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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Guide

Note:  Information contained in this section, legally owned by the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides and protected under copyright laws of the United States, was without authorization or permission lifted for use in a private publication purporting to be a study guide for the ALBG exam.  The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides has no association with either the author of the work or any of this author's publications.  All errors contained in such publications are the sole responsibility of the author and the inclusion of information from our website DOES NOT indicate ALBG acceptance or endorsement of the author's contents.  
What is the size of the guide force?
How is the size of the guide force determined?
When are exams announced?
Does it cost anything to apply?
How long will I have to study?
What should I study?
When is the written test given?
What is the written test like?
What does the score mean?
O.K., I made the cut. What now?
What is the oral exam like?
How will this be evaluated?
What if I fail the oral the second time?
And if I pass the oral exam?
How do I keep my license?
What are the licensing categories?

What is the size of the guide force?

This is determined by the old forces of supply and demand. Originally, the LBG force numbered around one-hundred individuals. From 1929 through 1952 no additional guides were added to the point where active guides decreased and numbered less than fifty. During the 1950's about fifteen to twenty guides were brought on bringing the number of active guides to around sixty, a level maintained through periodic testing through the 1960's, 1970's and into the very early 1980's. At that time, the late Mr. John Andrews, Guide Supervisor, began a policy of gradually rebuilding the guide force to its original level of approximately one-hundred individuals. The large numbers of visitors requesting guide services as a result of the 125th Anniversary, Ken Burns' Civil War Series on PBS, and of course, Ted Turner's movie, Gettysburg, forced the LBG's to finally break the "100" barrier. Since then the NPS has gone wild with the licensing process and at present, approximately 155 individuals hold valid guide licenses. At the present time visitation levels appear to be leveling off and it is highly unlikely that the present number will again be increased.  Future openings will occur through attrition of the current guide force.  Index

How is the size of the guide force determined?

Each year the Guide Supervisor decides if guide staffing levels are such to warrant adding additional or replacement guides. This is done based on an evaluation of the status of the present guide force. There is no guide retirement age. So long as a guide is physically able to maintain the license, the guide generally does so. Thus, openings are caused by death of older guides, or the moving out of the area of guides. Occasionally, some simply tire of guiding and voluntarily give up their license. Each year a few guides achieve "Emeritus Status" which relieves them of minimum tour responsibilities.  The number of "Emeritus" members at any one time also dictates the addition of new LBG's. The park staff looks at the number of visitors turned-away at the desk due to lack of guides on any given day as well as an examination of visitation patterns. Since the opening of the new Foundation Visitor Center in 2008 this latter statistic has fallen away.  The selling of battlefield bus tickets tends to allow all visitors to experience a tour.  It has also changed the pattern of individual car tours and until all that shakes out far fewer guides are required to be licensed.  At any rate  all of these factors are considered when a decision is made as to whether a test should be given and how many guides will be taken from that test. Index

When are exams announced?

Once a decision is made to offer a new exam, an announcement is generally made public in the summer. This is done via newspaper announcements in local newspapers as well as mailing a letter to all who inquired about an exam. By far the best way to get the information is to stop by the park visitor center or to write to the park and ask to have your name put on a list to receive guide-exam information when it next is sent out. If you stop by the visitor center ask to talk the Guide Supervisory Park Ranger, Mrs. Angela Atkinson. Index

If you write, send your request to:

Angela Atkinson, Guide Supervisor
National Park Service Visitor Center
Gettysburg National Military Park,
1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100
Gettysburg, PA 17325.

Does it cost anything to apply?

