Could You Pass an EMT Exam?

Staff Author

Image: Zero Creatives/Cultura/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Other than your neighbors, emergency medical technicians, or EMTs for short, are likely to be the first people on the scene when you have a medical crisis. As first responders, they have to be trained in a variety of areas. They need to be able to assess the safety of a scene -- the EMT's first priority is to stay safe enough to provide good care. They are trained in communicating clearly with people who are confused or panicked, who are under the influence or whose first language is not English. They learn to recognize suicidal behavior, deal compassionately with those who have drug-abuse issues. and sometimes coax the resistant into coming to the ER for followup treatment. 

Perhaps you've harbored ambitions to be an emergency medical technician, or just wonder how you might fare as one. It's not a job to be taken lightly. Like doctors and nurses, EMTs need a solid grounding in anatomy and understanding of the human body, a familiarity with common illnesses and accident traumas, and with medications and treatments. Beyond that, EMT students get a solid (if not lengthy) education in legal and ethical issues. How far can you go in persuading a patient not to refuse care? What kind of sensitive patient information is too sensitive to be transmitted over the radio? 

If you think you've got what it takes, tackle our quiz on the world of the emergency medical technician. Just don't call 911 if you get stuck!

What does the memory device "ABC" stand for?

These are the top three things a first responder should take care of. If the patient doesn't have a blocked airway, is breathing, and his/her heart is working and circulating blood, there is a good chance they will survive to get secondary medical treatment. Note that "circulation" also includes bleeding -- if the patient's circulation is resulting in uncontrolled blood loss from a wound, that needs to be taken care of right away.

Which of these is the preferred term for the person being treated?

Certainly, if someone was assaulted, they are a victim, but EMTs rarely use that word. As some EMT instructors like to tell students, '"Victims' are patients who get lousy treatment."

Who or what is an "RP"?

In other words, this is the person who called 911 (at least, that's usually how the process gets started). In radio communications, you'll often hear the short version, "RP."

Which of these is NOT a common tool of EMT work?

Scalpels are for surgeons. The other three are often used in paramedic work. EMT shears are especially nifty -- they are thin and blunt at the tip, so an EMT can slide them right under tight clothing without cutting the patient, then use them to cut off through that clothing and access wound sites.

"CNS" is a common abbreviation for ...

You'll hear this shorter term a lot for the brain and spinal cord. CNS injuries can have especially grave implications for future health.

A mask, goggles and/or gloves can protect an EMT from ______.

"Body substance isolation" is the somewhat formal name given to protections from blood, saliva, mucus and other body fluids. These can transmit infectious diseases.

Which of these is a communicable disease?

Tuberculosis is a lung disease and can be spread by airborne methods (e.g., coughing or sneezing). Though an EMT is almost certainly going to be inoculated against TB, wearing a mask is advised around patients suspected to be tubercular, in part because of the rare, but still possible, chance of an inoculation-resistant strain.

What is a "size-up"?

"Size-up" is an important concept in first-responder work. Rushing in can lead to injury to the EMT or to missing important clues to the overall crisis.

Under which of these circumstances should you and your partner NOT enter an emergency scene?

EMTs are allowed to, and supposed to, put their own physical safety first. But not approaching a patient because of concern for evidence in a crime is not sufficient reason. Nor is a patient's initial apparent refusal to be treated.

True or false: Drugs or alcohol are almost always involved in a patient's altered mental status.

Many things can cause confusion, hallucination, anxiety or combativeness. Even if a patient's mental state is caused by substance use, it is important not to respond with judgment or irritation, which can get in the way of a good treatment outcome.

If you are putting a patient in the "recovery position," how are you arranging their body?

This position is useful because it allows vomit or other fluids to drain safely from the mouth. If you want to impress co-workers, call it the "lateral recumbent position."

What is insulin?

The pancreas makes insulin, but in some people, the amount is insufficient and has to be supplemented. However, even the insulin administered externally has natural origins -- it is generally made from cow or pig pancreases.

What is adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes usually called?

"Type 2" (or Type II) is a more accurate term, because children and teenagers can develop it. The main thing that differentiates it is that in Type 2 diabetes the body has lost sensitivity to insulin, rather than being unable to produce it (which is Type 1). This can be managed through changes in diet and exercise and through medication.

True or false: A diabetic can have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Hypoglycemia is a common result of diabetes; put another way, diabetes is the underlying illness, which can express itself in either hypo- or hyperglycemia. Whether diabetes is Type I or Type II, the body has difficulty maintaining a healthy range of blood sugar.

