Promotional exams are a necessary component to keeping our profession current and moving in a positive direction. Developing the leaders of tomorrow is one of the most important jobs police executives have today. Exams re-educate officers in various areas, while helping to assess who is most suited for future leadership roles within our agencies.
However, with all the benefits associated with the exam, no one likes it or wants to study for it. There’s no sugarcoating it: Reading thousands of pages of material from management books, criminal law, case law and policies isn’t fun. In addition, there’s never a good time to study for the test, because holidays, coaching, vacations, weddings and other family obligations don’t disappear because of an exam. It’s easy to get swallowed up in the process. I know, because I went through preparing for my own exam last summer and found myself falling into some of the common pitfalls that many of us encounter. But some simple techniques can help you survive the promotional process.
Non commissioned officers in the military often tell their personnel to “embrace the suck.” This phrase can be applied to promotional exams as well. We know that it’s a long, mentally and physically draining process. There will be late nights, missed family events and plenty of dry material — Sahara desert dry. You just need to own it. Once you accept this inevitable truth, the rest of the process will fall into place.
The first step toward your success is not attempting to undertake this process alone; join a study group. With the daunting amount of source material for these exams, a study group can provide you with breakdowns that will help you focus on highly testable areas. You need to choose the best type of group for you. Most candidates like an interactive classroom, while others want a “study hall” style of learning. The group you select must suit your study habits as well as your lifestyle. Study groups are like gyms: If they don’t fit into your life, you’re not going to go.
It’s also helpful to see that officers from all over the state are in the same boat as you. In a way, it’s therapeutic. We all have our own personal reasons for seeking a promotion. Some want to be part of the continuing success of the agency. Others want to be change agents. Many feel that a promotion is just a natural progression of their career and believe it will provide a better life for their family. No matter what your reason for seeking a promotion, as the process lingers, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it. You need to keep something close that will help you stay focused. Personally, I kept a picture of lieutenant bars on the lock screen of my phone. Every time I looked at it, I was reminded of my goal.
It’s not uncommon for those who are preparing for an exam to isolate themselves from friends and family during the process. To a certain extent, this is unavoidable. You need to dedicate adequate time to studying, which will impact your social activities. However, you cannot move into a cave. You can’t completely shut out those you care about and who care about you. When I was feeling overwhelmed, I received my greatest inspiration from an unlikely source, my 12-year-old daughter. During the school year she overcame several struggles and, with hard work and dedication, went from being a marginal student to an honors student. The thought of her transformation gave me strength. I would often ask for her help going through note cards or have her grade one of the countless quizzes I took. Her mere presence and small words of encouragement rejuvenated me to continue with my studies. This gave her a stake in my success, and she understood my conspicuous absence at some events.
The promotional process is a balancing act. Studying while keeping up with your responsibilities at work and at home is a feat in and of itself. The process is best summed up in a quote by novelist Jack London: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If it is worth having, it is worth waiting for. If it is worth attaining, it is worth fighting for. If it is worth experiencing, it is worth putting aside time for.” This quote rang true for me, and I was promoted to lieutenant in November.
Philip J. Rizzo is a lieutenant with the Franklin Township Police Department, a member of Franklin Township Local 154 and an instructor at the J. Harris Academy of Police Training, a promotional test preparation and in-service training company.