This is one of the best guides I have seen offering advice on how to study for promotion testing and it was, ironically, penned by CMSgt of the Air Force Kaleth Wright back when he was a SMSgt. This was shared with me from a friend and I had to work it into the site for you all to see. I broke it into two parts: this study advice and part 2 will be about taking the test…

Part 1:

Getting promoted through the Weighted Airman Promotions System (WAPS) requires a combination of effective study habits and effective test taking skills.  However, the foundation for your success lies within in you…you must decide early in your career that you want to get promoted and commit yourself to a routine that maximizes your opportunity to score well on both the SKT and PFE.  This process begins by answering a few questions and following these basic guidelines:

How soon do I begin studying?

I recommend that you begin studying no earlier than 4 months prior to your test date.  This will allow you to thoroughly cover all of your required materials in a timely but methodical manner without cramming.  Four months is plenty of time to study for a couple of 100 question tests.  Extending your studies beyond 4 months will drag this process out and likely cause you to lose focus at the end (the time that your focus needs to be sharpest).  The key is to commit yourself to studying and limit all other distractions.  Focus primarily on studying during this time and not taking college classes, playing intramural sports, or volunteering after hours at the Salvation Army.  Very Important: let your spouse/family know that for the next 4 months you will be spending a lot of time at the library and in your home office preparing for promotion testing.

Where do I study?

Try to limit your study time to a few places like the library, a conference room in your work center or a quiet room in your home (preferably one without a television).  The key is to limit your focus to the material that you are studying and eliminate all other distractions.  I have found that the library is the best place to study due to its mandatory quiet hours and lack of other distractions like televisions, radios, etc…. You can always find an empty table in one of the quiet rooms there.

I try not to study at work but if I absolutely have to, I never study in my office or at my desk and of course, I never study during duty hours.  I either come in 90 minutes prior to my normal report time (allow 30 minutes for coffee/breakfast) or I stay after work when everyone else has gone home.  I usually find a small conference room or area with just a table and study for 1 hour before going home.  I really try not to study at my house!  There are just way too many distractions and even if I can find a quiet room or office, it’s usually where my computer, radio or TV is located and the temptation is just too great!  The only time I study at home, is early in the morning before everyone else wakes up and I always do it at the kitchen table.  (This would be impossible during the day)

What time of day should I study?

Optimal times during the weekday are 0530-0630 in the morning, 1200-1300 during lunch and 1700-1800 after work.  The key is to try to study at the same time every single day during the 4 month period.  It would be great if you could hit at least 2 of them every day but realize that other priorities, family, job, fatigue will cause you to miss a session every now and then.  Optimal time on the weekends would be 0830-0930 both Saturday and Sunday morning.  Yes, that means you have to get up early on your weekends but remember, it’s for a worthy cause and it’s only for 4 months.  Never deviate from these prescribed times!   If you get a wild hair and decide to study on Saturday night when you would normally be partying or watching “Barnyard” with your son…forget about it!  Stick to the prescribed study times and enjoy the rest of your time.

How long should my study sessions last?

Study sessions should never last more than 1-hour!  That means if you make all 3 sessions (morning, lunch time and after work) you will study for a max of 3 hours per day for 120 days.  That’s plenty of time to prepare yourself for that 100%!

I recommend you study for 30 minutes, take a quick break (walk around, drink a coke, refill your coffee, stretch, etc…) and then study for 30 more minutes and call it a session.  This method is much more effective than sitting down for 3-4 hours at a time hopelessly reading through material while you’re thinking about your plans for the weekend.  No more than 1 hour!

How do I study?

Here’s where “the rubber meets the road”!  This system has proven effective for me over the last 13 years that I have taken promotion tests and have yielded positive results to include:

  • I have never scored lower than a 79 on any test
  • I scored a 92 on both tests when I got promoted to MSgt
  • I made SSgt, TSgt and SMSgt on my second attempt
  • I made MSgt on my first attempt

How well you score will be a direct reflection of how much time and effort you put into studying!

Step 1 Set your testing performance goal (What do you want to score on the test?)

This will determine how much time and effort you put into studying.  This is the easiest step in the process and I will actually help you with this one:  YOU’RE GOAL WHEN TAKING ANY TEST SHOULD BE TO SCORE 100%!!!!  Anything less than that will cause you to sell yourself short and not optimize your chance to get that next stripe.

