This January's advancement exam for prospective chiefs will shift focus to rating-specific questions, cutting the number of questions on general military knowledge from 100 to 25. Here, prospective chiefs take the January 2012 exam at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn. (MCSN Gabriel Bevan / Navy)
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Changes to the makeup of advancement exams began in the fall 2012 petty officer exam cycle, with fewer questions on professional military knowledge. The first new exam for prospective chief petty officers will be given in January.
The number of rating-specific and professional military knowledge, or PMK, questions, by test:
Prospective E-4s: From 150 rating-specific questions and 50 PMK questions to 150/25.
Prospective E-5s: From 135 rating-specific questions and 65 PMK questions to 150/25.
Prospective E-6s: From 115 rating-specific questions and 85 PMK questions to 150/25.
Prospective E-7s: From 100 rating-specific questions and 100 PMK questions to 150/25.
Source: Chief of naval personnel
With this fall's petty officer advancement exams complete and results expected by the end of the month, eyes are now shifting to January's chief's exam a test that's been overhauled by a new format stressing rating-specific knowledge over basic military topics.
The change, which was announced in July 2011, went into effect with this fall's petty officer exams. The makeup of those tests changed, but not as much as the E-7 exam, which moved from 200 questions split evenly between military and professional knowledge to 175 questions with just 25 on basic military knowledge. Sailors still have the same three hours to complete the test.
The change to the chief's test should result in a new study focus.
"The reduction [in military knowledge questions] was the result of Navy leadership's desire to go back to being more technically focused," said Cmdr. Scott Briquelet, director of the Navy Advancement Center, which writes and grades the exams. "That focus will make sure that the most knowledgeable sailors in their respective ratings are being advanced."
The shift in exam focus was a reversal from the last big change in 2002, when general military questions were added because the Navy believed sailors needed more professional military knowledge as they were given greater leadership roles.
Prospective chiefs have 50 more in-rating questions to study for, compared with 35 more on the first class exam and 15 more for E-5s.
On the E-4 exam, the only change was a drop in military questions from 50 to 25.
So, sailors testing for E-5 and up should shift their study focus away from military topics. For those taking the chief's exam, the end result is a 50 percent increase in testing of their on-the-job knowledge.
That, officials say, should result in a similar shift in studying habits.
"With [military knowledge] only representing now a seventh of the questions on the exams, sailors should be focusing their study on their jobs and the things deemed important to performing those jobs that's going to be the difference," Briquelet said.
More changes coming
Though the new format is in place for all exams, the overhaul isn't done yet.
The fall exams and the fiscal 2013 chief's exams were built using a bank of more than 4,000 existing military knowledge questions.
Last month, a panel of master chiefs a number of them force and senior command senior enlisted sailors came to Pensacola, Fla., to decide how best to keep the 25-question portion of each exam relevant to the fleet and determine the topic areas from which those questions should come.
"Now, having only 25 questions, you have to really focus those and decide what's important and what's not when you are trying to rank order sailors for advancement," said Tom Updike, a retired master chief who heads the advancement execution division at the Navy Advancement Center.
The next step is to rework the bank of test questions, an effort that will fall to another panel of master chiefs next spring, said Master Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) (SW) Eddy Mejias, Navy Advancement Center command master chief.
Similar efforts are done on a regular cycle for each rating in the Navy, refocusing the technical knowledge portions of the exam to reflect the work actually being done by each rating in the fleet.
"It's important for sailors to know that we treat the [professional military knowledge] portion of the exam just as we do any rating," Mejias said. "This past month's panel was made up of senior enlisted representing every community in the Navy, and some of those sailors will return in March for the next section."
That portion of the overhaul is expected to take more than a week, reviewing every question in the bank and ensuring it is still valid and accurately reflects current Navy policies. Each question is tied to official Navy references, whether that's in a manual or instruction, so officials can tell sailors which references were used to build each exam, allowing them to focus their studies.
As a result, officials say, determining what to study hasn't changed. Since each question comes from official references, bibliographies are published on the Navy Advancement Center website nearly five months before a test is given, citing all the references from which the questions sailors will encounter were pulled.