Enlisted airmen, rejoice: You may be able to take your promotion test on a computer this year.
The Air Force’s top enlisted leader, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, told Air Force Times in an exclusive interview Sept. 6 she wants to give a select group of airmen access to digital exams in a pilot program at the end of 2022.
That would give the service time to work out any kinks before a full rollout in 2023. A pilot would likely involve a subset of bases around the globe, where internet connectivity and access to electronics altogether can vary.
“Things are never as easy as we plan,” Bass said. “How do we make sure that every airman … actually has access to a computer?”
Troops have to pass the Weighted Airman Promotion System exam to be selected as a rising staff sergeant or technical sergeant. The paper test of 100 multiple-choice questions quizzes them on topics from military structure to personal growth.
Service officials and rank-and-file airmen alike have lamented that the Air Force still uses hard-copy tests — which take longer to grade and can get lost in the mail — instead of a more efficient digital version. The Air Force processes more than 120,000 of those tests each year.
For instance, a mail carrier with a contract to ship WAPS papers cross-country misplaced nearly 90 airmen’s finished answer sheets when moving them from Maryland and Arizona to Texas last year. Those staff sergeants were allowed to retake the test.
But digital testing can have its own woes. If an eligible airman can’t connect to the right network, or if the test itself is badly designed, people’s careers could suffer. The Air Force also needed to update its policies related to data security online, and to obtain enough funding to finish the project.
Asked how the Air Force can avoid the same access and design issues that have bedeviled programs like myEval, a new performance review system that was poorly introduced earlier this year, Bass answered: field testing.
“Rolling out new systems and IT platforms is not anything brand new to anybody,” she said. “We need to be a little bit more thoughtful … and ensure that our airmen have all the tools that they need.”
Officials have been working on the blueprint for service-wide online WAPS testing for at least a year. Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s former personnel chief, had wanted that plan in place by the end of 2021.
“The fact that we’re not electronic testing, I think, makes all of us as senior leaders absolutely crazy,” Kelly said in June 2021.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.