Memory and Observation for Firefighter Exam Study Guide (page 3)
This article contains hints and tips to help you answer questions that test your memory and observation skills. Seeing and observing are skills that make a good firefighter a better firefighter.
It's amazing what your mind will file away in that cabinet we call memory. You remember every snippet of dialogue uttered in some obscure movie you saw years ago, but you can't remember which bus route you used yesterday to get to the dentist. Some people remember names well, but can't put them with the right faces. Others forget names quickly, but know exactly when, where, and why they met the person whose name they have forgotten. There are a few lucky individuals with what is commonly referred to as total recall—and then there are those of us who wake up every morning to a radio alarm so we can find out what day of the week it is. Fortunately for most of us, a good memory is actually a skill that can be developed—with the right incentive. A high score on the firefighter exam is plenty of incentive.
Firefighter exams commonly test your short-term memory by presenting you with questions based on drawings or diagrams. Firefighters face situations daily that require split-second decisions based on a glance or a brief study of diagrams, so short-term memory is an important skill. You may be shown a sketch of a building on fire with people at the windows needing rescue, or you may be given a diagram showing the floor plan of a building. Usually you will be given a set amount of time (five minutes is common) to look at the drawing or diagram, and then you will be asked to answer test questions about what you saw without looking back at the drawing. Your goal is to memorize as much of the drawing or diagram as you can in the allotted time.
This article includes tips and techniques for dealing with drawings and diagrams, so you will be prepared to deal with them effectively.
Kinds of Memory and Observation Questions
Firefighter exams include two kinds of memory and observation sections: questions based on a drawing of a fire scene, and questions based on a floor plan or similar kind of diagram.
Questions Based on Drawings
Having you look at a sketch of a building on fire is a common way for firefighter exams to test your short-term memory. This is a simple test of your ability to recall details. You won't be asked to suggest ways to fight fires, use judgment skills, or draw conclusions about what you see.
You will be asked to look at the drawing until a specific time limit is up. Then you will turn to a set of questions in the test booklet. You have to answer the questions without looking at the drawing. Let's assume you are presented with a drawing showing a building on fire. Several people are standing in windows, including an adult figure holding an infant. You might be asked:
- A figure in one of the windows is holding something. What is it?
- a suitcase
- a dog
- a book
- a baby
The questions and their answers are simple. If you don't remember what the adult figure was holding, or didn't notice that figure in the five minutes you had to study the drawing, then you will have to give this question your best guess.
Questions Based on Diagrams
Similarly, you may be presented with a diagram of a floor plan of a building, perhaps filled with smoke. Again, this is a test of your ability to remember details. The ability of a firefighter to read a floor plan is crucial, as you may someday find yourself making your way through hallways and rooms filled with smoke. When presented with a floor plan, you will want to note the location of potential hazards and dead ends; you may be asked the placement of exits or smoke alarms or where to position a ladder for rescue.
For example, the diagram might show a center hallway with doors leading into certain rooms, and the question might be something like this:
- You are proceeding east to west down the center hallway and have just passed the den. What is the next room you will pass?
- bedroom 1
- bedroom 2
- sewing room
At the end of this article, you will find a floor plan and several questions about it that you can use to practice.
How to Approach Memory and Observation Questions
What to Do
Use a methodical approach to studying what you see. When you read sentences on a page, you read from left to right. This skill is as unconscious as breathing for most English-language readers. Approach memorizing a diagram the same way you read, taking in the information from left to right. Instead of staring at the diagram with the whole picture in focus, make yourself start at the left and work your way across the page until you get to the right.
What Not to Do
- Do not freeze or let yourself get overwhelmed when you first see the diagram. Take a deep breath and decide to be methodical.
- Do not try to start memorizing with a shotgun approach, letting your eyes roam all over the page without really taking in the details.
- Do not read the questions too quickly. Be sure to read them carefully, so that you answer the question that was actually asked. Haste can produce easily avoidable errors.
Memorization is much easier if you approach the task with the expectation that you will remember what you see. Call it positive thinking, self-hypnosis, or concentration—it doesn't really matter as long as you get results. When you run through the practice questions in this book, prepare your mind before you start. Tell yourself over and over that you will remember what you see as you study the images. Your performance level will rise to meet your expectations.
Yes, it's easy for your brain to freeze up when you see a drawing or diagram filled with details, a test section full of questions, and a test proctor standing above you with a stopwatch in one hand, intoning, "You have five minutes to study this picture. You may begin." But if you have programmed yourself to stay calm and alert, and execute your plan, you will remember the details when you need them.
Plan? Yes, you need a plan. If you have a method for memorizing, say, a diagram of a second-floor hallway, then you will be more likely to relax and allow yourself to retain what you have seen long enough to answer the test questions. Keep in mind that you aren't trying to memorize the scene to learn it for life, you are doing it to retain the information long enough to answer the test questions. What will it matter if you remember the scene three months from now? Your goal is to retain the information long enough to get through this test.
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