"I have a friend who tells me the test is simply a "dumbed down" version of the SAT with no prior knowledge of firefighting and related topics necessary. At the same time I keep hearing "fire buffs" are skewing the scores for "everyone else." There's a definite disconnect here."
The explanation is that you can pass the test (which you can see for yourself here) in one of two general ways:
1. All the information needed to answer the questions is in reading passages directly above the questions. So, anybody with good reading comprehension can walk in cold and pass the test. For example, here's the question on p. 6 that the New York Times considered to be a smoking gun of "Racial Bias:"
17. Which one of the following portable power saw blades must be put out of service?
A) A carbide tip blade missing nine tips.
B) A carbide tip blade with three broken tips.
C) An aluminum oxide blade measuring 12 inches.
D) A yellow silicon carbide blade measuring nine inches.
Well, I certainly didn't know the answer to that question off the top of my head. However, I could have answered it by reading the 250 word passage on the same page, which includes the sentences:
A saw blade must be put out of service (OOS) and sent to the Technical Services Division when the blade becomes worn or damaged. Carbide tip blades must be put OOS when eight or more tips are missing or broken.And then I could use Math Skills to recognize that nine missing tips is more than eight missing tips, so I would choose A).
2. If you aren't that good at reading comprehension, you can study ahead of time and learn much of the material asked about so that your poor reading skills won't be a problem. (That's one of the reasons the New Haven reverse discrimination victims chose Frank Ricci as their lead plaintiff -- he's dyslexic, so his reading skills aren't that good, but he just studied hard before the test.)
However, if you are bad at reading and you aren't interested enough in the vocation of firefighting to learn a lot about firefighting ahead of time, well, then, you probably won't do well on the test, much to the outrage of Judge Garaufis and the New York Times.