Friday, July 20, 2018

Note on USCG Exam Questions

USCG deck license exams are made up from their database of questions. In the past, every few years they have made up a dozen or so exams for each license or upgrade, covering a list of specific topics, with different numerical values in each of the exams.  For those who need to pass one of these exams, the traditional method of study is to get access to the data base and work through enough examples that any random sample of that type of problem can be solved. The test time is limited, so this type of practice is crucial. There is not enough time to figure out what exactly they want, and how to best solve it.

The deck questions are in these groups. There are a couple thousand questions in each set.

Rules of the Road
Deck General
General Navigation

As a historical note, all mariners owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Block of Marine Education Textbooks in Houma, LA, a company that remains Central Headquarters for license preparation training materials. In the late 70s and early 80s, Richard founded the National Association of Marine Educators (NAME) to coordinate, among other things, the study of USCG exam questions, as there were notable errors or misleading questions that affected the quality of the testing and indeed the lives of those mariners whose jobs depended on passing these tests.

As part of that project, he worked for seven years through the Freedom of Information Act to force the USCG to release the database of questions to the public, just as other federal testing agencies had done. He won that long battle, which led to an improvement of the questions as they could then be checked by many professionals, and this has indeed had a major affect on license training preparation that persists to this day.

 (As a historical insert here, in those days, we at Starpath still had one leg in the academic world with top of the line computer resources, so we were likely the first school that could actually read the then classic large magnetic tapes in Fortran format—the USCG released the data reluctantly in a format they did not expect to be decoded. Here is the kind of computer needed to read the tapes originally provided by the USCG.)

Once the internet became established and folks expected better service, the questions became available in Excel format online, and sometimes as pdfs. At times they became unavailable, then back on  again at the USCG website.  However for several years now they have been totally removed with no further promised access to them.  Richard has retired, and it is doubtful in these modern times that anyone will spend the huge effort needed to pursue this.

The USCG do periodically update or add to the questions, and there were recent changes in response to new Inland Navigation Rules. There are now many third party sources available online, but usually with little background provided on what they are offering. It is not a surprise, however, that available datasets do still contain many errors—not so much the content errors that Richard was pursing in the past, but now more format and spelling errors.

Although there are still what we would call poor or outdated questions in some areas, all in all this resource remains a valuable way to hone your skills in navigation. Especially with regard to the Navigation Rules. You can argue about some questions, but it is fair to say that if you can pass a test of 100 random questions on the Rules with 90% or more, then you must have a good understanding of the Rules.

To work the cel nav questions you will need a 1981 Almanac, and to work the tide and current problems you will need several specific outdated tables. Most of the others nav and weather questions are generic.

We offer a unique interface to all of the USCG questions at  Students signed up for any course have free access to all of them;  they are also available to anyone with an active Starpath webcard.

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