#105 – Exam Prep vs Knowing the Code

by Shawn Lee

What brings this post to life was a discussion I had with a coworker about a quiz question on one of our online training courses.  The quiz question had a trick answer that could be taken one way or the other.  Unfortunately, if the person taking the quiz took it the “wrong” way, then the answer is deemed incorrect.  This happened and the person who got the answer incorrect asked for clarification on why the answer they chose was wrong.  As they were studying for a NICET exam, I consider this a very valid question.  After I provided some clarification to our customer, my coworker and I spoke about if we leave the quiz question and answers as they are, or make our questions and answers almost word-for-word out of the codes and standards.

As you may know, helping our customers prepare for the NICET exams is the bedrock of what Fire Tech Productions does.  It’s not all we do, but it is a large part of it.  When it comes to helping others prepare for the NICET exams, we feel it’s important to mimic some of what an exam taker will experience.  That can include some questions and answers that might be a little tricky.  Not every question and answer will follow this guideline, but there could be a few.  An argument for this is that the person studying for the exam would (potentially) get a taste of what the exam will be like.  This can be useful for someone who has never taken the exam before.  Making our quizzes and exams in this way could help shape the way the person studies, which in turns helps them pass the exam.

However, as often happens in life, there is more than one side to any story.  Studying to take an exam and using test taking strategies to pass the exam doesn’t always equate to learning and retaining the material.  For me, and I freely admit this is just my opinion, studying for an exam and practicing test taking strategies doesn’t make me learn the material.  It gears me to do well on the test itself.  In most cases, within a few weeks of taking, and hopefully passing the test, the information I studied is pretty much on the way out of my brain.  It’s not committed to my long-term memory.  I know everyone isn’t me, but I would guess that I am not the only person like this.  In contrast, when I make it a point to learn something from NFPA 72 for my own personal knowledge, it tends to stick.

Developing quiz or mock exam questions for customers sometimes gets a little complicated.  My main goal when providing training is to make sure that the knowledge you gain from our courses is knowledge you will be able to apply both to your day-to-day jobs and to an exam you may be studying for.  I believe it is important for any fire protection instructor to make sure that his or her students know the information in the code and how to find it when needed.  That way, it doesn’t matter if the student is preparing for an exam or preparing to discuss a code issue with the AHJ or the boss.  Either way, the knowledge is at their fingertips.

My advice to anyone who is preparing to take a certification exam with NICET or any other certification granting entity is to know the code, make sure you are familiar with the layout of that code, and know the general information located in the different chapters.  Don’t try to memorize all of it because unless the code or standard you are studying is very small, it will be difficult for most of us to retain all the information.  If you concentrate on where the information may be located, you can cut down on the amount of time to find the information you seek and you can start to retain some of the information that matters most to your day-to-day jobs.

All that being “said,” I still need to decide if we will change the quiz that brought about this discussion.  I can see both sides of the argument and I am on the fence.  As I wrote earlier, we are committed to helping our customers pass their NICET exams.  It’s what we do.  And I might have to concede the best way to do that is with a mixture of slightly tricky questions and answers along with some questions and answers that are almost word-for-word out of the codes and standards.  I’ll think on it for a little while longer and then do whatever the boss says.