Encouraging Scouts who don't pass Boards of Review

Scouter C.K. asks how best to inform a Scout (and his parents) that the boy wasn’t fully prepared for a rank advancement board of review while still encouraging the youth so the setback won’t cause him to quit Scouting.

First, a Scout should never fail a board of review. If the Scoutmaster does his job, especially at the Scoutmaster conference, the Scout should have no problems.

The board of review should be more like a pep rally for continuing in Scouting. Failure can be extremely humiliating to a Scout, and if it is not handled well, the Scout will quit. Hold a private meeting with the Scout and his parents and explain why you think the Scout is not ready. Keep it positive!

Hayesville, N.C.

You can turn a board of review failure into a stepping-stone instead of a stumbling block by allowing the Scout to learn from the experience and be better prepared for the next review. A wise leader will use the moment to encourage, not discourage, the Scout into a new level of awareness of support and understanding.

The leader should help the Scout understand his needs, show him how to succeed, and praise positive performance.

Idaho Falls, Idaho

Often failure to pass a board of review is not the fault of the Scout but of the review board. In my 36 years of Scouting experience, from Scoutmaster to district committee chairman, I have found that over-testing of the Scout was the cause of 99 percent of the failures to complete a rank.

A board of review should never be a test. It should be a review of the boy’s Scouting career to the present. It is not the place to ask, “How do you tie a square knot?” but rather, “How are you doing with knot tying as a Second Class Scout?”

Boards of review should be conducted by the troop committee, chaired by the advancement chairman, and never include the Scoutmaster.

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Let the Scout and his parents know which items were correctly answered and which items need work. Assign a senior Scout to coach the boy on areas where he is weak. Arrange for another board of review without delay as soon as his mentor says the Scout is ready to show his stuff.

These steps will make it clear to the Scout and his parents that you want him to pass—without compromising the standards expected of every Scout.

Whittier, Calif.

I use the Scoutmaster’s conference as a guide both for the Scout and myself. We review his requirements for the next rank, including his strong and weak points.

The conference is the last thing before the board of review, so every requirement for the rank should be signed off in his handbook. We go over them together, and if I feel the Scout is not ready, I suggest that the board be postponed for a short time so he can better prepare himself—with help from older Scouts.

I explain that it’s easier in the Scoutmaster’s conference to see if he’s really ready, so that he won’t be disappointed later by not passing the board. This way, I do not have to explain to parents why he failed the board.

Scoutmaster D.M.
Portville, N.Y.

Web Exclusive Responses

The following responses do not appear in the print edition …

It is important to stress that advancement is something to be earned and not given away. Thus, when you explain to a Scout that he has not passed, offer encouragement and not disappointment.

With proper encouragement offered, I believe the Scout will then double his efforts to achieve the advancement in rank and will feel 100 percent better about it when he receives it.

Beale AFB, Calif.

If a Scout fails a board of review, I have failed as a leader somehow. After all, I conducted the Scoutmaster conference and thought he would be ready for the review.

It may not be the Scout who failed; it may be the program you provide!

In the one case I had where a boy did fail the review, I told him, “I’m sorry, I failed to do a better job for you. What can I do to help you better prepare for your next board of review?”

At the next troop committee meeting, I also asked, “What did I do wrong with our program?”

If you put the blame on the Scout, he likely won’t attend meetings and outings where the program of troop advancement is being presented. But if you as Scoutmaster take responsibility for the failure, then you will have positive input from the Scout as to what he needs to advance.

(Another question I would ask the troop committee: “What do you do in a board of review? Is it a board of review or a board of final exam?” It should be the former, not the latter.)

Scoutmaster R.B.
Pueblo, Colo.


  1. Totally agree with previous posts; it is not a scout who fails a B of R, it is the adult leadership. No scout should be presented for review unless he has passed scoutmaster conference. THAT is where any corrections should be made. I have never been in a review, thank goodness, where we did not sign off on scout. I have shared concern whith my leadership peers, however, on whether scout was ready. The review is just that, a chance to review progress, assess growth and learning and identify problems.

    • No where in the guide to advancement does it give the option to pass or fail at a scoutmaster conference. The boy just needs to have one.

    • That is not necessarily true, the purpose of a scoutmaster conference is not to pass or fail a scout on whether he completed all of the rank requirements or not. Scoutmaster conference is for purpose of checking in with a scout on his progress in the troop and toward the rank he is working on. A Scoutmaster can not deny a request from a scout for a Board of Review is he wants one. Also, the first thing a BOR should do is check to confirm that all rank advancement standards have been completed, signed off and dated. If not, scout should not be advanced.