Which of these indicates a patient in diabetic crisis?

All of these are signs of diabetes, but the first two indicate an "emergent" situation. Frequent urination, like thirst, is a more general symptom of diabetes. An evaluation by a patient's primary-care doctor is indicated, by not necessarily urgent.

What is the "airway"?

Saying "airway" is handy when you don't know exactly where an obstruction is. Any blockage in the airway, from nose to lungs, is dangerous.

The aorta is a/an ...

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It leads away from the heart, beginning the process of transporting oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

What is anaphlyaxis?

Anaphlylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. One of the more common ones is to bee stings.

Which system is overreacting in a case of anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe immune response. Some swelling in response to an immune threat --a foreign substance in the body -- is normal. But when the airway begins to close as a result, it becomes potentially fatal.

Anaphylaxis is sometimes called anaphylactic _____.

This is not to be confused with "shock" overall. That's a more common response in emergencies, not narrowly affecting the immune system.

What is/are "body mechanics"?

One of the things that EMT students learn is good body mechanics. The job requires lifting and carrying, and without good skills in this area, first responders can be injured.

Respiratory and pulmonary both refer to the action of the _____.

To be specific, "respiratory" is a little broader, with "pulmonary" referring to the lungs alone. For example, an "upper respiratory infection" is a cold, affecting the nose and throat. (It's also not usually an issue for an EMT, of course).

In which of these cases can you proceed with care under "implied consent"?

A drunken patient or one on drugs still has the right to refuse care. The EMT's responsibility is to make sure he or she understands their medical situation and makes as informed a decision as possible before signing the refusal-of-care form.

Which of these would an EMT be discouraged from attempting on a patient having breathing difficulties?

TV and movies give the impression that cutting into a patient's throat and inserting a tube of some sort below a blockage is fairly easy -- the sort of thing a Boy Scout might do with his penknife and a drinking straw at a restaurant. In truth, tracheotomy is very difficult and has a high risk of either not working or severing an artery. It is not included in EMT training.

A lack of oxygen in the body's tissues is called ...

Signs of hypoxia include a bluish tinge to the lips and confusion/altered mental status. This is a problem that can trouble anyone who travels to altitudes higher than 8,000 or 9,000 feet, especially without advance cardiovascular training.

What is tachycardia?

To assess a pulse as tachycardic requires a bit of advance knowledge. A normal heart rate is different for different age groups, and if a patient has just finished a burst of exertion -- like running to get help after an accident -- the rapid pulse may not be cause for concern.

What is an abnormally slow pulse called?

It's not true that a slow pulse is never cause for concern. An underperforming heart cannot get oxygen and vital nutrients to tissues of the body, which is a serious health concern.

Which of these patients should have the highest heart rate?

Generally speaking, heart rate is highest at birth, and slows throughout life. However, endurance athletes might have lower heart rates at age 35 than a non-exerciser at 50 -- there are variables in play.

Which of these is a normal respiratory rate?

There are some "breathing gurus" that encourage people to get their breathing rate down as low as 4 breaths per minute. But most medical experts agree this is an unnecessary goal: 12 to 20 is fine in an adult.

Which of these should an EMT not do for a diabetes patient?

Some ambulance services do not allow EMTs to use a blood glucose monitor; nearly all allow them to administer glucose, and require them to carry it. But diagnosis itself is a job for an MD. You'll often hear an EMT referring to "assessing" a patient, but not "diagnosing" them.

What is the common name for a "cerebrovascular accident"?

A stroke can be difficult to assess at the scene, since symptoms can appear to resolve, then return. Prompt transport to a hospital for a doctor's diagnosis is essential.

Which of these would you describe as "dilated"?

Dilated pupils can indicate one of several medical conditions. When only one is dilated, it can mean a serious head injury.

Where would you find the radial artery?

This is significant because first responders are often called on to find a "radial pulse." This is done by laying two fingers on the wrist, over the radial artery.

In the acronym SAMPLE, what is the "S" for?

"SAMPLE" is an acronym for a history-taking method. It goes Signs and Symptoms, Allergies, Medications, Pertinent past history, Last oral Intake (food or drink) and Events leading to 911 call.

Which of these pieces of equipment has a "flowmeter"?

EMTs sometimes administer oxygen to patient in the field or in the ambulance. A flowmeter lets the medic adjust the rate of oxygen flow, measured in liters per minute.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes