Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Pass Pop Quizzes During Basic Training

This is an article I wrote for military .com. It appeared in their latest issue of The Recruit Newsletter.

Click here to see the article at

By Air Force SrA Nick VanWormer

Your training at Air Force BMT is far from trivial, but there will be days when you may feel you’re playing Trivial Pursuit® with the devil himself. These pop quizes can have embarassing and painful results.

The following is a typical conversation between an Air Force Military Training Instructor and a recruit at the U.S. Air Force Boot Camp:

MTI: "What is the rank insignia of a Chief Master Sergeant?!!"

Trainee: "Sir, Airman Smith reports as ordered. The…The …Uh… ."

MTI: "The rank insignia of a Chief Master Sergeant is a 'The, the, uh?!!' Wrong. Give me a 341!!"

It’s not uncommon for “conversations” to end this way during basic training. Within the first two weeks of BMT, trainees are expected to study, memorize and present a vast amount of new information. It can be hard enough to try and memorize so much information in such a short time, but add someone yelling in your face and it may seem impossible.

Here are three tips to help you memorize everything you’re expected to know:

  1. The best preparation you can do is to learn the memorization work in advance. While everyone else in your flight is struggling, you are refreshing your memory. In Chapter 15, I have compiled the information you will need to memorize during BMT in The Ultimate Air Force Basic Training Guidebook.

  2. You will learn a lot of different names and positions that mean nothing to you. To help you remember all these names and their positions, use word and association tricks. Here’s an example. The name Schwartz reminds me of Schwarzenegger. He is the Chief of Staff, and the hockey team in my hometown is the Chiefs. So I imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a Chiefs hockey uniform, bench-pressing a table with his entire staff standing on it. The more personal, detailed and bizarre you make it the better.

    You will also need to learn the rank structure and be able to match pay grades (E-4, E-8 etc) with rank insignia. The simplest way to memorize what pay grade goes with what insignia is to remember that enlisted insignia is always one-less stripe than the pay grade. Example: an E-1 has 0 stripes; an E-2 has 1 stripe, and so on.

  3. Someone once told me that practice does not make perfect. Instead practice makes permanent. What this means is that you will perform the way you practice. If you practice incorrectly than you will perform incorrectly. When memorizing this information it is important to say it aloud. If you only review the information mentally, your voice will freeze when an MTI asks you to say the information aloud. You want the muscle memory of your mouth and voice to be as prepared as your memory.


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