I used to be an advocate of the popular “promotion calculator” where you punched in all of your weighted factors into an excel program and it gave you an estimate of what you needed to score to get promoted.  This is not only a rough estimate based upon the previous year’s cutoff score for your career field, but it only provides you with the score you would need to match the very last select from the previous year.  It essentially sets you up to barely get your foot in the door.  Besides, if you think you only need to score a 50 to get promoted, how much time and effort are you going to put into studying?

Forget about calculators and last year!  Try your best to score a 100% and you will give yourself the best chance at promotion.  At this point in the game, it’s the only one (or two) of the weighted factors (TIS, TIG, decorations, PFE, SKT, and EPR’s) that you can control.  Who cares if you don’t have a medal or if you’ve only been a SSgt for 2 years and have only been in the AF for 5 years?  Who cares if you have a 4 EPR and didn’t get the max 135 points in that category?  You can make up all those points by competing well on your promotion tests…so aim for the stars and study to score 100%!

Step 2 Inventory your study material and develop a schedule based upon 3 hours of study time per day for 4 months.

Here’s a sample breakdown of a dental inventory:

  1. PFE – 18 Chapters
  2. CDC Set 1 – 5 Volumes
  3. CDC Set 2 – 3 Volumes
  4. AFI 47-101 Managing AF Dental Services – 117 pages
  • To properly read, highlight and take notes on 1 chapter in the PFE should take approximately 3-6 hours depending on the length of the chapter.

Total time required = 108 hours (18 chapters X 6 hours) or 36 days

  • To do the same for 1 volume of CDC’s should take approximately 7 days or 21 hrs (You had 30 days to complete each volume in UGT but I doubt if you spent 3 hours a day on them!)

Total time required = 168 hours (8 volumes X 21 hours) or 56 days

  • A 117 page AFI should take approximately 3-4 days or 12 hours.

So lets’ put all of this together and develop our plan of action for the next 120 days:

Test Cycle begins: Feb 08

My study cycle begins: 1 Oct 08 (4 months prior to testing cycle)

Approach:  I recommend using a combination of 2 days to study your PFE and 3 days to study your CDC’s and AFI’s.  Your purpose for studying this information is to memorize as much information as you can for a short period of time.  If you study your PFE for the 1st month and your CDCs for the next two – chances are you will do very well on your SKT and not so well on the PFE.  This system also allows you to mix it up and break up the monotony that comes with studying.

Total Days available                                          120 (4 months)

Days required to prepare CDC’s                      -56

Days required to prepare PFE                          -36

Days required to prepare AFI                             -4

Days left for final review               24

Remember, try not to take more than 2 days on one chapter of the PFE or 7 days on one volume of your CDC’s!  This will optimize your time, allow you to stay on schedule and leave plenty of time for review.

Step 3 Begin Studying!

The most effective process for studying for promotion comes in 4 phases:

Phase 1 – Read/Highlight
Phase 2 – Annotate
Phase 3 – Review
Phase 4 – Validate

The key to effective studying as in anything else is preparation.  You have to prepare your battlefield in order to properly neutralize your enemy (WAPS).

Let’s look at the specifics of each phase:

Phase 1 – Read and Highlight

The process begins with you reading the information contained in your PFE, CDC’s or AFI’s and highlighting the information you think is testable.  This should be done simultaneously; highlight important information as you read through each paragraph.  This can be an extensive process, particularly for some of the longer chapters in the PFE!  Don’t be surprised if you finish with a chapter and almost every word is highlighted…this will depend on what you think is important and/or testable.  It’s better to have too much than too little!

This phase should be done 1 chapter at a time and should take no more than 2 days (6 hours) per chapter- remember you have to focus and commit yourself to studying.   I recommend that you begin with a chapter that captures your interest as opposed to starting with chapter 1.  The chapter on Dress and Appearance is always a good one to begin with; it will help you get into the flow of reading through all the material.

I also recommend that you remove the spine from your PFE (tear it apart) and place the individual chapters in a 3 ring binder. This allows you to isolate and focus on specific chapters and not be overwhelmed by the thought of having to read the entire book.  Your CDC’s are already broken out but feel free to separate longer volumes.

Remember…highlight until your heart is content!

 Phase 2 – Annotate

Write down everything that you have highlighted!  Sounds like a lot of work but trust me, this is the most important step in the process.  Think about it, why do we write down our “to do” lists, or make notes to ourselves every day?  It’s because we tend to remember things that we actually take the time to write down more than those things that we simply read!

