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The Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) Score Explained – Part 2

In Part 1 of our two part series “The Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) Score Explained” BogiDope explained the background, importance and how to study for the PCSM.  In Part 2, BogiDope will educate you on the how to maximize your PCSM score which will significantly increase your chances of obtaining an Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) slot. 

Where Can I Take the Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS)?

The TBAS is administered at many Air Force bases, Air Force Reserve bases, Air National Guard bases, and Air Force ROTC detachments. A list of testing locations and contact information can be found on the official PCSM website. If you are a civilian, your recruiter can schedule the test for you, but they may require you to take the AFOQT first in order to judge your competitiveness. AFROTC detachments are sometimes willing to facilitate tests for those who are not cadets.  It’s worth a shot to respectfully contact a nearby detachment to request a testing session if you are applying to Guard/Reserve units or if your recruiter is currently too busy to schedule one for you.

How Many Times Can I Take the TBAS?

The TBAS can be taken a total of two times, but the second attempt must be at least 180 days after the first attempt. Waivers for additional retests are not a possibility. If you retake the TBAS, your second attempt is the one that counts, even if you do worse and your PCSM score decreases. It is unlikely that you would do worse on your second attempt, but it would be a good idea to cancel your test appointment if you end up sick, sleep-deprived, distressed, hungover, etc. on the day you’re scheduled to retest.

How Can I Look Up My PCSM Score?

You can retrieve your PCSM score on the official PCSM website by entering your first name, your initials, and the last 4 digits of your social security number. To receive a PCSM score, you must take both the AFOQT and the TBAS. If you have not yet taken one of those, you will not have a PCSM score yet. After you have taken both tests and a PCSM score has been generated, your recruiter will likely be notified automatically if you’re applying for Officer Training School. AFROTC cadre members are also generally notified automatically of PCSM scores for cadets. If you’re applying to a Guard or Reserve unit, you will need to retrieve the score sheet yourself via the link above and send it to the unit as a part of your application package.

What Is a Good PCSM Score?

Competitive PCSM scores vary depending on the type of selection board.

PCSM scores tend to be very important for Guard and Reserve units because they hire small numbers of pilots at a time, so they want to be extremely assured that their selectees will not wash out of pilot training. It is not uncommon for units to require a minimum PCSM score to be achieved in order to even apply for their pilot selection boards. Some fighter units explicitly state that they consider PCSM scores in the 90s to be competitive. However, heavy units tend to be more forgiving. Many applicants with PCSM scores in the 60s and 70s have reported being selected by heavy units.

Air Force Reserve Command sometimes posts official statistics for their unsponsored rated selection boards. For the first board of fiscal year 2016 (16-01), the average PCSM score of pilot selectees was 81.3.

Officer Training School (OTS) rated selection boards generally look at more comprehensive applicant profiles than what Guard and Reserve units require for their application packages, so the whole person concept is a little more prevalent and the importance of PCSM is slightly diminished. Research on a fairly small sample size of 48 pilot selectees from OTS selection boards for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 showed a minimum PCSM score of 38, a median of 63, and an average of 66.

Air Force ROTC generally receives the second-most rated slots each year. AFROTC cadets are also ranked based on a larger variety of factors in comparison to Guard/Reserve and OTS applicants, such as PFT scores, Field Training ranking, and order of merit ranking. Because rated slots are generally plentiful and there are is a greater number of criteria for ranking cadets, PCSM scores do not seem to carry quite as much importance for AFROTC cadets.

Air Force Academy rated selection boards seem to be the most lax about PCSM scores, likely because the Academy usually receives the most rated slots each year. Academy cadets are also likely to perform favorably throughout their education due to the high level of competition involved in getting accepted to the Academy to begin with, so most cadets who are eligible to apply for rated slots have pretty good chances of being selected.

PCSM 1.0 vs. PCSM 2.0

The PCSM scoring algorithm was updated in 2013. The new algorithm is sometimes called “PCSM 2.0”. The older algorithm appeared to weigh AFOQT scores and TBAS (or BAT) performance fairly heavily but flight hours lightly. Flight hours could add up to 10 points (at the 201+ hour mark) to a PCSM 1.0 score. Applicants were able to obtain scores in the 80s or 90s with little to no flight time if they did well on the AFOQT and the TBAS/BAT. However, the updated algorithm has a heavy emphasis on flight time. Many applicants without much flight time reported seeing their PCSM scores drop between 10 to 50 points once the updated algorithm was launched. Flying hours can now boost scores by very large amounts, but those without the means to accrue much flight time are now at a disadvantage even if they perform well on the AFOQT and the TBAS. Empirical evidence seems to indicate that a PCSM score of approximately 70 is now the highest achievable with no flying hours. As a result of this algorithm update, PCSM 2.0 scores tend to be significantly lower on average.

How Do Flight Hours Influence PCSM Score?

As mentioned above, flight hours now have a huge impact on PCSM scores. However, you do not receive a score boost for every single hour of flight time you obtain. Instead, points are awarded based on flight hour brackets. The amount of points each bracket is worth differs somewhat for each applicant, but it is generally around 4 or 5 points per bracket. The brackets are shown below.

0 hours
1 – 5 hours
6 – 10 hours
11 – 20 hours
21 – 40 hours
41 – 60 hours
61 – 80 hours
81 – 100 hours
101 – 200 hours
201 hours and up

As you can see, there are diminishing returns on investment since the bracket sizes go from roughly 5 hours to 10 hours to 20 hours – and then 100 hours towards the end of the scale. When you retrieve your PCSM score from the PCSM website, you will be provided with a chart that shows what your score would be for each bracket above the one you are currently in.

