Chief Guccione's Thoughts To Help Improve Your Success

How To Reduce Overwhelm When Preparing for Your Fire Department Exam or Interview

By Chief Dean Guccione - 

In this blog post, I want to help you through a problem that is common among all firefighter candidates, and that is how to deal with feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do on your journey to becoming a firefighter.

Basically, it’s about managing your time effectively, so you have time to study and prepare for your fire department exams and interviews, as well as have time to study if you’re in school or taking classes, your job, and finding the time in between to spend with friends and family.

Get Organized

For most of you who are working towards becoming a firefighter, your plate seems to be full all or most of the time, and it feels like you are reacting to what you need to do, as opposed to being very deliberate and organized in what you need to do.

You are being pulled in multiple directions every day whether it’s finding time to study for your fire department exams, or the fire academy, paramedic school, college classes, work obligations, family obligations, and then finding time to spend with friends, or to just chill and empty your brain for a while. I know, you need to just be, sometimes, without having to think about studying or preparing for your next fire department test.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, there are a couple of easy solutions you can use to help get control over all the things you need to do each day.

The first one is to get organized. Each day, while eating breakfast or getting ready for the day, make a list of everything you need to do. Just do a quick brain dump of all the obligations and activities you have for the day. Use whatever means that is most comfortable for you, whether it’s some type of digital software, an app, or even a pad of paper and pen. The point is to write it down.

Once you have all of your to-dos written down, then prioritize them in order of importance. Once you have everything prioritized, you’ll then want to figure out how much time each activity is going to take, and then assign an amount of time you want to dedicate to that item.

If you have study for your firefighter interview as one of your items, dedicate two full hours to your preparation. If you do this for all of your to-do items, you can pick them off, one by one, and get a lot done during the day.

Being organized and knowing exactly what you have to do and how long it’s going to take will significantly reduce the amount of overwhelm you’re feeling each day. Once you get into the habit of organizing and budgeting your time, try branching out and organizing your week.

I would still recommend making a daily list, so you can add in all the small things you need to do that may suddenly surface, like realizing you don’t have any clean clothes. We all know how long it takes to do laundry.

If you leave some time in your schedule for last minute things that seem to crop up, you’ll still be able to get everything finished that day.

Preventing Overwhelm When You’re Preparing

Another area where my students feel overwhelmed is when they’re preparing for their fire department exams, panel interviews, EMT or paramedic didactic block exams. There is an enormous amount of information you must learn in these areas, so here is a tip to help prevent overwhelm and keep you focused.

No matter what kind of studying you’re doing, I’ve found the best way to prevent feeling overwhelmed is to not look at all of the information as one big monster you have to learn all at once.

It’s best to break all of the information down into manageable blocks, or some people use "chunks" and then study each block for a certain amount of time; let’s say 30 minutes. Once you’ve studied that block for 30 minutes, move onto the next block and so on.

It doesn’t matter how you break down the materials. You can write the information on flashcards (my preferred method), or write down notes. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Do what works best for you. Everyone learns differently and everyone studies differently.

Let’s say you do flashcards. Transfer the info, in the form of questions, onto each flashcard. Have no more than 50 flashcards for any given block. 30 is optimal. You may have 20 or 30 packs of flashcards, or less, but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that once you have your packs of cards or notes organized, you spend 15 to 30 minutes studying each pack of cards or block of information. Continue rotating through until you’ve gone through all the cards. Then repeat. Before you know it, you’re learning at an exponential rate.

If some packs of cards contain more difficult material, then go over those more often until you feel comfortable with the material. But, be sure to rotate in the other packs of cards just for review.

Once you feel you’re ready for your test or exam or interview, give yourself one day of rest before, so all that information can really sink in. You’ve been studying and working hard, and your brain needs a break. If you can rest your brain for about 24 hours, you’ll be surprised how good you feel on test day when you give your brain a break the day before.

Having that break allows you to clear your mind, so the information can permanently be retained. The only studying you should do on test day is look at an item or two to confirm an answer. That’s it. When your brain feels rested, it will be much easier to recall the info you spent so much time learning.

Final Thought

Whether your juggling college, fire technology classes, paramedic school, work, preparing for your written exam and panel interview, and especially if you’re doing all the above at the same time, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed with everything you have to juggle on a daily basis.

I want you to practice using the techniques I’ve outlined above and if you do, I’m confident they will help you stay focused on the task at hand, while significantly reducing the amount of overwhelm you feel, as you’re trying to achieve your goal of becoming a full-time, career firefighter.

Remember to write down all of your daily to-do’s and prioritize them in order of importance. Then, when you’re studying, break all of the information down into small blocks and put them on flash cards, in categorized packs, or write out categories of notes. Then study each pack or category for 15 or 30 minutes before you move the next one.

When you get this down, you will see how much faster you learn the material and how much easier it is to study large blocks of information and material, all while reducing the amount of overwhelm you feel. Please let me know how this works for you, and let’s be sure to go out and make a difference in someone’s life this week.