Understanding the Test Maker's Tactics

09 June 2020
Chief Brent Collins, President, www.FirePrep.com

Understanding the Test Maker's Tactics

As a test taker, you will be more skilled if you know how a test maker thinks.  Your test taking strategies must anticipate the test maker's strategies.  With multiple choice questions, the problem for the test maker is to create three bad answers for every good answer.

To appreciate the test maker's problems and to improve your own ability as a test taker, you should practice making up a few questions yourself.  Here is some material to work with.  Below is a short reading passage from a Fire Academy training manual, followed by four answer choices.  As it appears below, all the answer choices are correct.  You should try to come up with some other answer choices which would be wrong or make some little changes in these answer choices so that they are no longer correct.

Sometimes it is necessary to cut holes in the roof or floors of a building to release bottled up heat and smoke.  During roof or floor cutting operations, everyone in the vicinity of a saw in operation shall observe, as near as possible and practical, a 20-foot radius Circle of Danger.  Only the Officer, the Operator and the Guide Man may enter this circle.  All persons directly to the rear of the operating saw blade must be warned away, as the saw may throw debris 20 feet or more.

Side pressure or twisting of the blade when operating should be avoided.  The saw should never be forced.  If too much pressure is applied to the blade, the hazard of blade breakage (carbide tipped) or blade shattering (aluminum oxide or silicon carbide discs) is increased.  A blade which breaks or shatters during cutting may cause serious injury to the Operator or others in the area.

Based on the information above, it would be most correct to say that:

A) No one should be within 20 feet of the operating saw except the Officer, the Operator and the Guide Man.

B) Even someone who is 20 feet away can be in danger if the person is directly behind the saw when it is operating.

C) Carbide tipped blades will break, not shatter, if too much pressure is applied.

D) Side pressure may cause shattering of the blade if the blade is an aluminum oxide or silicon carbon disc.

No doubt, you can think of many ways to make three of the above answer choices wrong.  But you probably would not want to make an answer choice so obviously wrong that no one would ever choose it.  There is no point making up answers if no one will choose them.  The idea is to make an answer wrong, but still give it some appeal so that it will be an effective "distractor" from the right answer.  Here are some test maker tactics for doing that.

  1. Overstate the point. In the example, you could change 20 feet to 25 feet.  Or you could say that side pressure will definitely or always cause the blade to break or shatter.  Or you could insist rigidly on the 20-foot circle, forgetting that the rule says, "as near as possible and practical."  Of you could say that the Officer must be in the circle instead of that he may be in the circle.
  2. Ignore the fine points. In the example, you could substitute something general like "a safe distance" for the exact rule of 20 feet.  Or you could ignore the detail that 20 feet may not be adequate for someone directly behind the saw.  Of you might overlook the fact that these rules apply only when the saw is actually in operation.
  3. Change just one detail. In the example you could switch "breaking" and "shattering" for the different kinds of blades.  Or you could switch the kinds of blades.  You could change the rule about people directly behind the saw to make it people directly in front of the saw.
  4. Provide some bait to make false answers attractive. An easy way to do this is to keep some exact words from the "fact pattern" in the false answers.  Another way to do this is to make a two-part answer; start with something that is correct, then add something which is wrong.  For the example, you might say, "Other firefighters should remain at least 20 feet away when practical, and the Operator should especially warn anyone directly in front of him."
  5. Twist the meaning around. In the example you could say that the saw operator must go at least 20 feet from other people instead of the rule that other people must keep 20 feet from the saw operator.  Or you might try saying that the saw cannot be used less than 20 feet from the edge of a roof.

Good luck in your pursuit of the greatest job on the face of the earth!  Remember – luck goes to the prepared!