The flight time component of the PCSM only considers the number of hours logged and nothing more. It does not take into account aeronautical ratings, aircraft type, takeoff/landing counts, or flight type (VFR/IFR). Dual instruction time can be counted if the training is provided by a licensed CFI. Simulator time is not counted, even if used for IFR training.

When you take the TBAS, you will be required to bring your logbook with you if you have any flight time. You will also notate your flight time on an information sheet filled out prior to the test. The person administering the test will make a copy of the last two pages of your logbook and send it to Air Force Personnel Command (AFPC) so that they can include the flight time in your PCSM score calculation. If you obtain more flight time after taking the TBAS, your recruiter or flight instructor must write and sign a letter which includes your social security number and vouches for the authenticity of your logbook. You must also sign this letter yourself. This letter and a copy of the last 2 pages of your logbook can then be e-mailed to the PCSM office. Once AFPC approves and processes the additional flight time, your new score can be retrieved from the PCSM website. This generally takes only a few business days.

How Can I Improve My PCSM Score?

As mentioned previously, the PCSM score is calculated by utilizing your AFOQT Pilot subscore, your TBAS grading data, and your logged flight time. If you are not satisfied with your PCSM score, you have the ability to change any or all of those things.

You can take the AFOQT twice without a waiver if you wait 150 days between attempts, and a waiver authorizing a third attempt is a possibility. Improving your Pilot subscore will automatically improve your PCSM score. The PCSM scoring system is integrated with the AFOQT scoring system – no action is required on your part to receive a new PCSM score once you’ve retaken the AFOQT.

You can take the TBAS twice, but you must wait 180 days between attempts. Waivers for retests are not authorized. Although it is impossible to ascertain exactly how well you performed on the TBAS since the grading information is not revealed, some combinations may indicate the TBAS is probably the culprit for a lackluster PCSM score. For example, a mediocre PCSM score with a high AFOQT Pilot subscore and a significant amount of flight hours likely indicates that your TBAS performance was poor.

If you have already used all of your AFOQT and TBAS attempts, accumulating more flight hours can lead to a huge improvement in your PCSM score. For that matter, even if you ace the AFOQT and the TBAS, the PCSM 2.0 scoring algorithm will prevent you from having an extremely competitive score if you don’t have much flight time. If you have the money to invest in flying, this option is your best bet. Selection board members also tend to look specifically at your flight time. Some applicants dream about flying their entire life only to discover that it’s not for them once they try it, so a significant amount of experience is favorable because it shows that you are still interested after experiencing the reality of flying. Board members could also be inclined to believe that civilian flying experience indicates you could be more proficient during UPT than someone without much flight time, and therefore you pose a lower attrition risk.

How Should I Move Forward After Getting My PCSM Score?

Obtaining a PCSM score means you’ve already taken the AFOQT and the TBAS, so pat yourself on the back and be glad that you’ve gotten through arguably the two most nerve-racking parts of application process. But the rest of your application is also incredibly important, so don’t get too comfortable yet.

If you’re happy with your scores, you can shift your efforts to getting the more subjective parts of your application in order. If you’re applying to a Guard/Reserve unit or for Officer Training School, you’ll likely need to have a resume (often called an Applicant Profile), a motivational statement or cover letter, and at least 3 letters of recommendation. If you haven’t already done so, think of people who know you well and reach out to them to respectfully ask for a letter of recommendation. It might help to type the first drafts yourself and have them modified as needed. Reflect on your past achievements and create a resume that highlights your leadership ability and your accomplishments. Think about why you want to serve and what unique value you can bring to the military as an officer, and communicate those things clearly and concisely in your motivational statement or cover letter. Solicit feedback on all these things from peers, other applicants, and any military officers that you might know personally. If you’re an AFROTC or Air Force Academy cadet, stay in shape and try to achieve maximum PFT scores, take initiative around the detachment often to secure a competitive order of merit ranking, and prepare for Field Training so that you can graduate in the top third of your class. These factors are all part of the selection criteria for a pilot slot. Once you’ve got all that squared away and have made it through the mountains of paperwork typically required to complete an application, submit it and try not to drive yourself crazy waiting for the results.

If you aren’t happy with your PCSM score, it might be a good idea to go ahead and get your application completed and submitted anyway if a selection board is coming up soon. Retaking tests may be beneficial, but you’ll have to wait 150 days to retake the AFOQT and 180 days to retake the TBAS, so a shot at a selection board may pass you by if you decide not to apply until you’ve had the chance to improve your score. But if you’ve got a fair amount of time until the application deadline and some money to burn, there’s no waiting period for updating your flight hours with the PCSM office, so start racking up those hours. But keep in mind that aptitude scores and flight time aren’t everything. You may end up getting selected even if you don’t feel you’re especially competitive, so don’t stress yourself out if you don’t have the time or the money to chase a higher score. Make the rest of your application outstanding, submit it, and keep your fingers crossed!  As Wayne Gretzky famously said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

BogiDope is dedicated to helping you succeed in your aviation career.  Armed with BogiDope’s guidance on the PCSM and AFOQT you can be confident starting your quest towards becoming a pilot in the Air Force, Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve.  Good luck!

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