Memory and Observation for Firefighter Exam Study Guide (page 5)
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.
It is almost impossible to talk about memorization without bringing up observation. Sherlock Holmes said, "You see but you do not observe." Some people are naturally observant. Some frequently drift off and have no awareness of the world around them. Whatever category you think you are in, it is never too late to sharpen, or acquire, strong observation skills. How? Practice, of course.
Newspaper photos make great practice tools. News photos are action-oriented and usually include more than one person. Sit down in a quiet place, clear your mind, remind yourself for several minutes that you will retain all the details you need when you study the picture, and then turn to a picture and study it for about five minutes. At the end of the time, turn the picture over, get a piece of paper and a pencil, then write down all the details you can think of in the picture. Or you might go to the library and check out a book on architecture that shows the floor plans of buildings. Go over the floor plans and memorize as many details as you can, then put away the book and write down all you remember. You may even have someone else quiz you. Make yourself do this as often as possible before the test.
You can tone up your observation skills on the way to work or school, too. Instead of sitting in your car waiting for the light to change with a blank stare on your face, look around you and say out loud what you see. "On my left is a three-story building with a bank of four windows on the first floor. There are two doorways, one on either side of the bank of windows." (If you are riding a train or subway, note details inside and recite them silently to yourself.) Not only are you practicing a basic skill to become an excellent firefighter, you are also training your mind to succeed at whatever memory questions the test maker throws your way.
Another excellent means to improve your recall is a game developed by the British Secret Service to train agents in the time of Queen Victoria. It involved a tray on which a number of small items were spread out and then covered by a paper or towel. One person then brought in the tray and uncovered it in front of the trainee, and the trainee would study the objects on the tray. At first, a trainee was given all the time he or she felt was needed; however, as the training went on, not only were the objects changed, but the time was reduced, until at the end the trainee was given only a glance at the tray. The trainee not only had to tell the trainer the objects, but each time, the number of details increased, until the trainee could not only tell what was there with a glance but could also describe each item in detail. This simple game is a great way to build your memory and observation skills: The better your skills, the bigger advantage you will have on an examination.
Memory and Observation Practice
Below is a floor plan like those found on some fire- fighter exams. Following the floor plan are several questions asking about details of the floor plan. Use this diagram to practice your memory skills. Take five minutes to study the diagram, and then answer the questions that follow without looking back at the diagram.
Check your answers by looking back at the diagram. If you get all the questions right, you know you are well prepared for memory questions. If you miss a few, you know you need to spend more time practicing, using the tips outlined previously. Remember, you can improve your memory with practice.
- Which rooms or areas of the dwelling do NOT have smoke detectors?
- kitchen, family room, dining area, and bathroom
- kitchen, dining area, and bathroom
- family room, dining area, bedroom, and bathroom
- kitchen, living room, and bathroom
- How many doorways lead off of the family room?
- You are in the smoke-filled dining area and hear moaning coming from the kitchen. How do you proceed to get into the kitchen?
- Go into hallway #1, straight ahead, and through the door on your right into the kitchen.
- Go into the living room, through the family room, across hallway #1, and through the door into the kitchen.
- Go into hallway #2, straight ahead, and through the door on your left into the kitchen.
- Go straight through the door leading from the dining room into the kitchen.
- You are on the street in front of the dwelling. You cannot go into the dwelling through the entryway because it is ablaze. To enter directly from the street, what other alternatives do you have?
- two windows and one doorway
- three windows
- two windows and two doorways
- one window and one doorway
- You are in hallway #2. One of your coworkers shouts that there is a person overcome by smoke in the family room. Which of the following is your most direct route to the family room?
- through the doorway into the bedroom, and straight ahead through the doorway into the family room
- through the doorway into the entryway, then through the doorway into the living room, down hallway #1, and left through the doorway into the family room
- through the doorway into the bathroom, then through the doorway into hallway #1, and then left into the doorway leading into the family room
- through the doorway into the dining area/living room, straight ahead into hallway #1, and then left through the doorway into the family room
- How many smoke detectors are in the dwelling?
Tips for Memory and Observation Questions
- Use a methodical approach to memorization.
- Read the picture from left to right.
- Read the questions carefully; make sure you are answering the question that's being asked.
- Practice your memory and observation skills in your daily routine.
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