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ClearText from Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute
ClearText 2010, No. 6 December 10, 2010

National Certification: Part 3—Preparing for Certification Exams

We've explained national certification and how tests are designed within our system in the two previous issues of ClearText. This issue puts it all together and explains how to prepare for a certification exam. The process starts as soon as you enroll in a course and is completed when you begin the exam. Stay focused throughout the process. Be prepared, listen, and participate throughout the course. At the completion of the course, begin your review in preparation for the exam. We have designed some assistance for you as you make the final push toward passing that exam.

Written Exam Preparation

Give yourself a little time and use the study guide posted on the KF&RTI website (one for each level of certification available). Study guides can be found at www.ContinuingEd.ku.edu/fire/certification.php. Each study guide has a section dedicated to listing the written exam references.

The requirement of the standard is listed by section number and a reading reference from the adopted reading reference is also listed. Read these pages—they are the same pages used to draw information in formulating test questions to test that requirement. NFPA standards can't be re-printed because of copyright laws, but a copy will help as you prepare. Ask your training officer if your department has a copy or is willing to purchase one.

The following are actual excerpts taken from the NFPA 1001, level I standard, KF&RTI Fire Fighter I study guide, IFSTA Essentials 5th Edition, Fire Fighter I Instructor Lesson Plan and the KF&RTI Fire Fighter I text bank. The KF&RTI Fire Fighter I Study Guide includes this information (except for quotes from the Instructor Lesson Plan & KF&RTI Fire Fighter I test bank) for the purpose of providing assistance in preparing for the exam.

Sample study guide cover

NFPA Standards cover

IFSTA Essentials cover

NFPA 1001, Section 5.3.3 Establish & Operate Work Areas at Emergency Scenes:

"Establish and operate in work areas at emergency scenes…so that procedures are followed, protective equipment is worn, protected work areas are established …"

NOTE: Re-publishing the entire NFPA standard in the Study Guide is not permitted under current copyright law. Copies of the NFPA Standards may be purchased from NFPA or authorized retailers.

KF&RTI Fire Fighter I Study Guide, Page 6: Written Exam Study Guide sheet—Establish & Operate Work Areas at Emergency Scenes

IFSTA Essentials, 5th Edition, 2008: Pages 5.3.3 pp. 53–54, 69–78

Essentials page 72 (excerpt): "… Position fire apparatus to block oncoming traffic."

KF&RTI (IFSTA) Fire Fighter I Instructor Lesson Plan, page 2-45:

Instructor note: Emphasize that firefighters operating on active roadways are always at great risk. Firefighters must be aware of this risk and work to minimize it.

  1. Position fire apparatus to block oncoming traffic.
  2. Turn front wheels of blocking apparatus away from the emergency…

Test Question from KF&RTI FFI Test Bank:

Upon arrival at the scene of an emergency incident located on or adjacent to a highway, the first arriving apparatus should:

  1. Block the entire highway and establish a command post.
  2. Position itself between approaching traffic and the scene.
  3. Deliver its crew and park past the scene on the side of the road.
  4. Stop one quarter of a mile from the scene and notify law enforcement.

These excerpts illustrate that the information directly related to each test question in the certification test bank is available to students as part of the study materials. The same type of information is available for each skill that may appear on the exam. Copies of the actual evaluation sheets that evaluators use during the exam are included in the Study Guide. Each sheet also includes the NFPA Standard reference and reading references where you can find materials related to how the skill is performed. Only those items listed on the sheet will be evaluated. If it isn't on the sheet, it isn't part of the exam.

Take all information given in the class, study guide and exam at face value. There are NO hidden agenda and NO tricks to taking an exam successfully. We tell evaluators during the training to become evaluators that our sole purpose is to see if they can perform as required by the standard. We have no motivation to be tricky or see people fail the exam. We're not trying to trick anyone, just do the skill and don't add anything or any "what ifs" into the process.

Here's our final advice and guidance on preparing for and taking a national certification exam:

  • Go to class and learn the materials (P.S. That's the easiest way to pass the test)!
  • READ THE ASSIGNED MATERIALS FROM THE TEXT!
  • Use the Study Guide to help do your final preparation—invest a few days here and save yourself a lot of extra work later.
  • PRACTICE the skills until you "can't do them wrong"!
  • Take ALL exam questions at face value. Don't add "what if" or "but when" or any other qualifiers to the question. If we intend a "what if" to be part of the question, we will write it into the question. If it isn't stated in the question, it doesn't come into play.
  • If you're not sure of the answer, go with your "gut"! Research shows that the majority of people who change an exam response (answer) actually change from the correct to an incorrect answer.
  • If you truly don't know the answer, eliminate the ones you know are wrong. Perhaps you can improve your odds by narrowing the chances to a 50/50 guess.
  • SLOW DOWN and read the question carefully. You would be amazed at how many people get in such a hurry that they misread the question. IT'S AN EXAM, NOT A RACE!
  • It's OK to skip a question and come back to it if you have time. That way you don't waste a lot of time that you may need to answer other questions. Sacrifice one question to buy time to complete the exam; then come back to the hard ones. You might even see another question that reminds you of the right answer. Just don't forget to skip a place on the answer sheet.
  • If you must skip a question and come back to it, MAKE SURE you skip the question on the answer sheet too!
  • …and last: Forget about "if you don't know the answer, just mark 'C'." We know about that one and on our exams "C" is the correct answer no more (and no less) than any other response—we make sure of it….

Skills Exam Preparation

Give yourself a little time for skills preparation too. You may need to solicit help from your classmates on this one. Use the KF&RTI Study Guide to double-check yourself. The skill sheets in the Study Guide are not designed to use while learning the skills for the first time. They don't include every step of each skill. Skill sheets in the Study Guide are designed solely for evaluation; in fact, the Study Guide skill sheets are the actual sheets that the evaluators use. Steps listed on the sheets are the only steps evaluated in the exam. If it isn't listed on the sheet, it isn't graded. A close examination of the sheets will reveal that we have only left out minor steps that can be performed any number of different ways and don't materially affect the outcome of "doing it right."

This is the time to over-prepare (over-learn). Practice the skill until you do it right without having to think about it. Like we said in an earlier edition of ClearText, "practice until you can't do it wrong rather than practice until you get it right!" There are no tricks; no short-cuts; and no substitutions for knowing the skill "cold." Make sure you do it right (this is where the skill checklists come in), but remember, only one thing will get you there: PRACTICE!

One last warning: The list of failed candidates is full of those people who believed they've been a firefighter long enough that they didn't need to practice, or study.

For levels that have projects assigned as part of the testing process, the key is individual work. If a project requires a pre-fire inspection, it is imperative that the individual draw their own plot plan and perform their inspection without assistance. Projects that include photo copies or comments identical to projects turned in by other students are unacceptable and returned to the student as a failure. The best guidance we can offer is don't discuss your project with others, accept no assistance (except to hold the end of a measuring tape) and in the strictest interpretation—do your own work. We've seen many attempts at getting around the "do your own work," and are always left with one question: Wouldn't it be a lot easier to do the project correctly the first time rather than having to do it twice? When we catch someone cheating (and this is cheating just the same as looking on someone's written test), we have the option of taking away the second attempt, forfeiting their certification fee, and removing the individual from the certification system for one year. Do you really want to take that risk? We would rather see a good honest attempt. Chances are you'll pass if you give it an honest attempt.

Our instructors are here to help and will do what it takes to get you ready for the exam. On exam day our role changes and it's your turn to show us what you know. If you're well prepared, it will be a pleasant experience.

Good Luck.

Next Issue

Prerequisites for Training & National Certification—Why and When?

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