Firefighter Math Test Practice: 7 Tips and Tricks

Fire services use math in many ways.  Some of it is very simple, and at other times it can be very complex.  In the fire service, the degree you use math, and the complexity of the math you are using, varies greatly by the job you are performing.  One thing is certain: as you move into new roles in the fire service, your math skills will be tested.

When it comes to math on firefighter tests, a few things remain constant.  Math will be present at many levels, and it will continue to challenge you on every test in your firefighting career.  Using these 7 tips and tricks will ensure you come to the testing table with the resources you need to pass these exams.

The 7 tips and tricks for your firefighter math test are:

1) Focus on the math relevant to your exam

2) Know the rules of the exam

3) Take a Practice Test to Find Math Weaknesses

4) Hire a Tutor

5) Take a College Course for Preparation

6) Talk to People Who Know

7) Do not be Afraid of Failure

We will dive more into detail on these tips and tricks in the article below:

When you join the fire service, you begin as a basic firefighter.  Math is easy.  “How many 50-foot sections of hose do I need to stretch 200 feet?”  “How long does a ladder need to be to reach a 15-foot balcony?”  Pretty simple stuff. These are example of possible test questions you may be asked to become a firefighter.  Simple math for the entry-level job.

As you advance in the fire service and take on more roles, you will find the math greatly increases.  Fire engineers (Drivers/Operators) are faced with complex algebraic math problems where they may solve for water pressure flows from the nozzle when factoring in length of hose, elevation, friction loss, desired nozzle pressure, inlet pressures, etc.

Still more complex math shows up when facing testing for certifications in areas such as hazardous materials or fire investigation.  Fire Inspectors and special operations, such as fire boat operations, again require an advanced set of math skills that generic firefighters may not need to be familiar with initially.

The fire service loves to test its members as they move up in the ranks.  Testing occurs frequently, and as you take on more complex roles in the fire service, you can guarantee the math will become more prevalent and more complex.  Following these 7 tips will help you navigate the math portions of your tests.

The 7 Tips and Tricks

Focus on the Math Relevant to Your Exam

There is not a “Firefighter Math Test” floating around out there.  Departments do not simply test on math.  Rather, math is a part of every test given in the fire service.  That is a big difference and one that you can take advantage of by knowing exactly what type of math will be on the exam you are taking.

If you are taking your initial state firefighter certification exam, you more than likely have just finished an academy or school that has given you a great idea of what to expect on your basic certification exam.  It is generally quite simple.  Addition, subtraction, and maybe very basic algebra and geometry.  Nothing too complex.  Probably around the level of 8th grade math.

Do not memorize algebraic formulas for this exam or waste time studying upper-level math in preparation for this test.  That will come as you continue to move up through the ranks.  A little bit of simple research will reveal exactly what math content you need to study.  Know what math will be on the test and focus on the math relevant to your exam.

Firefighter Math Test Practice: 7 Tips and Tricks

Know the Rules of the Exam

Can you use a calculator?  Are you allowed to have a cheat sheet?  Is the exam open book?  Knowing the rules of the exam will work in your favor when tasked with passing the math portion of the test.  Many introductory level tests expect you to memorize or simply know the math problems and solutions.

As you face more challenging math problems, many times there are allowances for items that will make the test a bit easier, such as calculators.  When you are faced with formulas that require complex math, most agencies want to know that you can work the formula, not necessarily do the math.  Calculators are everywhere, and that fact is acknowledged by the fact that many tests are now allowing them to be used when in the recent past they were restricted.

For instance, when testing for a fire investigator position, you may be asked to find the time of flashpoint of a room with particular dimensions, with a known fire load, lit with an accelerant, at a particular time.  While it sounds extremely complex initially, many of these courses allow calculator use which narrows the necessary math to basically inputting data in the right sequence.

Make sure to research your testing rules before arriving.  Most places that allow calculators, for example, do not allow cell phones, so you would need to be sure to bring an appropriate calculator with you.  There are even testing centers that have calculators there for you to use.  Plan ahead and research before you arrive.

Take a Practice Test to Find Math Weaknesses

Many practice exams are floating around online that you could take to test your readiness for taking the real exam.  There are a couple of them that break out the math specifically.  This may be a great way for you to gauge your readiness for firefighter math for the position you are testing for.

Some agencies, especially larger ones, offer practice tests in the lead-up to actual testing for certifications or promotions.  These organizations are motivated by finding the right people for the right job, so offering a practice test to make potential employees more prepared and comfortable is one way to do this.

Regardless of the practice test you take, these tests will give you results that you will be able to use to constructively focus your studying and preparation on areas where you need help.

