Merit Matters recently noted that applicants for the upcoming FDNY entrance exam, “Should take the Vulcan Society leadership at their word,” that their test preparation “is the best test preparation bar none.”
That acknowledgment has apparently stirred up a controversy, given that the result has been a flood of candidates from all backgrounds registering for the Vulcan test prep classes.
While there are some very serious questions surrounding that test prep’s relations with the city (ie. “Are the instructors being paid by the city or the FDNY, as rumored, from the FDNY’s recruitment budget,” AND “Is the city or DCAS furnishing that fraternal organization with racial/ethnic or religious data on applicants”) outside of those issues, test preparation remains the responsibility of any given applicant.
To be clear, the ONLY advantage one can gain from “better preparation” is entirely commensurate with the efforts one puts in. That is to say, “Poor students tend to be poor students primarily due to a lack of effort and NOT a paucity of skills.” That explains, among other things, how some “failing inner city schools” have become successful models virtually overnight when the demographics of that school’s district changed.
Virtually ALL standardized testing revolves around the absorption and processing of basic information.
The 2007 Exam (#6019) was perhaps the most pronounced deviation from traditional standardized testing, in that its content was largely “opinion-based.” That’s why that exam had so many questions with multiple answers on it and why well over 90% of the applicants passed that “exam”!
BUT even exams such as 6019 require the SAME basic ability to process information and deliver the answer/response asked for.
Long gone are the days when prospective applicants had to seriously study/prepare for such exams, which in the 1950s had questions related to local governance (ie. “Who is the Brooklyn Borough President,” AND “What are the responsibilities and duties of the Fire Commissioner?” etc.). For decades now, the entrance exams to such jobs have been increasingly simplified. As a result, BOTH the written AND the physical portions of these entrance exams have seen their standards drastically lowered.
That makes it even MORE critical that serious applicants do their very best on both portions of the exam! There is really no room for error.
While a given prep class may have access to the exact kinds of questions to be asked, that kind of “advance information” is only useful to a relatively minor extent.
If you’re not a serious student, you’re not going to benefit much from such advance information. Consider that SAT prep classes only improve the scores of those who take them by a relatively small percentage.
The key to written test taking is TEST STRATEGY.
Fortunately, basic test-taking strategies are widely available and easily found online and in various books and pamphlets.
The most common basic test-taking strategies endorsed by educators are;
1. Get a good night sleep beforehand! Brain function is always better on a full night’s rest. And don’t forget to eat something protein-rich beforehand.
2. Relaxation is key when taking an exam. Get to the testing site early so you can pick the desk or area most comfortable to you, and make sure you have the proper pens, pencils, paper, computer etc. so you can focus.
3. Survey the entire test. Try to get a feel for the level of difficulty of it, and whether or not you’d be best served completing portions you feel more comfortable with first. This way, if you don’t have consistent confidence in all parts of the test, you can rest assured you will not have to race to write down the answers you do know after struggling with those you don’t.
4. Take a few deep breaths and stretch your muscles (in fact, try to stretch your entire body before sitting down). The oxygen this provides to your brain and muscles will help you retrieve information more easily, and will help you sort through information more quickly. It will also keep you from getting tense, which sometimes makes questions or instructions sound more difficult than they really are.
5. Read the test directions twice, even if you are positive you understood the first time. It doesn’t take that much time, and you will avoid realizing you are – for example – writing a two-paragraph essay answer as opposed to a two-sentence answer!
6. If there are details which were more difficult to memorize, for example, the order of the planets in the solar system, quickly “mind dump” them down on a piece of scratch paper or the margins so you can refer to it during the test, and to clear your mind for less extraneous thinking.
7. Take advantage of long-held assumptions about multiple-choice questions, if that’s part of your test. Try to supply your own answer before looking at the options below the question. If the “right” answer doesn’t jump out at you, remember that statements that begin with “absolutes,” like “always,” ”never,” “none,” and “except” are the least likely to be the answer.
8. Mark an answer for every question, whether you know it or not. Again, take advantage of long-held assumptions about multiple choices, if you don’t know the answer. Remember that if two choices are similar, they are both probably (though not always) incorrect. If two choices are opposites, choose one of them.
9. When it comes to answering essay questions, remember that the idea is not to test what information you can “dump” onto the page, but how well you can explain and support an idea. Read all the essay questions first, then for each one (if you’re allowed to mark your test) be sure to underline the “directional” word, like “define,” “compare,” “explain” etc. so you don’t miss the whole point of the essay. Outline key words, ideas and phrases before writing it in full; this will help to keep you on track and minimize the time needed to write it, giving you more time to review and polish.
10. Check on your time limitations every so often. This will ensure that you take the time to complete the test portions that hold the highest point value, and those you can answer the most competently, if not the entire test.
In preparing for the physical portion of the exam, focus on good overall conditioning, with an emphasis on endurance and flexibility (flexibility keeps the chances of overuse injuries to a minimum) appears to be the best strategy. As an example, running stairs with a weight vest is a good overall conditioning exercise. It improves endurance and builds both core and upper body strength and coupled with flexibility (stretching) exercises promotes a high overall fitness level.
No matter what they do with the configuration of the “obstacle courses” currently being used, good overall conditioning seems to be the key.
Again, overall fitness is the key. A powerful weight lifter has few advantages and numerous disadvantages relative to a well-conditioned applicant who has good strength, good endurance and has worked on flexibility (stretching exercises) to reduce the chances of repetitive use injury occurring during the testing procedure.
With the goal being getting through the entire exam/obstacle course as efficiently and effectively as possible, overall conditioning and a basic high level of fitness appears to be the key, just as rested, relaxation and the ability to focus on the day of the written exam are the keys to successful written exam taking.
In other words, while we’re looking into any improprieties and procedural violations related to the Vulcan test prep, every candidate’s test preparation comes down to an INDIVIDUAL EFFORT and a personal responsibility.
Even IF the City has assisted the Vulcan Society and there exists even “the appearance of impropriety” that is NOT an excuse for other applicants to fail. In fact, that should serve to inspire an even greater, more focused effort on the part of those who feel wronged in any way.
There are a LOT of rumors going around, but I think it’s imperative that they be addressed as questions and NOT as charges UNTIL such time as they are completely vetted.
In other words, I consider the “extended workplace” abuse a relatively minor complaint, especially relative to the potentially very damaging issues surrounding the V.S. test prep classes being, in any way, FDNY-funded (making them an “official class”) and bringing BOTH NYC and the FDNY into any possible biased-based improprieties of the V.S.!
Certainly the Vulcan Society has responded as though they were running an “Official City-funded Prep Class,” given there was no mention of, nor request for ethnic/racial data in their online registration process and their subsequent failure to assert that it was INDEED a private tutorial restricted to a specific set of applicants, something that taking city funds would bar. . .BUT such conjecture is not, in and of itself, proof.
We will look to get all the facts surrounding this controversy and vet all allegations, but at this point, there are ONLY questions and no actual charges.
We continue to both caution and advise members (1) NOT to blame all V.S. members for the actions/mistakes of a few and (2) to ALWAYS be courteous and cooperative and to remain calm, respectful and professional, even if you feel you’re being denied access to instruction you believe to be open to all.
Reacting without all the facts usually amounts to OVER-reacting. It's best to avoid that.