Reading Comprehension Study Guide for McGraw-Hill's Firefighter Exams
The reading comprehension section of a civil service exam is designed to test the cognitive ability of the candidate. Several reading passages, under various subject headings that may or may not deal with firefighting and fire-matics, are used to determine how well you read, reason, remember, think, and process the information given in the reading passages. For the most part, the reading passages are on fire-related topics without getting too technical and may include firefighting procedures, tools and equipment, management theory, firefighting lore stories, life in the firehouse, and technical skills. However, you do not need any prior experience in the fire service to understand the text passages and answer the questions correctly. Other topics, such as public relations, world issues, current events, and what may be considered obscure text are also sometimes included to ensure that it is your reading comprehension that is being tested, not your knowledge of a particular subject. The content is typically taken from academic journals and manuals and contains a great deal of information in a formal compact style. The test is at the level commensurate with the educational requirements listed on the notice of examination.
At the end of each reading passage, there are questions designed to test your thinking ability and how well you can concentrate under pressure. In general, unless the reading material is very short in length (one or two paragraphs), it is not wise to read the questions prior to reading the passage. When there are many questions pertaining to a reading, you will find it difficult and distracting to try to remember all the information being asked about in the questions. Save your time to read more of the passage deliberately and to review once you have completed reading the passage.
Skilled readers are "active" readers. They don't just read; rather, they interact with the reading material; this leads to greater comprehension. Good readers use their prior knowledge and experience to process the words and sentences, determine their meaning, understand the passage, and possibly foresee what will be stated next. Tools, such as highlighting, underlining, and making marginal notes help in doing this.
General Tips on Improving Reading Comprehension
- Broaden your background knowledge. Read newspapers, magazines, journals, and books on diverse subjects. Reading the editorial sections in your local newspaper will help you learn about the major issues in your area.
- Build a strong vocabulary. Vocabulary has long been recognized as an extremely important component of reading comprehension. The best way to improve your vocabulary is to use a dictionary regularly. Carry around a pocket dictionary and use it to look up new words when you're reading. Buy an address book that is divided alphabetically to keep track of new words you learn in your reading. Recording a sentence in which a new word is used will help you remember its meaning.
- Preview the passage by reading the first sentence of each paragraph. Generally, the main topic of each paragraph is contained in the first sentence. Reading the first sentence of each paragraph will give you an overview of the text and a summary of what you are about to read. Since most of the reading passages on the test will be short, previewing the lead sentences will not use up much time.
- Familiarize yourself with the paragraph structure. Paragraphs in the text will normally have a beginning, middle, and end. As stated previously, the first sentence usually provides an overview or framework for the rest of the sentences in the paragraph. The middle sentences elaborate on the subject matter of the first sentence and provide details. The last sentence may summarize the information and transition towards a new topic in the following paragraph.
- Find the main idea of the text. Think of finding the main idea of a reading passage as a problem-solving task and approach it strategically. The main idea will direct your focus towards any prior knowledge and experience of the topic you have, aid in a better understanding of the subject matter, and help you to anticipate what questions will most likely be asked at the end of the reading. Main idea questions ask the candidate to identify the text's overall theme as opposed to supporting and technical information. In these types of questions, answer choices that emphasize factual information can usually be eliminated, as can answer choices that are too narrow or too broad. The answer choice that contains key words and concepts from the main idea presented in the text is usually the correct selection.
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