Throughout the Coast Guard, there’s an unfortunately persistent belief that it’s not really necessary to study before you take an rating advancement test (RAT). I can’t tell you how many times people have told me after taking a test, “I just wanted to find out what’s on it.” With all due respect, that’s just STUPID. Let’s examine why.
There are two assumptions underlying that statement: (1) that you’re going to fail the first test and (2) if you know what’s on the first test you take, you’ll do better on the next test you take.
At the moment, there are three versions of each RAT. Taking the first test as a throw-away (“just to see what’s on it”) won’t help you take the other two versions since few questions are used on more than one test. That is, a question used in the first version is unlikely to show up in either of the other two versions.
Even questions that are used in more than one test, however, aren’t used in the same form. Either the question itself has been reworded, the multiple-choice responses are reworded, the multiple-choice responses are listed in a different order, or all of these.
Then there’s the fact that you are required to wait three weeks between tests if you don’t pass on the first try. For “just seeing what’s on the test” to help you pass it the next time, you’d have to remember 76% or 80% or (in the case of the open-book tests) 94% or 96% of the answers correctly until the next time you took the same test – at least 9 weeks after first taking it.
Let’s face facts: it’s a much better use of your time to study (REALLY study) your course materials/PQG and prepare to pass the first time than to waste your first go at a RAT or AQE and trust chance that you’ll remember enough of the questions you’ve seen so you can pass on a later date. Not only will you qualify for the SWE earlier, but you’ll have a better knowledge base for doing your job.
Andrew Webb ESO, Training Center Cape May
Studying for your RAT is a straightforward process. Even before you start to study, though – before you even open your course books – you've got to do one thing: put out of your mind all the well-meaning advice you've heard from those around you (often including those who are higher than you in rank) about how to study for an RAT. More likely than not those who are giving you advice (1) last took an RAT many years ago, before the PQG format courses existed, or (2) had to take the RAT more than three times before passing it or (3) both of these.
Once you put aside all the advice you've received, you need to get yourself into the proper frame of mind. That means you must accept the fact that studying for your RAT is not likely to be easy. This isn't because the Coast Guard wants it to be hard, but because the material you're required to learn in the course of your studies for the next higher rating is college-level material.
Face it: every enlisted person – even those in hands-on rates – is already a college student, whether you think you are or not. Almost every “A” and “C” school and almost every other service school you attend, along with most Coast Guard Institute courses you take (as noted above), has been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE). The end result of those evaluations is a determination of how many credits you would have earned if you’d taken the same subjects in college.
In essence, then, you’re taking college courses whenever you take military courses. And because RATs are not tests for grades, you have to get a higher score to pass. This is why you nearly always actually have to study to do well on the RATs related to these courses.
There’s a systematic way of studying for the tests that will improve your chances of passing the first time. Believe it or not, the people who devised the Coast Guard Institute’s courses had an overall vision of how the various parts of the on-the-job training system would all fit together. This system consists of Rating Performance Qualifications (RPQs – what used to be called practical factors), the PQG(s) for the next higher rating, and on-the-job training.
Only when you’ve mastered your RPQs and the material in your PQG are you ready to take your rating advancement test. The bottom line: don’t waste your time by taking a test you’re really not ready for.