Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Barron's Firefighter Exams"

I realize that it may be a bit of a stretch to call Barron's (The Leader in Test Preparation) Firefighter Exams (2009) a book in the Cannonball sense of the word, but it's got at least 200 pages of information that doesn't even include the hundreds of pages of tests that I painstakingly worked my way through. And if you add the fact that this isn't one of my Cannonball books for this year's challenge, since it isn't November yet, and that I'm only an unofficial participant in Cannonball anyway, I feel I'm justified to write about, well, anything, really.

Now this is all pretty random and sudden, but I've been technically a lawyer--both employed and unemployed-- for over four years now and it never quite fit. I went to law school thinking that it would be interesting, and it was, but I've always liked school and I never stopped to think whether I'd actually want to do law as a career. And my subsequent jobs have shown me that I tend to find desk jobs tedious and boring. So many months ago I sat down and tried to think of what kind of jobs I could really enjoy and find satisfying. I love physical challenges and am somewhat addicted to working out, so something physical quickly came to mind. I briefly thought of the military or police but the enforcing and killing doesn't exactly fit with my personality.

Then I thought of firefighters, and the idea sounded interesting, but I wasn't immediately sure if it was a good fit. First, I didn't know if Denver even hired women firefighters. I've seen firefighters responding to emergencies all over downtown Denver, and I had never seen a woman firefighter. The second problem was that all the firefighters I did see were huge, burly men. I might like to work out, but I'm pretty tall and thin, and when it comes to pure strength I couldn't imagine keeping up with guys like that. However, a recent recruitment meeting for women firefighters in Denver convinced me. I was finally excited about a job and the fit felt right. Sure, 96% of the firefighters in Denver are male, but I didn't get the sense that there was any institutional hostility towards women. So, in about an hour I went from floundering around looking for a law job I wasn't excited about to a full focus on being hired as a firefighter. And the first step is to take a written test--the first of which is this Monday. I generally test well, especially for these kinds of things, but I so want to be a firefighter and with the minimal hirings occurring these days, I feel like I really need to make up for my lack of experience, training, job knowledge, etc. with a really, really good score. Hence, this book.

Barron's was recommended to me from a number of sources as being a good prepatory aid for the firefighter exam; so I got it from the library because I am way too cheap to buy a study guide. I don't have a lot to compare this book to and I haven't even taken the test yet, but it did have a lot of information including a diagnostic test, explanatory chapters, and six practice tests. I certainly know a little more now about the responsibilities and duties of firefighters. But by the time I finished going through this entire book, I was so annoyed with it, I was ready to throw it across the room. The drawings are often poor representations and difficult to see, and the explanatory chapters could have been a lot more detailed. Instead of describing how belt drives work in the "Mechanical" chapter, the text's only explanation states that they "work a lot like gears."

The most frustrating aspect, however, were the constant typos about rather important things. The glossary says that the area of a circle is equal to the diameter times the circumference or radius squared times the circumference. That's really interesting because diameter and radius squared is not the same thing. The other problem is that the actual formula for the area of a circle is (found through a reliable google search) pie times the radius squared. I couldn't really trust the book when it got something so simple and so fundamental so blatantly wrong. There were also at least 5 or 6 practice test questions where they had the wrong letter as the right answer and that wasn't apparent until you went to look at the explanations. And then there were some questions and answers where the word "not" shouldn't have been used or where the answer was blatantly wrong. It was sloppy and infuriating, and Barron's needs to do a much better editing job, especially on some of those practice tests. As for if it helped me or not, I guess I'll see on Monday.

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