Over the past few years, the number of interested applicants has increased dramatically. In December 1997 more than 750 folks applied to take a test of which about 200 actually showed up to take it. With those numbers the park was forced to institute an application fee. There is no cost to receive information concerning the test date, but if you wish to receive an application to take the test, you must send a non-refundable $50 fee to cover administrative costs. The December 13, 1997 test had about 200 take the exam of which about 85 qualified to move on. In February, 1998, these folks came to Gettysburg and participated in a two-day training session. More recent guide exams (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012) have been administered to pools of applicants numbering approximately 150 with only the top 20 or so scores being guaranteed the chance to take an oral examination. The 2008 exam had over 250 individuals inquire about the test. Of these, 145 actually registered of which 135 showed up on a cold December day to take a test which less than 20% would be eligible to move on to the next level. The top 19 scores were notified that they were eligible and invited to attend the weekend training event. In December, 2010 approximately 170 individuals registered for the exam and 165 showed up to take it! Again, the top nineteen scores will move on. The 2012 Exam had 153 candidates register with the top twenty scores forming the prospectve guide class. Of the 230 possible points on this latter test the highest score was 221 and the lowest score to move on was 206.   Index

How long will I have to study?

The answer to this, generally, is years. You should be studying for the exam as soon as you have a burning desire to become a guide. The actual guide written exam is given in the late fall and generally a Saturday  in early December. Since it is announced in the summer or early fall, at best you would only have about four months of preparation time beforehand. Don't wait. Start reading and studying now. Index

What should I study?

The basic answer to this is anything and everything. Start with a general work. Coddington's The Gettysburg Campaign is a good one. Go through and try to get the basics of the ebb and flow of the battle. Don't concern yourself with names, particularly below brigade level unless they are particularly significant individuals or units. And don't get bogged down on statistics. Once you've accomplished this, pick up one or two smaller works like Tucker's High Tide at Gettysburg or a few of the older guide books. Although not-so-good for battle related action they make great sources of human interest stories. You also must concentrate on monuments, weapon types, uniforms, food, local area place-names etc. It is important to note that successful guides are those with a grasp of political, social, economic perspectives related to this era. Knowledge of military aspects alone normally is not sufficient. You'll find that those with the most detailed down-to-the-company knowledge level of the battle usually have the hardest time making it through the licensing process because they know too much of a specialized aspect of the battle (i.e. tactics) and too little of the broad scope of the battle; the human element and the meaning of it all. By all means know the Gettysburg area. Know its roads, historic and modern. Know place names. Study the battlefield proper. It will help you get through the written exam and is absolutely crucial for the oral.  Index

When is the written test given?

Historically, the written test has been given during the month of December, usually the first or second Saturday. There are several reasons for this. First, it is the dead time of year freeing up both rangers and LBG's to polish up, test, print, administer, monitor and score the exam. Second, the process can then be completed and the new guides licensed and uniformed before the start of heavy visitation the following summer. It is generally administered in the facilities of the Harrisburg Area Community College (Gettysburg Campus) from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. It is a timed and rather rigorous examination.  The last written exam was administered in December of 2012. Although individuals on a variety of internet discussion forums believe this two-year cycle is cut in stone it is not.  National Park officials establish a new testing date based on guide need and candidate availability.  As of the 2012 exam there was still one candidate left to be tested from the 2010 process. Though professional guide exam takers talk of the "next test" in 2014 that will not be known until the summer before at the earliest.  Index

What is the written test like?

Each test is drawn from a data base of questions written by a number of National Park Service employees, Licensed Battlefield Guide and approved by a variety of individuals from Civil War Historians to educators familiar with how to construct a test. Present Licensed Guides, though they are offered the opportunity to suggest questions,  do not get to see the exam until the day of the test.   ALBG has no role in test creation or administration.

Recent tests consist of approximately 220 objective-type questions, true-false, multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank,/ short answer. There may also be photographs of monuments which you will have to identify, photos of officers or other personalities both north and south and a map section where you will be asked to identify place names. You also will find anywhere from four to six essay questions designed not only to test your basic knowledge but your ability to express yourself. This is administered in a testing center with about twenty guides as proctors. It is graded by the park staff with the objective part rated numerically and the essays scored pass-fail. The 1997 version of the test was completely rewritten from previous versions and other major revisions have been implemented in recent years.. IndexSee "Sample Test."

