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Merit badge tips

[Last revised 2017-08-28]

This page contains tips for Scouts working with me (Mr. Toedt) on mer­it badges. Please be sure to read this page thoroughly, including the badge-specific tips in the Appendixes below.

Merit-badge requirements aren’t just a checklist

When you work on a merit badge, you’re doing more than just learn­ing specific facts. It’s also supposed to help you acquire some “meta-skills” that will serve you well in school and in adult life, such as:

  • planning and scheduling the actions you need to take to com­plete a merit badge;
  • starting from a desired goal and working backwards to fig­ure out what you need to do when — for example, if you want (let’s say) to make Life Scout by a certain date, then:
    • you’d want to plan on having a board of review no later than that date,
    • which means you’d need to plan on having a Scoutmaster con­fer­ence a few days before that date,
    • which means you’d need to finish the required number of merit badges before that,
    • and so on;
  • spaced repetition to practice particular skills, which helps you re­tain those skills for longer than just doing the skills once — this, for example, is why you have to repeat many of the same first-aid requirements, over and over, for rank advancement and then for various merit badges;
  • repeating beneficial activities on a daily basis for 30 days, so as to help ingrain them in your daily routine as habits that you’re likely to keep up;
  • keeping daily written records of activities such as spending, chores, and exercise, so as to help establish them as habits;
  • in service projects, gradually taking on increasing re­spon­sibility, so as to help you get “up to speed” for eventually doing your Eagle Scout service project.

Get Scoutmaster permission and a signed blue card

Per BSA policy, you must have the Scoutmaster’s permission to work on a merit badge with any particular merit badge counselor, as evi­denced by a signed “blue card.” See the Troop Handbook at page 24.

Get the merit badge book

Be sure to get and read the current BSA merit badge pamphlet for the merit badge you want to work on.

You can buy your own copy at the Scout Shop, or you might be able to borrow one from the troop library.

IMPORTANT: How to schedule meetings with me

Unlike some merit badge counselors, I don’t do classes per se. In­stead, I meet with Scouts by prior appointment —

  • at 6:00 p.m. before Tuesday-night troop meetings at St. John the Divine [the troop has asked that merit-badge meetings no longer be scheduled for 6:30 p.m. or later, so as to avoid conflicting with the troop’s pre-meeting activities]; or
  • at “coffee hour” at St. John the Divine after church on Sunday morn­ings, normally at 10:15 a.m. in Sumners Hall.  (If we meet then, don’t bother wearing a Scout uniform unless you want to.)

This means you’ll have to take more responsibility for actually “making it hap­pen,” but on the other hand it gives you much more flexibility in scheduling when you want to do things.

Please be sure to email me in advance to make an appointment if you want to meet with me.

Whenever you email me to ask for a meeting, please suggest one or two specific dates and times. That makes it easier on me, be­cause it allows me either (i) to just say yes to one of your proposed dates, or (ii) to propose an alternate date. (NOTE: This is a courteous thing to do whenever you want to meet with anyone, not just with me.)

If you have to miss a meeting, make sure to let me know as far in ad­vance as possible. I don’t mind rescheduling, but it’s not fun to show up for a meeting and have the Scout be a no-show.

IMPORTANT: Print out the merit badge worksheet

Please print out the worksheet for your merit badge. We will use the worksheet for a couple of different purposes, as discussed below.

(Whether or not you actually fill out the worksheet is up to you, although many Scouts have found it helpful to do so.)

IMPORTANT: Bring your worksheet to each of our meetings

Be sure to bring the worksheet to each of our meetings — that way, I can initial and date each requirement as you complete it, as though I were signing your Scout book back when you completed your rank-advancement requirements.

If I don’t initial and date your worksheet, then at future meetings it’s likely that I won’t remember which require­ments you did or didn’t finish. That would mean I’d have to ask you to do the requirements all over again. Neither one of us wants that.


I’m happy to work with Scouts who have a “partial” from a merit-badge fair, a museum course, etc. But since I’m the one who has to certify that the Scout has in fact completed all requirements for the badge, I reserve the right to spot-check the requirements that the Scout previously completed.

Youth-protection rules

Per the BSA Youth Protection Guidelines and the Scout Buddy Sys­tem, someone else must be present or nearby whenever we meet. That could be another Scout, a parent or guardian, brother or sister, relative, or friend. If we meet at SJD on a Tuesday night or Sunday morning, the odds are good that there will be plenty of other people there, but it’s still your responsibility to be sure someone else is nearby.

Tips for getting it done

Here are a few suggestions that might help you finish your merit badge quickly and painlessly.