Purchase a small notebook (spiral bound or one of the little green books we use in the military).  The key here is that you won’t be writing things down word for word but in short bulleted notes.  For example if you were studying this manual if would look something like this:

Read and Highlight

The process begins with you reading the information contained in your PFE,CDC’s or AFI’s and highlighting the information you think is testable.  These steps should be done simultaneously; highlight important information as you read through each paragraph.  This can be an extensive process, particularly for some of the longer chapters in the PFE!  Don’t be surprised if you finish with a chapter and almost every word is highlighted…this will depend on what you think is important and/or testable.  It’s better to have too much than too little!

This phase should be done 1 chapter at a time and should take no more than 2 days per chapter- remember you have to focus and commit yourself to studying.   I recommend that you begin with a chapter that captures your interest as opposed to starting with chapter 1.  The chapter on Dress and Appearance is always a good one to begin with; it will help you get into the flow of reading through all the material.

Annotate

  • read info in PFE/CDC/AFI and highlight at same time
  • better to have too much than too little
  • 1 chapter at a time
  • Begin with Dress and Appearance

Again, the extent to which you highlight and annotate information depends on your interpretation of what’s important and what may be testable.

I take annotation a step further by typing out the bullet notes that I write down in my notebooks.  This step is not necessary in this process but it can help ingrain the information into your memory bank.  Only type out your bullets if you have the time or if you can’t read your own handwriting!

Phase 3 – Review

At the end of Phase 2 you should have a PFE, a set or two of CDC’s and an AFI all highlighted from cover to cover.  Additionally you should have 5-10 notebooks (depending on their size) of bulleted notes that directly correspond to what you have highlighted in each of these books.

Follow the same routine of CDC/AFI on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and PFE on Tuesday and Thursday.  Remember, Saturday and Sunday are your flex days and should be used to tie up any loose ends from the week.

Follow these steps when reviewing:

  1. Read through all of the material you have highlighted in your respective books
  2. Read through your hand-written bulleted notes
  3. Read through your typed bulleted notes

Repeat these steps as often as possible with every chapter/volume of your study material as often as you can.  Remember to stick with your optimal study times.

This should be the extent of your studying the last 3-4 weeks of your allotted study time but may vary based upon your actual test date and how many breaks or lapses you had during your study period.

Phase 4 – Validate

Now, I’m sure you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned electronic study materials like PFE Gold and Master Your CDC’s.  That’s because these tools should only be used to validate this entire process.  That means you should only take the online tests after or during the review phase of your studies.  Using them any earlier than that is the equivalent of trying to validate how well you have neutralized the enemy before you’ve fired any shots or made any tactical maneuvers!

These tools can be effective but can set you up for failure if not used properly.  Don’t begin your studying process utilizing these tests or introduce them too early.   Even if you get comfortable with these programs they only introduce you to a limited amount of information.  Becoming comfortable with those targeted questions without understanding the concept in it’s entirety will surely cause you to miss out on key information during your studies.

Validate your CDC’s by taking the End-of-Volume exercises.  Again, wait until you have properly prepared and reviewed all of the materials to begin testing yourself.

This process can be very demanding and requires a lot of focus and commitment to sticking with the strenuous schedule.  However, you will find yourself well prepared and extremely confident on test day and very pleased with your score and the promotion results!

Key Points to remember:

  1. Begin studying approximately 4 months (120 days) prior to testing
  2. Study at the library, in a conference room at work, or a quiet room at home
  3. Study every day (3 times per day during the week and once on Saturday and Sunday)
  4. Study for 30 minutes, take a break and finish with 30 more minutes (never go past 1 hour!)
  5. Optimal study times are 0530-0630, 1200-1300, and 1700-1800
  6. Set your performance testing goal at 100%
  7. Inventory your study material and develop a schedule/plan of action
  8. Spend 2 days a week on PFE and 3 days on CDC/AFI (use weekend’s as flex time)
  9. Limit your extracurricular activities during your study period
  10. Read and highlight information you think is testable from your study materials
  11. Write down everything you highlighted (short bullet statements)
  12. Use the last month to review everything you highlighted and wrote down
  13. Validate your effectiveness with PFE Gold or other computer based studying programs
  14. Be committed!

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