What Happens If You Fail The Firefighter Exam? 

Becoming a firefighter is hard, but the process is worth it to become one of the “best of the best”. Many candidates retake their firefighter exams 2, 3, or even 7 times before passing. Remember, persistence is courageous.  

If you fail any part of the firefighter exam, you will have to retake that portion of the exam and pass before continuing with the hiring process. In most counties, you can retake the written exam exactly one year and one day after the failed attempt. A failed Physical Ability Test can be retaken as soon as a new PAT date is available. These deadlines may vary between states and counties, check with your department to confirm. 

Since the written firefighter exam is divided into two parts, the first part (mathematics and comprehension) must be passed before the second part is administered. If the first part is failed, the same rules apply- you must wait one year and one day before a retest. 

If you pass the written exam but fail the Physical Ability Test, you can reschedule your PAT at the next available test time- you do not have to wait another year to take the PAT.  

A Quick Note to Those Who’ve Failed The Exam (But Haven’t Really “Failed” At All) 

If you think you’ve failed your exam, or you have failed your exam- breathe. It is not nearly the end of the world. Especially to young people who have dreamed of firefighting for their entire lives, a year can seem like an eternity to wait for another chance. A year is nothing. If you’ve failed your exam and have to wait the year- take the opportunity to grow, to study! Try a job you’ve never done before. Don’t build set-in-stone deadlines for your life. It will happen when it’s supposed to.  

What Happens If You Fail The Firefighter Exam? 

How Many Times Can You Take The Firefighter Exam? 

Really, you can take the exam as many times as you want. You can take the written exam every single year until you pass, and you can take the PAT every two weeks until passing (your written exam score is stored when passed, and the written portion does not have to be retaken to retake the PAT).  

The obstacle here comes with the age limit of the fire department that you intend to work for. Sometimes it is just too late in life to retake the exam. Many departments have no limit at all, and gladly test and train 50-year-old probates. Other fire departments are much more restrictive and only hire between the ages of 18-29. In the case of the latter, one would only be able to get 10 attempts in, if he or she started at age 18 (this is still obviously a lot of attempts). 

In addition, time restrictions come into play when considering that full retirement benefits for a firefighter can only be reached after spending 20 years in the career. This is another motivator to pass the exam as quickly as possible.  


After Failing the Written Firefighter Exam… 

  • Make the right choice 

There are two obvious choices after failing the firefighter written exam. You can  

give up, or you can spend the year studying and try again. The decision becomes harder if your trouble lies with passing the personality portion of the exam, rather than the mathematics and reading comprehension section of the exam. The question commonly asked then is, “I am the way I am; how can I improve on something that I can’t control?”.  

Here’s the thing- if your motivation for becoming a firefighter is because you want to make a difference- you have the right personality for the job. Sometimes personality tests are tricky in the way they are formatted. This is something that can be learned and adapted to before a retake. You know the right choice.  

  • Find someone to study with for the year 
What Happens If You Fail The Firefighter Exam? 

Teaching someone else is the most effective way to learn. A study group or partner is not always an option, but it may be easier to find someone than you think. Post on a Facebook page, or reach out to your local fire department. Finding a partner also adds accountability to your learning and allows for you to encourage each other in reaching your goals. 

  • Make a study plan… 

Ideally, you won’t be waiting around on the couch until the next year comes around. While you’re studying, you will likely be working another job, taking care of your family, etc. It is easy to become preoccupied with life and forget what you’re striving toward, especially if there is a reigning fear of failure. The best way to avoid this is to make a study plan. Decide what you are going to study when, and at what pace. Take learning for the opportunity that it is- an opportunity to learn, no matter what the outcome. This will take the pressure off of passing your exam, and help you to enjoy the experience of deepening your education 

  • Purchase study materials. Or better yet, use free resources online 

Quizlet, baby. The same resource that gets high school psychology students 

through their year can also help you pass the firefighter exam. There are quizlets ranging from general mathematics skills that will be expected, to straight-up example questions, to mock-personality-tests. If you have the funds to invest, you can pay for sample exams, tailored study guides, etc. Most people don’t regret the purchase, even if they realize later that they probably didn’t need it. 


After failing the Physical Ability Test… 


  • Find a work-out partner 

Finding a work-out partner is easier than finding a study partner because you  

don’t have to build up such a specific skill. Even those who aren’t working toward passing the PAT will do as a solid partner, as long as they have the discipline to get stronger.  

  • Make a fitness plan 

Write out your training plan and follow it the best you can. Without a plan, it can be easy to fall out of shape. The fitness plan also needs to be tailored to the date of your next exam. Weight training takes more time to see results, but muscle also maintains itself longer- start early on this.  

Cardio is different. Start your heaviest cardio training about 12 weeks before your next PAT. This is the amount of time it takes to train for a marathon. Any longer than this, and you risk injury from running. 12 weeks is enough to get your lungs and peak capacity. 

  • Watch videos 

Though watching someone is not nearly the same as doing the exercise yourself, 

it can be an effective way to memorize the most efficient way to execute a maneuver. For the components like search and rescue, watching the exact body movements over and over again, and even trying them out in your living room can be enough to shave valuable seconds off of your time.  

  • Consider all aspects of the exam  

When you make a training plan for the PAT, consider all of the components  

involved. Don’t spend your cardio time on the treadmill, because running isn’t even tested. Instead, spend your cardio time on the Stairmaster. Work your way up by holding exercise balls while you step, or even by putting a full hiking pack on your back. Many components of the PAT are done in full equipment. 

 Find out how to study for the exam here: https://civilservicehq.com/how-to-study-for-the-firefighter-exam/

Firefighting is Not the Only Way to Work at the Fire Station 

If you’ve tried and tried to pass your exam with no success, or just don’t think you will ever be able to complete your PAT, there are other op  tions for you to be involved at your local station. And no, it’s not just baking cookies. Most stations require an administrator that oversees the general flow of the station, as well as someone who handles HR, etc. Larger city stations often require multiple administrators to keep the station managed properly.  

What Happens If You Fail The Firefighter Exam? 

A new position opening at many large stations is a social media coordinator. Think of the fun! The social media coordinator is in charge of the positive promotion of the station, as well as keeping the community updated about their local civil service events.  


Other Civil Service Positions Come With Cool Pants 

In addition to wearing really cool pants, firefighters carry instant respect from those around them and get to spend most of their time-saving lives. Running into fires seems like an unbeatable thrill, but really being on any front line comes with that same thrill.  

If you’ve failed your firefighter exam, it might be time to think about EMS. Many town rescue squads offer a training program, where they guide you step by step through learning and testing. Because there are still written skills required, this option is optimal if a firefighting candidate has trouble passing the PAT, but successfully passed the written exam portion. Although an emergency medical service worker must have some physical fitness, there is usually no physical ability test involved in becoming an EMS worker.  

It’s not the end of the road 

Failing your firefighter can be the end of the road if you want it to be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Adapt your learning and training to what you need, and don’t compare yourself to others.  


Related Questions

Do I have to pay for my exam every time I retake it?  

Yes. The typical cost of the written exam is $50, and the typical cost of the PAT is $140-$150. This must be paid before every attempt. Prices for the tests vary between states and counties.  

Will a past failed exam count against me for future hires? 

It should not. Even if the fire department was aware of your failure. 

Will I have to retake the exam if I move to a new area?  

Firefighter certification transfers from city to city. Once the written exam and PAT are passed, they do not have to be retaken. If moving to California or Florida, however, there will be extra certifications required to serve as a firefighter. 

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To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.

Interested to learn more about the civil service? Check out our free guide here: https://civilservicehq.com/ 

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.