time to memorize an image. They then answer questions about the details of the image without referring back to it.
Situational Judgment Test
Situational judgment questions measure a candidate’s decision-making abilities. Questions in this test section describe realistic scenarios related to firefighting. Candidates must choose the answer that describes how they would respond to the scenario.
While some fire departments require a psychological evaluation with a psychiatrist or psychologist, there is usually also a section of the written exam that covers personality. The goal of this section is to assess whether the candidate can handle the stresses of the job and how they will fit in with colleagues in the department.
Qualities that indicate whether someone will succeed as a firefighter include the following:
- Staying calm in emergencies
- Accepting and learning from feedback
Questions on the personality test are designed to measure these qualities.
How to Prepare for the Firefighter Written Exam?
Online practice tests are the best way to prepare for the written exam. Look for practice tests that correspond to each section of the exam, keeping in mind that some test sections may be referred to by slightly different names. For example, the reading comprehension section is sometimes called verbal comprehension, written comprehension, or reading ability.
When taking a practice test, don’t get discouraged if you score poorly at first. This gives you an opportunity to work on subjects that you find difficult. Keep trying, and your score will improve. Once you are happy with your score on a practice test, you’ll feel confident taking the real test.
For the personality and situational judgment portions of the test, it’s important to answer honestly. However, you can prepare for these sections by knowing what kinds of questions to expect. Some questions may seem repetitive, which is a purposeful way to ensure that you answer consistently. Understanding the qualities successful firefighters possess can help you do well on these sections.
A high score on the written exam can help you stand out among other candidates. If you score poorly, you may not be able to test again right away; some fire departments only offer the exam quarterly or once per year. Proper preparation will give you the best chances of succeeding on the exam. See below for some example questions similar to those you might see during the exam.