Five big takeaways from today’s release of the 2013 Guide to Advancement

2013-Guide-to-AdvancementHere’s one for your browser’s bookmarks bar: The newest edition of the Boy Scouts of America Guide to Advancement released today.

The PDF version contains answers to pretty much any advancement question that might come up, and it’s essential reading for your unit’s advancement chair and others who like to be kept in the loop on all things advancement.

You’ll want to spend some time with this user-friendly guide. Consider downloading the PDF to your tablet for portable reading. Or print off a copy on recycled paper and keep it handy.

There’s so much inside the guide that it’s pointless for me to go into too much detail here. But I did want to draw your attention to five takeaways I gathered from a first look at the guide:

1 – No unauthorized advancement changes (Page 2)

Right there on Page 2, the Guide to Advancement answers one question I hear from quite a few Scouters: “Can my unit tweak this requirement in this way?”

The answer is no. While program elements are customizable at the unit, district and council level, advancement is not. In other words:

No council, committee, district, unit or individual has the authority to add to, or subtract from, advancement requirements. There are limited exceptions relating only to youth members with special needs. For details see section 10, “Advancement for Members With Special Needs.”

2 – Significant changes to the 2013 edition (Page 7)

Section is a great service to Scouters who have been handling advancement in their unit for some time.

It painstakingly outlines all of the changes, additions, deletions and clarifications to requirements since the last Guide to Advancement was published in 2011.

One example of a big change is, which now states that:

… [In] situations where a Scout is earning a large number of badges from just one counselor, the unit leader is permitted to place a limit on the number of merit badges that may be earned from one counselor, as long as the same limit applies to all Scouts in the unit.

Other changes apply to the merit badge program, boards of review, the Eagle Scout rank and the mechanics of advancement.

3 – Frequently asked questions (Page 9)

If you have a question about advancement, Section should be your first stop. The questions are organized by program, and the answers are a location within the Guide to Advancement where the full explanation can be found.

What does “active participation” mean? May a Scout choose any registered merit badge counselor? How is the decision of a board of review appealed?

It’s all in there, plus more.

4 – The big picture — and the little one

What I’ve always appreciated about the Guide to Advancement is that it explains the overall aims of the advancement program within the Boy Scouts of America before focusing on the little details. That’s still the case in 2013’s update.

The guide covers the four steps in advancement: learning, testing, reviewing, recognizing. It reminds us all that advancement is just one of Scouting’s many methods, meaning there’s a lot more to the program than badges, belt loops and beads. And it explains that “personal growth is the primary goal.”

It’s only after prefacing the advancement program with those reminders that you get the drilled-down details.

5 – Contact info

If after reading the 100-page guide cover to cover you’re still lost, that’s fine. The guide includes some suggested ways to contact the BSA’s friendly Advancement Team:

Note that the national Advancement Team addresses many questions through its Twitter feed (@AdvBSA) and through the e-newsletter, Advancement News. To subscribe to Advancement News, send your name, email, and council name to

The national Advancement Team is available for recommendations or for questions that cannot be handled locally. Suggested corrections to this publication are also gratefully accepted. Send questions and comments to, or mail them to National Advancement Team, Program Impact Department, S209, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, P.O. Box 152079, Irving, Texas 75015-2079.

Suggestions for new merit badges should be directed to the BSA Innovation Team at

And, of course, I’m always available to help track down your questions for my Ask the Expert series.

52 thoughts on “Five big takeaways from today’s release of the 2013 Guide to Advancement

  1. I’ll pose something we confronted at camp this year relating to point 1. The instructors were signing off blue cards without boys completing the requirements. We addressed the issue with the camp director, but how do you approach a boy and tell him he didn’t really earn the badge he was willing to complete due to the laziness of his instructor?

    • Dave: You don’t. You cannot take aware the MB once the MBC has signed off. However, what you can do, if ask the Scout what he has learned and work to educate him from there. It works better if it’s First Aid, Camping, Cooking, etc. The Troop/Patrol Meetings and outings can help reinforce what he should have learned.

    • Read pages 52-53 of the Guide to Advancement. There’s a step-by-step guide–that’s what it’s for.

    • I too have seen the same problem at our local Summer Camp. Requirement #6 in Wilderness Survival States, “Using three different methods (other than matches), build and light three fires”. However the Camp Counselor only teaches the flint & steel method, and signs off on req 6 as completed. This has happened for the past eight years — and yes I have brought it to the Counselor’s, Area Director’s, Program Directors, Camp Director’s, Council Program Professional, Council Advancement & Camping Committees attention, and still req 6 is signed as completed even though only one fire was started.

        • Yes our Troop does a review of each completed merit badge to ensure the BSA guidelines are being followed. Attempt to correct any problems at the source. After the 1st year we “counsel” any Scout who chooses to take the wilderness survival MB at camp of the requirements and that it probably will not be completed as requirements are listed. Because of this the Patrol Leaders Council makes the units next campout a merit badge / advancement complete the requirement theme. The Advancement committee reviews the “incompletes” and ensures qualified counselors are able to attend the campout or at least part of it so all requirements are able to be completed following the BSA guidelines.

