How (not) to Prepare for your Advancement Exam

To advance from E3 to E6 in the Navy, you have to take the Advancement Exam.

For some, this is more of a chore than others. I’ve been lucky to be an AG (Aerographer’s Mate) with near 100% advancement the past few cycles. That’s how I made E4 and E5 despite my P (for Potential, among other things) evals.

Other rates?

When I tested for E5, I had the fortune of doing it on the ship. While we waited for our tests, I overheard people from other rates talking.

“Yeah this is my fifth time.”
“Will I get in trouble for Christmas-treeing it? There’s no way I’m making it.”

And when some rates have a 1% or even 0% advancement rate, you realize how damn lucky you are to be an AG. “Choose your rate, choose your fate”, and when you’re at the MEPS station, understand that you’re rolling the dice with your future.

“Nothing good lasts forever”, and perhaps in the Navy you could change that to “Nothing good lasts very long, assuming it isn’t miscarried”. The advancement rates have been dropping the past few cycles. E6 was 100% a couple cycles ago.

Last cycle it was 55

To prepare for the E6 test, I decided to focus on areas that we don’t normally do where I’m stationed. For a test aimed at weather forecasters, there is surprisingly little forecasting. Instead there’s oceanography, tactical decision aids and admin questions.

A few nights before, I decided to draft a dump sheet. On it I intended to write down all the information that wouldn’t come to me naturally.

Here it is:

I began with Instruction Numbers:

I chose the top METOC instructions and for general Navy instructions, I took a risk and picked the ones I thought were more important.

Next I picked Icing and Turbulence TAF code:

A TAF is a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast, written in code and used air stations all over the world. I can read TAFs pretty well, but on my previous tests there were questions about turbulence and icing. I felt better having a reminder.

Icing Temperatures:

The temperatures at which you find each kind of icing. Pretty self-explanatory.

Turbulence Criteria:

I’m not sure if this is the same as the civilian world. The numbers to the right are the change in wind speed (knots) per 1000 feet.


Here we get into electromagnetic propagation. Without making this sound like a training manual, N-Units measures the bend of EM energy and M-Units measures the bend of EM energy in a duct. They are opposites, so if you know one you know the other. Previous tests had questions on both.


The change in sound speed for Temperature, Salinity and Pressure.

Refractivity Changes:

Temperature and refractivity have an indirect relationship. The others, a direct relationship.

Sound Speed Profile:

The classic behavior of sound in water. It has different parts (Sonic Layer depth for max near surface speed) and I made sure to jot down Convergence Zone too.

Surf Observation:

I’ve had questions about this on previous tests. I have never taken a surf observation, where you observe the waves that crash onto the beach and write down height, type, etc. It’s gotten me on my last exams.

I won’t get me this time.


Okay, so…did my dump sheet help?


The test was heavily slanted towards oceanography and TDAs, which I expected. It was also mostly admin, with questions about different commands, their purpose.

I was not a difficult test, in the way you might think. What made it hard was that I felt like I overprepared for the wrong material; that if I’d studied the types of commands and odd admin trivia (do you know what the Marine Corps MOS is for their weather forecasters? I wish I did) then I’d have E6 in the bag, P (for Potential, among other things) eval be damned.

So that’s it. I still think the dump sheet is a good idea, though next time I’ll focus more on admin.

March 2017 is only six months away…