Firefighter Math Test Practice: 7 Tips and Tricks

Hire a Tutor

If the practice test reveals you are deficient in the level of math needed to pass the exam, or if you know that math will be a struggle for you, consider hiring a tutor to help strengthen your math skills.  Tutors will be able to prepare you for any math portion of the exam you are prepping for.  There will be some cost involved, so you would need to weigh that with your decision.

There are also many companies or individuals out there who “teach the test.”  Many are firefighters themselves, or retired firefighters who are familiar with the testing process and the math involved.  If you are considering hiring someone to help you prepare, this will be your best bet.  While you hired them to help with your math weakness, they can address other areas of the exam as well.

The other advantage of a firefighter consultant over a generic tutor is the fact these firefighter-based resources will be able to present the math in a similar way to the test.  They understand the jargon and lingo used on the test and the result will be your familiarity with the test, having used a consultant.  Thanks to the internet, you can hire these firefighter-based consultants regardless of their physical location.

Take a College Course for Preparation

Depending on how important it is for you to pass your exam, and if the cost is worth the result, you might consider taking a college course to aid in passing the math portion of the exam.  This can be done in a variety of ways.

Taking a math course at the local community college, especially if it has been a while since you finished high school, may be the best way to refresh your math skills and prepare for the math part of your next firefighter exam.  You could probably get away with spending a few hundred dollars for this strategy.

Another possibility is to take a class on the subject area you are about to test.  This can be done locally, if it is offered, or online.  For example, if you are studying to be a driver/operator, or Engineer, you might benefit from taking a class on hydraulics (the flow of water) or fire pump operations.  These classes are readily available.

Taking these classes prior to the exam may make the difference in passing the exam.  Some firefighters are content remaining firefighters their entire career.  If you are the type who wants to advance through the ranks, an investment in some outside education may go a long way in your advancements.

Firefighter Math Test Practice: 7 Tips and Tricks

Talk to People Who Know

Your best resource might be the people around you.  If you are already in the fire service, spend time with people now who are in the positions you want to have in the future.  Every fire station has an Engineer, which is generally the next step in the climb up the ladder.

Pay attention to what the Engineer does and as you study for the exam, talk with the Engineer about what they thought about the exam and what they remember about it.  During downtime, the Engineer may be willing to work with you one on one to help prepare for the exam.

Many times, especially as a rookie, you may be bounced around between station assignments.  Take advantage of the opportunity to speak to other Engineers and get advice from them.  Co-workers will know not only what it takes for certification as an Engineer, but they will also be familiar with the way that particular department approaches it.

It does not stop with Engineers.  The same can be done with Fire Inspectors, Fire Marshalls, Hazardous Material Technicians, etc.  Your department can offer you the best resource for exam preparation in the form of employees already practicing in that job.

Do not be Afraid of Failure

When you begin taking exams for promotion and certifications, do not be afraid to fail occasionally.  Many fire departments have large staffing and have many firefighters competing for a few promotional spots.  Approach your exams with the confidence to pass, but do not be discouraged if you do not make the cut your first time.

Look at these failed attempts as practice tests and learn what you can to improve for the next time.  Many Human Resource Departments will share your results with you which will enable you to locate your weak areas and improve on them.

There will be some factors outside of your control, such as seniority, which may require several testing attempts to mitigate.  Keep focused on the end result and continue to improve your scores and familiarity with the exam or certification process.

Related Questions

How else will math affect my time in the fire service?

There are a few times where math will be necessary to function in the fire service. The primary example is fire departments that require firefighters to keep medical certifications.  Fire departments vary in their requirements, but many require a firefighter to keep active licensure in emergency medicine.

Paramedics and EMTs regularly use a lot of math.  If your fire department requires firefighters to become paramedics after hire, you will be faced with a lot of math.  Many firefighters think the math involved with being a paramedic is the hardest part of their job.

Paramedics need to formulate medication doses, approximate percentages and weights, juggle numerous numbers and formulas at once, and much more.  All of this with life and death, at times, in the balance.

If you are intimidated by the math involved in paramedicine then be sure to locate a department that does not have this requirement.

How has math changed in the fire service?

Over the years, math has gotten easier in fire service.  For example, radio communication has made many “old school” math problems obsolete.  An Engineer used to have to do the math the get the proper water pressure to the nozzle.

Before radios were prevalent, this was done by factoring in numerous data points such as the length of hose, how high or low the nozzle is from the pump, the gallons per minute being flowed, the diameter of the hose, the static pressure of the water source, and on and on.

Now, if an Engineer can start with the adequate pressure, a brief radio call asking for more or less pressure is all that is needed to make an adjustment.  Many new engineers are not even being tested over some of the old formulas.

Other technological advances, such as thermal imagers, wireless and Bluetooth, internet, and automatic pump panel settings have also reduced the amount of mental math on the fireground.

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