    • Hi Dave – we had this incident with my son. He had two merit badges signed off on at camp that he did not complete the requirements (Basket weaving and leather work) it was real easy for me to know he didnt complete them as no projects were brought home. When he told me he earned the badges I took out the book and went through the requirements with him and asked if he really felt he completed them. He quickly answered no. From there we had a discussion with our son about how it is important to be strong of character and keep the values of scouting alive. We asked if he thought it was fair to the other boys who did complete all the projects and earned them to see him get the same credit. Again he quickly said no. Now I cant change the scouting record however we mutually agreed to put those badges in a separate location and not on his sash and once he shows me he completed them (I will guide him of course) he will wear that badge with honor. He has since earned the basket weaving one – but not leatherwork.

      One of the things about scouting that bothers me the most is those that go through ranks and badges with the idea of close enough – but dont actually retain the information or complete the task. I believe that getting to eagle is an honor and because of those rigorous standards is held in such high regard. I would not want to be a part of diminishing the meaning and honor of becoming an Eagle Scout – by just skating by.

      • Heidi, Read section of the Guide to Advancement 2013 there is new information there that should help you resolve this problem.

  2. Great article – I saved the PDF on Evernote to have available on my tablet and smartphone. Thanks!

  3. I have been to five summer camps in four councils. They all do this. How can BSA expect units and scouts to follow the rules when councils are setting such a bad example at council summer camps.

    • BSA can “expect units and scouts to follow the rules” because whether or not a camp or council is doing something wrong has no bearing on the unit or individual’s responsibility to do it right.

      • Perhaps the real question is: what recourse does a unit have if counselors (selected, trained and approved by the council advancement committee) are judged by unit leaders (and known by the Scouts) to be unskilled or uneducated in their topic area (as frequently encountered at summer camps). Few Scouts I know would question the authority of their counselors. Few unit leaders I know have the time or knowledge necessary to evaluate every MB program at summer camp or other MB event. Nor should they feel they have to. Yes, the form on page 79 is recourse, but (part of) the mission of a Council is to maintain the BSA standards and provide quality programs for units not more paperwork.

        • The responsibility is with the Council Advancement Committee. If you wish to pursue an issue of this nature, pursue it with them. They should be auditing their camps

  4. I had a situation as a youth where certain requirements of a badge were substituted, for specific reason. For instance, for Small Boat Sailing, you are (were?) required to recover a swamped sailboat. Due to the costs of the boats, and the potential for losing parts, this was never done. We swamped canoes instead.

      • Agree with Dan. I’ve capsized many a Sunfish. There’s nothing to break or get lost. The only detachable parts, the daggerboard and rubber, are both wood and float.

  5. The .pdf link opens the 2011 document. It appears to be the same on the website too. Maybe it’ll take a little bit to get the pdf out there….

  6. What do you do when a ‘Seasoned’ recent wood badge Scout Leader continues to teach and passes off lower rank advancements using old requirements? You remind him time and time again when there have been requirement changes, additions but he still seems to work out of old Scout Handbooks and the requirements in them. I am in charge of Board of Reviews in my unit and I face this issue quite often. I don’t feel it is fair to penalize the boy when it’s the leader who is not following the rules of advancement. Suggestions?

    • 1st off, we have the Scouts teach and sign off on the rank requirements. This is a boy led organization – under the guidance of the SPL…who is mentored by the Scout Master. If the SM is not keeping up with the latest requirements, the Troop Committee should address the situation…hopefully in a positive way. We use “green cards” for the Scouts to keep track of their rank advancements rather then the books. I update the green cards as the requirements change (I’m the SM). If a Scout has started working on the rank under the old requirements, they continue using that version.

  7. I’ve been told that BSA’s policy is that if an authorized counselor signs a blue card then, the scout gets the MB, earned or not. It’s a failure of the counselor, not the scout.

    We had one case where a scout had 4 eagle merit badges signed off at a summer camp though he should have received partials for all of them. Unfortunately, that scout and his family appear to be more interested in what he can put on his resume than the quality of what he’s earned & learned. Our OFFICIAL recourse – NONE. But, it could come up in the Eagle board of review process as a character question.

    You can explain to a scout and their parents what has happened and appeal to them to “do the right thing” since a boy scout is honest, loyal, etc… Then, support them in having that happen.

    We did notify our council but, that was the limit of what we could do. I have no idea what BSA is doing about this problem but, it’s shameful if they do nothing.

    • The guide has this form: Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns “Use this form to report to your council advancement committee questionable processes or procedures discovered in merit badge counseling at
      group instruction events such as fairs, clinics, workshops, in camp settings, or by individual counselors. Note that reports are primarily for the
      information of the advancement committee as methods to improve the merit badge program are considered; however, committees may elect to
      follow up on specific cases.”

