I went to a scheduled course given by Mystic Safe Boating which has several locations in which they give the classes. In my case the closest was aboard the USS Massachusetts in Fall River, Ma. They utilize one night a week, 4 hrs and a total of about 5-6 months. Others use the cram it down your throat in a week full time which includes the weekend on either end. I chose the long way in hopes of retaining more. I think it was the right way to go for me, the other way may work for you. I also opted for the Masters which added 6 weeks to the classes, and if your looking to be a guide in a small boat, you don't need. It fell in the middle of the classes the way I jumpted in and I decided why not. It also cost about $120 more than just the 6 pak.
As with most of these type classes, you get out what you put in and there were a couple of classmates I hope I never run into on the water, but I'm sure they graduated.
You test at the classes, which in Mystic Safe Boating was after each segment and made it easier on us. Therefor, no testing at the Coast Guard, you just submit your application along with $145, your Physical exam report, your drug screen report, your Cpr and first aid card ( by American Heart or Red Cross, and make sure it's within a year), your Sea Time Documentation and 3 letters for character referance. In addition you need to give copies and have originals of your birth certifacate, passport, drivers license and your diplomas from the class.
I have the class workbook if your interestd in checkin it out, I could send it to you to review. Just remember, it may look more difficult than it does in class. the classes are pretty user friendly. Let me know if you want the see the book!