Civil Service announces schedule for promotional exams. Are you up for the test?

The dire need for promotional testing resonated all the way to the NJ State PBA. Members had been asking about when testing would resume, figuring that the NJ Civil Service Commission, even in its mercurial and antiquated ways, could figure out how to do so in the midst of a pandemic.

Pre-COVID, the PBA had forged enough influence with Civil Service to move the commission out of its tradition stagnation, its desire to do things the way they have always been done. Now with the 2020 testing schedule wiped out and thousands of members left without recourse after devoting six months or more to bettering their lives – and no 2021 schedule in sight – something had to be done.

The PBA had seen departments like South Brunswick run testing. So the union’s rep to the commission, Clark Local 126 State Delegate Maz Elwardany, and Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman made a case to Civil Service to set a schedule. They even showed the commission how South Brunswick had done it.

Lo and behold, Civil service announced a schedule for testing beginning in the fall of 2021 and continuing into spring 2022. According to the Civil Service website, the sergeants test will be in February 2022, lieutenants and captains are scheduled for October, deputy chiefs and chiefs are scheduled for September, county corrections sergeants, lieutenants and captains and county sheriffs’ sergeants, lieutenants and captains are scheduled for May 2022.

“First off, I want to congratulate Maz for the work he did,” NJSPBA President Pat Colligan noted. “We realize it’s a much heavier lift for Civil Service than pre-COVID, but departments need a list of qualified candidates. Sometimes, Civil Service is like, ‘We’re going to get to it.’ It’s wholly unfair for those who choose to devote months and month of their lives to testing. They need that extra bump in pay and they just naturally want to move up in the ranks.”

So now it’s on. PBA members have never had this type of opportunity to test and earn promotions that might add a half-million dollars to their lifetime earnings. And to get them there, it’s an opportunity to put members in the hands of some of the state’s top promotional test prep experts, who are here to advise about how to navigate test prep, they keys to scoring high on the test and how to emerge from a competitive pool of candidates.

“Start your prep now. Start reviewing attorney general guidelines, Title 39, your 2C, whatever,” advises Jim Harris of the J. Harris Academy of Police Training. “If you can create or follow a strategy to target specific areas, then we can give you the practical application of how to incorporate it into the real world. Once you bridge the gap between education and practical knowledge, then you have the full understanding that will help you for the exam.”

Harris suggests that the schedule Civil Service announced should not be deemed concrete because with Civil Service, anything can happen. And Captain Ed Esposito, an Essex County Sheriffs Officers Local 183 member who runs Espos Test Prep, adds that success of the COVID vaccine and the governor’s assessment of the number of people allowed at a gathering might impact the schedule.

 But sensing the urgency of departments running short of candidates on their promotion lists – and some having to make provisional appointments – he is holding fast to the ESPOS acronym: Examination Strategies for Preparing Officers and Superiors. By continuing to mail legal update manuals to his students, Espo emphasizes the need to be ready to test.

“We know the challenges because if you start running a marathon and you don’t know how long you’re running, how do you prepare for something like that?” he questions. “We know you are not going to take the classes and read the same stuff the way you would if you knew where the finish line is. But if you make a commitment to being a supervisor and dedicating yourself to the process, you must also make a commitment to being flexible.”  

Now is a good time to be thinking promotion because of what is happening in the industry. In the early and mid-1990s, federal government programs provided the impetus to hire more law enforcement officers throughout the country. Many of those hires are reaching the 25-year mark and presumably will be retiring soon. Department supervisor positions are bound to open up as a result.

So Dr. Jeff Bernstein, who has prepped thousands of PBA members for promotion through Bernstein Test Prep, reiterates that now is the time to begin a light course of study to test for any rank. In-person classes – COVID permitting – should be available three months or so before the scheduled test.

Yes, Dr. Bernstein, confirms that there will be some pain for the gain. But suck it up now.

“It’s about being future-oriented, really planning for the future and analyzing what the promotion is worth to you and your family,” Dr. Bernstein observes. “No matter if the times are good or times are bad, you always want to be on a list so you have the decision when they do get to your name. It’s something to look forward to for the rest of your life, not just a short-term hit.”

Many members are in the midst of a long-term commitment made longer by the 2020 schedule being cut short. But George Prunes, a retired Union City lieutenant and Union City Local 8 member and owner of Top Cop, Inc test prep, promotes that time spent prepping in 2020 will be time well spent for 2021.

“Because the key to these types of tests is repetition and retention,” Prunes details. “We tell everybody that there is no cramming for these types of tests. Cramming works if you trying to pass the bar where you merely got to pass. But here, you’ve got to rank high and beat your competition in order to be promoted into those open slots. So if you’re serious about getting promoted, you got to dedicate time daily to the studies so that you can retain all the information that’s been given.”

Harris knows the life of navigating the promotions ladder having ascended to deputy chief. He has learned that one of the biggest steps to climb is recognizing your weaknesses or needed areas of study. An officer in a community that has low crime, for example, might need to spend extra study time focused on robberies and homicides.

He has also seen how a support system embedded in the family structure can be a difference maker. Everybody, after all, needs a push to get through the prep and testing cycle.

“If you have coach who can help push you to that limit to get where you need to be, it’s worth its weight in gold,” Harris extols.

But he also knows what the greatest hurdle can be to overcome in this entire process.

“The biggest competition people are going to have is the one that they see every morning in the mirror,” Harris submits. “Fighting yourself to get up and study, to stay motivated, to do what you have to do to be successful. This test will happen so mentally commit now.”

The 2021 testing progression will, of course, be unlike any other. Espo has been keeping a close eye on the orientation guides posted on the Civil Service website, which can help candidates identify the course of study.

And even though these might change from 2020 to 2021, anybody who started the path last year might benefit from taking one step back to go two steps forward.

“Quite frankly, we are giving all the updated materials at no charge because in good conscience, we cannot send somebody to take an exam without going through all the material again,” Espo says.

Like so much of the pandemic-generated challenges, an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed to achieve positive results. The PBA has helped Civil Service set a schedule. New Jersey’s best test prep providers are poised to guide those pursuing promotion through the next, well, who knows how long.

However long, keep in mind some thoughts from PBA member Captain Esposito who echoes the experts that there is no short cut, there is no magic bullet.

“They have to understand, retain and recall the information,” Espo reminds. “You have to understand the topic. You can’t just burn information into your brain and hope that you see the right answer. Retention just comes down to being focused. You can’t just read something and expect you’re going to remember is six months from now. Once you understand it and continue to retain it, you put those pieces together to recall it. That’s when the lightbulb goes on.”