      Wouldn’t this fall under that section?
      {Yes, it is shameful, but there is recourse}

    • Hi Mike – pages 20 on discuss Cub Scouting: it’s a good synopsis.

      The biggest takeaway I had from it was that for Cub Scouts at least, the concept “do your best” rather than strict application of all requirements applies:

      Cub Scouts—even those of the same age—may have very different developmental timetables. For this reason, advancement performance in Cub Scouting is centered on its motto: “Do Your Best.” When a boy has done this—his very best—then regardless of the requirements for any rank or award, it is enough; accomplishment isnoted. This is why den leaders, assistants, and parents or guardians are involved in approvals. Generally they know if effort put forth is really the Cub Scout’s best.
      In the same spirit as “Do Your Best,” if a boy is close to
      earning a badge of rank when the school year ends, the
      pack committee, in consultation with the den leader and
      the Cub Scout’s parent or guardian, may allow him a few
      weeks to complete the badge before going on to the next
      rank. Earning it will give him added incentive to continue
      in Scouting and carry on and tackle the next rank.

  8. . was supposed to clarify the position on “First Class First Year”. However, I am not seeing anything pertaining to the First Year.

    • I believe the change is “within 12 to 18 months of joining”

      7. Assist the unit leader in establishing practices that
      will provide opportunities for each new Boy Scout to
      achieve First Class rank within 12 to 18 months of
      joining, and Star rank soon thereafter.

  9. Bryan: Do you have any word on when the HTML version will be back up on the web site This version was especially useful for smart phones. Also, it would be most helpful if the PDF was bookmarked. (I know — I’ll suggest these to the Advancement Committee via e-mail for consideration). Thanks!

  10. A boy starts working on his camping merit badge at a BSA summer camp, the boys at the camp are told by the counselor that all their summer camp nights count towards the requirements, including the previous nights including other year’s summer camps. The boy comes home to his troop and his leadership tells him all that info is wrong. What to do?

    • This is why the so-called EDGE method is flawed. Boys expect everything explained to them to be correct, and that they will hear the explanation correctly!

      Any method for learning a skill should begin with *reference*. That’s what brought us out of the Dark Ages. Your scout needs needs to be taught to shun EDGE. The first step is to read the requirements and instructions! Then follow them. Then report them (in this case, show a counselor his camping log). Repeat until success.

    • Some of these issues fall on the scouts themselves. They are responsible for following and completing the requirements. Our job as leaders is to help them along. In our troop we work with the boys, but if they print out and bring an old worksheet that doesn’t cover the current requirments, we as the counselors work with the boys to sign off what we can with what they have done, then have them finish the rest of the requirements and come back to complete the badge.

  11. For this one:

    Service in positions of responsibility in provisional units, such as a jamboree troop or Philmont trek crew, do not count toward this requirement.

    What if a Philmont trek crew is made up entirely of Scouts from our unit?

    • As I understand the term “provisional” – an ad hoc group made up of Scouts (Venturers, etc.) from a number of home units – if the entire crew is made up of Scouts from your unit, it’s not a “provisional unit”.

    • My hope was that “provisional” only applied to a troop or crew not made up from Scouts in our unit. My understanding was that a Philmont Trek crew made up from Scouts entirely from our unit would still count for PoR.

      Here is the response I received from @AdvBSA:

      —–Original Message—–
      From: Advancement Team []
      Sent: Monday, July 15, 2013 11:45 AM
      To: Brent Browning
      Subject: Re: Question about 2013 Guide to Advancement

      Thank you for your question. The position of responsibility would only work in that case, if the position is simply continuing his responsibilities through the duration of the trek. For example, a patrol leader is leading his own patrol on a Philmont trek, or the SPL is leading his troop–or part of it, or the Scribe continues to be the Scribe, etc.

      If the position is involved in just for the trek–preparing, participating, etc.–then no; that’s not the level of responsibility we’re looking for. We want the POR to apply to the on-going operation of the troop.

      Advancement Team
      Program Impact Department
      Council Operations

  12. “personal growth is the primary goal.” How do you measure personal growth and when is personal a requirement.

  13. I just read several sections. I cannot find the addition of cooking as a required eagle badge. Will that detail be in the scout handbook rather than the advancement guide?

  14. Ok, simple question…well not really. If a cub scout graduated kindergarten in may of 2013 and joined in June of 2013, completed the necessary participation requirements for the national summertime pack award in June, July, and August of 2103, he would get an ORANGE participation pin when awarded correct? There is a lot of conflicting information out there.

  15. I notice on page 65 of the guide to advancement section, the last two sentences with the first sentence starting with a bold NOR. Can you please explain this purpose. It seems to me the guide is telling us that terms like “Red Flag or prejudging intent on Eagle Projects, should not be part of the discussion because of the make up of helpers, time worked on the project, and number of people led. I would hope a Board of Review would look at the TOTAL scout to see if he has earned his Eagle. I really like what this section is telling us about this being an individualized experience.

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