BAMBERG, Germany - Since January, the U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg education center has offered six Functional Academic Skills Training classes for Soldiers who want to improve their General Technical score; a seventh is scheduled this month.

FAST is a class designed to increase Soldiers' test-taking abilities and improve their GT score. The GT is the portion of the Armed Forces Classification Test that combines arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge and paragraph comprehension and can have a maximum score of 130.

Based on Education Services Specialist Edgar Stitt's experience counseling Soldiers, approximately 70 percent of FAST attendees achieved a GT of 110 or higher on the AFCT, he said.

Similar to most standardized tests, the AFCT is an aptitude test meant to measure a person's potential. The AFCT includes the sections that make up the GT as well as automotive information, general science and other general knowledge segments.

While the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is initially administered to those interested in enlisting in the Army, it is the GT portion of the exam that can determine a Soldier's career. Certain Military Occupational Specialties require a GT score at or above 100 or 110. Scores determine Soldiers' qualifications for enlisting in the Signal Corps and Medical Branch, as well as other areas.

Jim Willis has worked at Bamberg's education center for eight years, and assists in running the FAST program.

"I coordinate the available instructors to run the class and ensure the proper paperwork is completed. Edgar schedules the class and Rebecca [Register] does the forms to register them and makes the flyers to announce the upcoming class," Willis said. "Before FAST there was a similar course called BSEP [Basic Skills Education Program]."

FAST instructors are required to have a Bachelor of Arts degree from a certified institution, including a minimum of six college math credits. An instructor must also have legitimate teaching experience.

Becky Bradley worked as a FAST teacher for more than four years prior to becoming a test administrator for the Army Education Center.

In her experience, FAST is crucial for Soldiers who need the direct teaching experience, she said.

"There are Web sites and printed material that can help prepare the Soldier if they already have strong skills and are self-disciplined to study. But many Soldiers...need a teacher to explain things and answer questions," Bradley said. "It is not helpful to have Web sites or printed materials if there is no one to address questions."

Emphasizing that opinion, Willis commented on a pilot program the Army tested to replace the traditional FAST classroom setting.

"The government wanted to do away with the FAST program back in 2006 and came out with this software program where a Soldier could do a self-paced learning objective," said Willis. "It was called Lifetime Library and I had it installed on all my lab computers. I had plenty of Soldiers register for the program, but after one day of sitting in front of a computer and watching the screen for hours, they seldom came back."

Merging a variety of vocabulary, reading comprehension and math through the 10th grade level, the typical Bamberg FAST course runs from 8 a.m. to noon for three weeks. Variations do occur depending on student and teacher availability.

Soldiers at Warner Barracks have taken advantage of GT-improvement programs since they were first initiated in the community in the late 1970s.

Since then, courses have run sporadically, dependant on available funding and population.

Some misconceptions are generally attributed to FAST. First of all, there are no requirements, aside from command approval, to enter the course. Even if a Soldier has achieved a 109 GT score, he or she is still eligible to take the course to achieve a higher score.

The class is considered a Soldier's place of duty once he or she is enrolled.

There are several links to assist Soldiers who cannot attend a FAST course due to scheduling conflicts. The Education center can provide information about private tutors.

Following the end of the class and before re-taking the AFCT, FAST students are required to complete a post-Test for Adult Basic Education to measure their improvement. It is then recommended that students meet with Stitt, before further action. Based on improvement scores, Stitt can suggest the best route for a Soldier to take.

Bradley feels the pyramid system of testing, requiring multiple steps before a Soldier can re-take the AFCT, is successful.

"It helps the person get used to the testing environment before they take the actual test, which is particularly helpful with people with test anxiety. It also helps in making sure their pacing is on par," she said. "In our ed. center, the pre-GT and speaking with the education counselor is required before an AFCT is administered."

The FAST class is not only open to Soldiers. Spouses preparing to earn their GED's are accepted into the 60-hour course.

Page last updated Mon July 20th, 2009 at 03:13