What does the score mean?

A few weeks after the exam is given, you would receive in the mail a letter from the guide supervisor stating what your score was and how you ranked in the list of guides. In the past, a passing score was a 75% with all essays rated "pass." Anyone with a score of 75 or better was guaranteed the opportunity to move on to the second and harder phase of the process, the oral exam. That cut off score was raised to 85% in the mid-1990's. You would be called, based on your score and the licensing category which you intend to enter. In other words, those with the highest scores were called first, those nearer the bottom cut off were called last. When all individuals who scored above the cutoff  were tested, the list was considered exhausted and a new test rescheduled for another year.

The 1994 exam was the first in which the process changed somewhat. The prior exam list had taken three years to deplete and this was not felt to be fair to those who scored in the high 70's. From the time they intensively prepared and took the written exam, so much time had passed before they were called for their oral that much was forgotten. Accordingly, in 1994, John Andrews announced that prospective guides would be taken from the list strictly according to need. As he needed 30 new guides only the top thirty scores qualified to move on. Some with scores in the high 70's and low 80's who three years earlier were guaranteed a chance, simply didn't make the cut. The 1997 exam returned to the "eligibles" list concept. When the same failings of prior exams were exhibited we returned to the process of setting a cut off score based on the approximate number of guides believed needed over the next several years.  Anyone falling below that score would need to take the written exam again when offered. This policy has now become the norm with approximately the top twenty scores qualifying to move on.  That is the number that can comfortably be tested in a two year period.  Index

O.K., I made the cut - what now?

The next phase in the licensing process is mandatory attendance at an intensive 18-hour training session, termed by some wags as "Charm School." All successful examinees are informed of the scheduled date for the training and asked to develop a fairly complete outline of their proposed tour to bring to training.  This is usually held on a weekend in late January through mid-February. You will be assigned a veteran guide-advisor who will work with your throughout the training and as you prepare for your oral.  Past topics have included:

"History of Licensed Battlefield Guides"
"Elements of an Oral Exam"
"The Visitor and Visitor Relationships"
"Challenging and Difficult Visitors"
"The Importance of Theme and Transition"
"Site Relationship"
"Personalization Techniques"
"Historical Accuracy and Relevance"
"Superintendent's Compendium of Rules"
"Touring Courtesy"
"The NPS, Gettysburg Foundation"
"Presentation Skills"
"Battlefield Tour Demonstration (with your advisor)
"Evaluation of the Oral Exam"

It is a grueling experience but a learning one. One of the most important segments of this session is the ability to work with an experienced Licensed Battlefield Guide throughout the weekend.  He/she will assist you in developing the tour outline. Another key component is the opportunity to experience an actual guided tour. (Note: Plans have been discussed as of January, 2013 to add a third day of training to be attended AFTER successfully passing the oral.  This would include many logistical topics previously covered in the basic training but of little use in preparing for the oral exam. Index

What is the oral exam like?

Immediately following the training session, the process enters its hardest phase. All applicants are expected to successfully pass an oral examination which consists of a two-hour tour which you give to a ranger and an LBG playing the role of visitors. You provide a vehicle and you drive. On the appointed day you arrive at the Visitor Center and report into the desk where the examiners will be called. Prior to arriving you should work out a good tour which covers all possible aspects of the battle within a two-hour time frame (not much shorter and absolutely not much over.) The oral is treated as any normal tour of the field. The examiners play the role of visitors and will tell you where they are from. You are expected to weave that knowledge into your interpretation, to personalize the tour to the party. You will be evaluated on that. The examiners will question you throughout the tour in order to test your knowledge and your ability to weave those answers into your narration. They will be looking for your ability to present the information coherently, for evidence of a common theme, for good introductions and conclusions, nice transitions day to day and site to site, an ability to keep the party oriented, an expertise at using the site as an interpretive tool, the ability to present at an appropriate level for your clients, your rapport with people, your tonal quality, the handling of tour mechanics, appearance, and driving ability. All of these and much more, will be looked at by the examiners. To say the least it is a nerve wracking experience that once endured, you do not wish to do again. Index

How will this be evaluated?