  2. As a former advancement chair and committee chair, I’ll state that a scout should (almost) NEVER fail a Board of Review. If a Scout seems unprepared or unqualified for a rank, it is the fault of the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters who passed him along, and of the Troop Committee that isn’t overseeing the Scoutmaster. The real purpose of the Board of Review for rank advancement is to provide the guidance and advice of the committee to the Scout as he advances, and to get the vital feedback from the Scouts (our customers) on the program our unit is providing.

    A Board of Review can be convened for non-rank purposes, like a Scout who is not advancing or one who is a discipline problem. Here too, the purpose of the Board of Review is not punitive – it is to encourage the Scout and improve the program we provide.

    The rare exception of “failing” a Board of Review would be extreme cases, like a Scout announcing he is an atheist at an Eagle Board. These cases are likely so rare it isn’t worth discussing them,

  3. I have been involved both ways, as a current and past scoutmaster I make sure the scouts are ready. This is a conference. But at the same time I have had a few scouts come to BOR and state ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’, and turn it around with apathy to the board’s questions. So you can never tell sometimes what a young person is going to say. For the most part they both work well and in conjunction with each other, The extreme cases are far and few between.

  4. How does a Scout fail a Scoutmasters conference?
    I believe the requirement is “Participate in a Scoutmaster conference.” Not Pass a Scoutmaster conference.

    However, I do believe the Scoutmaster has the responsibility of making sure other requirements are being signed off correctly if signed by a third party. If not the Scoutmaster should be talking to the person that signed off incorrectly.

  5. I am the cmt chair of a troop. Recently a scout came to me to talk about his BofR. He was not recommended, but he came to me and felt that his B of R was not fair he didn’t really understand why he failed. I quickly told him he didn’t fail and I would get back to him with things to work on. I went to the SM and ASM that works closely with his patrol. They were confused too. So I went to members of the board and was baffled. First he forgot the first scout camp, he said that if he couldn’t get a scout to do something he would do it( when I talked to the scout he meant he would do it, but as a way to show we all have to do things). They also told him he needed to wait 4 months before he can come back. I lifted the time limit, but how do I better prepare people to be in a board of review. Any suggestions would be helpful. I have been doing a lot of reading and realize we have been doing things wrong and I will make sure that gets fixed.

  6. All this chatter about “not passing a board.” I don’t get it? If the board of review is to confirm rank requirements have been completed and is not a retest of rank requirements, and to also solicit feedback to gauge the quality of the Scout’s experience in the troop… what is there to fail??? The only thing that could possibly fail a Scout is if an oversight was discovered in ensuring the Scout has completed all rank requirements. How else does a Scout possibly fail a board? A Scout should never appear before a board that he won’t pass. If a Scout gets to a board and fails… shame on the Scoutmaster and the program.

  7. Scouts do not *pass* boards of review. A board of review is a review of accomplishments. Review of completed activities. Ic the s out is not up to snuff, not the leader you want him to be then the leaders have failed him. If they are not where you want them to be growth wise the leaders have failed.

  8. actually, scouts do pass BOR’s. Scouts can fail a BOR. Had scouts who couldn’t recite all 12 laws, outdoor code, etc. But you are correct, if he made it to a BOR not prepared, that is the failure of leadership not the scout. A SM should never allow a scout thru if sees issues. A SM who allows a boy who is “not prepared” is a failed leader. and btw, there is no pass/fail for a SM conference per BSA. Here is the tricky part, If you have a SM conference the boy is then eligible for his BOR. If he decides to venture forth despite his SM objections, well he just may fail

    • What if a scout is at a bor and can’t answer questions regarding his own experience. Not a retest, but couldn’t explain how he has done community service or which merit badge was most challenging even with prompting? I agree that it’s not retesting of info, but a scout that can not explain about his own experience would cause me concern. How long have you been troop guide and how have you helped to provide leadership to the troop? A response of I am not sure is pla concern. Multiple answers in this manner is tough to pass a scout, especially when headed towardslife scout.

  9. Know a scout at 17.5 years of age, he vandalized the Charter Orgs Eagle Board by removing one youths plate and destroying it, and after 7+ weeks of denying it, he finally confessed with the crappiest apology. He has finished his last merit badge from what we have been advised. I have a hard time thinking that this kid will have his name on this board that recognizes all the past Eagles. This kid after these actions has not been involved in the unit. Why should this young man get this award? I have been advised that anyone that sits on the Board of Review if they have the types of feelings, should not be allowed. And that this last review is a guarantee that he earns the award. What his actions were I would have expected from a young child. Not a 17.5 year old Senior in High School.

  10. The people on my daughter board of review denied her tenderfoot because she was asked to tell them what thrifty means in her on words but they didn’t like her answer it wasn’t the answer they were looking for so they denied her tenderfoot. I don’t think that is right. They also denied my son 1st class for the same reason. I don’t think that is right. So what do i do.

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