Can You Use a Calculator on the Firefighter Exam? 

The Ins and Outs of Math on the Firefighter Exam 

The hiring process for firefighters can be long and arduous.  The journey often begins with a single test.  Many questions begin to swirl around for someone who has never taken a written firefighter exam.  Even firefighters who have taken several written exams still need to confirm certain details every time they take the exam.  Among these details is whether a calculator can be used on the written exam. 

Yes, you can use a calculator on the firefighter exam.  However, the use of a calculator is not always guaranteed, and it can come with some restrictions. A test taker is given very few resources for the written exam, so it is important to take advantage of the opportunity to use a calculator if it is available. Be sure to read on to get all the information you need to make an informed decision on using a calculator for the firefighter exam. 

There are many types of written exams given to firefighters.  Some are generated specifically by the fire department hosting the exam, and others are generic tests used throughout the fire service.  All these exams have varying amounts of math on the written portion of the exam. Civil service exams are also popular in the fire service.   

Civil service exams are more of a general knowledge exam.  These are exams that test your aptitude in a variety of subjects, such as math, reading comprehension, and deductive reasoning.  The civil service exam is used by many agencies beyond the fire service, so do not expect any firefighter-specific questions.  Because the focus of the civil service exam is so broad, there is generally more math on a civil service exam. 

Can I Even Use a Calculator on this Exam? Can You Use a Calculator on the Firefighter Exam? 

As presented earlier, there are many types of exams.  Any exam that is specific to firefighting generally has a small amount of math, and in most cases, calculators are not allowed for taking the exam.  The math is usually simple with a focus on addition and subtraction.  There may be a few questions involving multiplication or division, but it would be limited and at the basic level. 

Civil service exams, on the other hand, tend to have math at the level of algebra and geometry.  Because of the general knowledge aspect of the test, jurisdictions use them for hiring many positions beyond the fire service, including law enforcement, city services, and administrative personnel.  Therefore, the information is more general and tends to cover a wide variety of subjects.  Calculators can often be used on the civil service exam if that is the template used by the testing organization. 

Never take for granted that you can use a calculator for your firefighter exam.  Always check with the testing agency to confirm it is possible to use a calculator.  Most agencies will have the information posted on the web site, or it will be included in the test packet you receive once you register to take the exam.  You would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity to use a calculator if it is allowed, even if you think you do not need it. 

Can I Use My Phone as a Calculator? 

In most cases, you will not be able to use your phone for its calculator function.  Because of the possibility of phones being used to cheat or look up answers to exam questions, almost all testing sites require phones to be left outside of the building or that they be turned off and stored out of sight.  So, you should not rely on your phone serving as an acceptable calculator for the firefighter exam. 

Can You Use a Calculator on the Firefighter Exam? 

The calculator you need is basic.  Less than $10 will buy you a calculator that is suitable for the firefighter exam.  You should purchase it ahead of time and be sure that everything functions correctly.  The last thing you need is to buy a calculator on the way to the test and then find out it does not work properly.   

A tip for purchasing your calculator is to not purchase a solar-powered one for the test.  Often the lighting in large testing centers is not all that great, and you do not want to be stuck in a darker area where the calculator will not work consistently. 

Know Your Calculator 

While using a calculator for basic math seems simple, make sure you are comfortable with the calculator you choose to use.  Practice with it to ensure proper use, and if it is a complex or scientific calculator, make sure you know how to clear the problems or return to the home screen if you press a wrong button or function key. 

You also want to be sure you understand the questions and how to use the calculator properly to find the answer.  If you are not positive you can correctly solve the problem, do some review, or find some help to guarantee you can use the calculator effectively to find the right answer.   

A quick online search will reveal sample questions from firefighter exams.  Find a few math problems and see if you can answer them correctly using the calculator.  If you cannotyou need to research the proper technique for using the calculator to solve the problem.  You can also look at hiring a tutor if necessary to teach you the proper methods to use the calculator. 

Why Use a Calculator on the Firefighter Exam? 

If given the opportunity, you should use a calculator when you take the firefighter exam.  Even if you are good at math and doubt your need for it, there are several reasons you should take advantage of the option to use a calculator. 

Taking the firefighter exam will be stressful.  That in and of itself will be enough for you to potentially make a mistake.  When you are stressed out trying to solve a problem, having a calculator may be the difference in arriving at the correct answer.  These tests are extremely competitive, and one right answer may be the difference in advancing further or being eliminated. 

Another reason to use the calculator if available is to double-check your work.  Just like in high school when you were constantly reminded to double-check your test before turning it in, the same applies here.  Once finished with the entire exam, go back and use the calculator to double-check your math, especially if you did it in your head.    

Once you pass, then what? Find out here:

What! No Calculator Allowed? 

Can You Use a Calculator on the Firefighter Exam? 

What if you get there expecting to use a calculator and find out that you are not able to?  First, do not panic!    Hopefully, you spent time reviewing the calculator and its proper use, and in the process, you have refreshed your memory on math that you may have not used for a while.  Your preparation for using a calculator may have given you just enough knowledge to be able to successfully pass the test. 

While taking the exam, be sure to take your time with the math questions.  The lack of a calculator should not keep you from answering the questions, especially if they are multiple-choice.  Take what you know, and what you picked up while prepping with a calculator and make an educated guess if you can not actually find the exact answer.     


Related Questions

What kind of math is on the firefighter exam? 

For the civil service exam, you can pretty much expect high school level math.  Algebra and some geometry should be expected, along with simpler math such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.   Formulas are usually given to you, but you need to decide how to accurately fill the formula and then solve for the correct answer.  Examples include finding the square footage of a space or calculating the speed of an object given the distance traveled and the length of time. 

If you are taking an exam specifically tailored to firefighting, the math is much easier and there is not as much of it.  Simple math such as adding hose lengths or calculating how many gallons per minute of water is flowing from a fire hose can be expected. 

What other resources are available to me before I take the firefighter exam? 

There are a lot of resources out there for someone who wants to take advantage of them.  Many larger departments have training sessions to help prepare test takers for the exam.  Topics on the test will be generally covered, and instructors do a good job passing on what should be studied before the exam. 

A great resource can also be a person who is already a firefighter in that department.  If you have a connection to the department, or if a friend recruited you to take the test, use them as a resource.  Ask them questions about the exam and exam process, and see if there were any areas they felt they could have been more prepared for. 

And finally, you can always go to the fire academy prior to taking the exam for some excellent preparation and resources.  There are private fire academies, and many junior colleges offer firefighting certification through course work.  If you complete your firefighter certification before taking the exam, it will give you a major advantage and make the exam process much easier and predictable. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.