Throughout the trip the guide and ranger will busily be taking notes, recording their observations, and marking your score on a scoring rubric. Sometimes you may be asked to return to the Visitor Center early. If this happens, you generally did something so wrong it needs to be corrected. If you do make it the whole way around, and most tours are allowed to continue to the end just to see it, then you will be asked to give the examiner about a half hour to compare notes and talk about what they saw. This half hour may seem like the longest time you've ever waited.

You will be taken into an office and the three parties: guide, ranger, and you, will talk about the exam. You will be critiqued. You will be told what you did right, what you did wrong, and what areas you need to work on. You will be told at this time if you passed the exam or if the examiners wish you to take the test again. A good many of the guides now licensed failed the oral exam the first time through so that is normal.

If you failed, you will be told exactly why and how to fix it. You will be allowed to take as much time as necessary to correct the problems, asked to take some more practice runs around the field and perhaps even hook up with a guide willing to help you work on the rough spots. You will be provided with written comments from the examiners after the initial oral exam. These comments are specific to your individual tour and the comments given to one candidate may be of little value to another candidate.  At your convenience, you will be asked to phone in and let the examiners know when you are ready and you will be rescheduled, going through the whole process again. Index

What if I fail the oral the second time?

In any given testing year about one-third to one-half of the folks who successfully pass the written test, fail both oral exams. If you fail the oral twice you must repeat the entire process. You must wait until the written test is offered again, take and pass it, go through the training session, then take the oral. Some do so and again fail, some do so and finally make it. Some simply give up. Index

And if I pass the oral exam?

If your examiners say "congratulations, you've passed!" you can breathe a deep sigh of relief. You're almost there. At this point you will be told you will receive an evaluation in the mail as you probably still have weak points to work on in your program. At the time you are doing so someone at the park will probably check out your references and paperwork to make sure all is in order. You will receive a written form of the license which must be signed along with the statement of rules and regulations which your signature indicates you will abide by. Included with this must be payment of your annual licensing fee, ranging anywhere from $75 to $360 depending on your license category. The superintendent will sign and issue your official license which is a card you must carry while on tour.

You need to acquire a uniform from the list of prescribed items. If you wish to do busses, you must purchase a portable public address system. You need to visit the Visitor Center in order to get some guide patches for your uniform and some receipt books. Once this is done, and the expense to do so may run anywhere from $200 up to $500 to get this far, you are ready to show up one morning prepared to conduct your first tour!!! Index

How do I keep my license?

Once you are licensed, there is no additional examination necessary unless significant quality complaints are received. You are expected to keep up with your research and to keep current. You are expected to constantly refine your tour and, indeed, as you guide you actually begin to develop a lot of different tours in order to keep your own sanity.

Each year you are required to conduct a minimum amount of tours based on your category. Full time guides must do 175 tours a year, part time guides must do 90 tours a year and weekend, part time guides must do 50 tours a year. In addition, no more than 40% of those tours can be busses or groups. During the summer months, you must guide at least once every fifteen days. Presuming you meet all of those minimums and have not received complaints from visitors, you will automatically be renewed the following year whereupon you pay the fee and sign the licensing agreement again. Index

What are the licensing categories?

You are considered a full-time guide if you are available to work twelve months a year, virtually every day of the week.  A part time guide is generally available full time June, July and August, and on weekends March, April, May, September and October. The weekend, part time guide is available to work on weekends from May until the end of October and after 2:00 p.m. weekdays during the summer. This category is being phased out and new guides can no longer select this. These categories were designed not only to provide maximum guide coverage during peak visitation but to provide a variety of options for those still working at "real" jobs. You are asked to select a guide category each year and may change with permission of the guide supervisor. The Weekend, Part-time license is being phased out and is no longer open for new candidates or existing guides to choose.  Index


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