Mechanical Aptitude for Firefighter Exam Study Guide

Updated on Apr 24, 2014


Mechanical aptitude is tested on many firefighter exams. This chapter will familiarize you with commonly tested concepts by presenting definitions, study tips, and sample test questions for basic mechanical devices and systems.

Firefighters use mechanical devices every day: simple hand tools such as axes and wrenches, as well as more complex systems such as pumps and internal combustion engines. The ability to understand and use mechanical concepts is critical to a firefighter's job.

If your exam includes a section on mechanical aptitude, it may cover topics with which you are very familiar, as well as some that are new. Regardless of your background, understanding the concepts in this chapter will benefit you both during the exam and in your career as a firefighter. After an introduction to mechanical aptitude questions, this chapter summarizes some of the most commonly tested mechanical devices and mechanical systems. It also suggests ways in which you can further improve your knowledge of mechanical devices and related scientific and mathematical knowledge. Finally, it gives you an opportunity to review what you have learned by presenting a sample mechanical aptitude section like those found on firefighter exams.

What Mechanical Aptitude Questions Are Like

Mechanical aptitude questions tend to cover a wide range of topics. The questions will usually be multiple choice with four or five possible answers. Some questions may require previous knowledge of the topic—so it is a good idea to study this chapter well! Other questions will include all of the information you will need.

Some questions will require the identification of various mechanical tools or devices. Some of the types of mechanical devices that may appear on the exam—and covered in this chapter—include hand tools, gears, pulleys, levers, fasteners, springs, valves, gauges, and pumps. In addition to individual mechanical devices, the exam may test your knowledge of various systems, or combinations of mechanical devices. A common example of a mechanical system is the internal combustion engine of an automobile.

A typical mechanical aptitude question will look something like this:

  • Which of the following is a common component of an internal combustion engine?
    1. a piston
    2. a compass
    3. a hammer
    4. a hydraulic jack

The answer is a, a piston. A compass is used to determine a direction on a map. A hammer is used to drive nails. A hydraulic jack is used to lift heavy items.

What Is a Mechanical Device?

A mechanical device is a tool designed to make a given task easier. For example, you could drive a nail into a piece of wood with a rock. However, a long time ago, someone who spent a lot of time building things with wood figured out that it would be a lot more efficient to use something that was easier to hold on to than a rock. He or she thought that a long slender handle might be nice, and that a hard piece of metal for striking the nail would provide more accuracy and not damage the wood as easily. Thus, the hammer was born.

Most mechanical devices were invented in the same manner: People looking for easier ways to perform their everyday jobs. Some mechanical devices are thousands of years old, such as the lever, the wheel, and many hand tools. Other more complex devices, such as pumps and valves, were invented more recently. Many times, the idea of a new mechanical device exists but the technology to make it does not. For example, many years before the pump was invented, people probably discussed the need for an easier way to move water from the river to the town on the hill. However, the technology for casting metal had not yet been invented, so the pump could not possibly have been invented at that time.

Mechanical devices cover a wide range of types of tools. In general, they are tools that relate to physical work and are governed by mechanical forces and movements. You can usually see what they do and how they work—as opposed to, say, a light switch or a battery, which are electrical devices. Some tools are used to directly accomplish a specific task, as when you use a hand saw to cut a piece of wood. Others, such as pulleys and gears, may be used indirectly to accomplish certain tasks that would be possible without the device but are easier with it. Still others, such as gauges, only provide feedback information on the operation of other mechanical devices. You see and use mechanical devices many times each day, so there is no reason to be intimidated by a mechanical aptitude section on the exam.

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