Working in two- or three-man teams: You might want to consider one or both of the following:

  • teaming up with one or two other Scouts to work on the merit badge together, and
  • scheduling regular sessions for your team to get together, study the materials together, and quiz each other — in college and post-graduate schools, this is called a study group.

I’m happy to meet with teams of two or three (see the meeting discussion above), although of course each Scout must individually do each requirement, including all “discuss” and “explain” requirements.

Plan the work, then work the plan: It helps a lot to break down the work into specific, bite-sized tasks. Let’s look at an example: to attend a meet­ing of your city council for Citizenship in the Com­mu­ni­ty, one of the tasks you have to complete (naturally) is to find out when the city council meets. If you can get just that one task done TODAY, you’ve taken another step toward finishing the badge.

Use your calendar: On your personal calendar, write down a target date you chose above for completing each specific requirement for the merit badge. (You do have a personal calendar, don’t you?)

Also choose, and write down on your calendar, target dates for doing particular tasks and subtasks, such as finding out when your city council meets.

You’ll need to check your calendar regularly for scheduled target dates.

If your calendar is on your computer or your phone, set yourself auto­matic reminders to help you remember.

If you want, you can email me your target dates and I’ll put them on my calendar too; you can email me with updates as you finish spe­ci­fic tasks, and when you’re done with all the requirements, we can sched­ule a wrap-up meeting (see above) to discuss what you’ve done and what you’ve learned.

Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time. It takes a good deal of work to complete an Eagle-required merit badge. Try to do a little bit of work EVERY DAY, or every other day, or every Saturday at 2 p.m. — whatever works for you. If you do that, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll finish.

To fail to plan is to plan to fail: It’s sad how many people don’t finish what they start; too often it’s because they let their time get away from them.


Be sure to read the “Meeting merit-badge requirements” discussion on page 25 of the Troop Handbook; I follow those requirements strictly.

If I don’t hear from you for awhile, I might email you to ask you what your plans are for finishing your requirements, but it’s still your responsibility to finish, not mine.

* * *

I look forward to working with you!

About me (for parents)

I’m semi-retired as a Troop 55 adult leader. I used to be a PASM, and I served a total of four years as Troop Committee Chair. These days I help out on an as-requested basis as an assistant to the Chartered Org­an­i­za­tion Rep­re­sent­a­tive (because I’m a long-time parishioner at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, our chartered organization) and as a merit-badge counselor; I also sit on es­sen­ti­al­ly all of the troop’s Eagle Scout boards of review. My wife and I have two adult children; our son is a T-55 Eagle Scout, and I’m an Eagle myself. Professional-type information is available at the About page of this Web site.

Appendix: Questions I might ask

I follow the BSA rules that preclude merit-badge counselors from add­ing to or omitting requirements. When it comes to “discuss” and “explain” requirements, I have some questions that I often ask. These questions are by no means mandatory, but if you can discuss them intelligently, it might well speed up our discussions.

Citizenship in the Community

Merit badge requirements

For requirement #4, take a look at this page from a 1948 civics textbook.

Some things I might ask:

QUESTION: Tell me a little bit about how Houston neigh­bor­hoods responded after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Suggested read­ing: This story about a “civilian” who, during Hurricane Harvey, stepped up and brought organization to an emergency shelter that had no other manage­ment; this blog entry; Houston residents cooperating after Hurricane Ike, by Phil Sarata.

QUESTION: How important is it — or is it? — for neighbors to get to know each other? Why? (Hint: Consider the previous question.)

QUESTION: How did voter turnout in the 2013 election affect what’s going to happen to the Houston Astrodome? What does that mean about who decides these things? Suggested reading: Houston Chron­icle (also the Woody Allen quote to the effect that 80% of life is show­ing up).

QUESTION: You’re walking to the Scout meeting from the SJD park­ing lot. You see a candy wrapper lying on the ground. What do you do? Does it make a difference if you’re not the one who dropped it?

QUESTION: Suppose that a younger Scout were to ask you for advice about where to get the information he needs for requirement 2 of this badge (pointing out city offices on a map and charting city government). What do you think you might tell him about:

  • how to get a map of his community;
  • how to find out where the buildings and other sites are;
  • how to find out the information needed for item 2(b) (charting city government).

QUESTION: Who is the mayor of Houston? Who is the governor of Texas?

QUESTION: Can the governor of Texas “fire” the mayor of Houston? Why or why not?

QUESTION: Can the mayor of Houston fire a member of the Houston City Council? Why or why not?

QUESTION: What impact would it have on citizens — and how do you think they might cope — if we didn’t have, say:

  • a public library?
  • public transportation — what kinds of public transportation do we have?
  • a fire department?
  • a public sewage system and water supply?

(Hint: Take a look at this page from a 1948 civics textbook.)

Citizenship in the Nation

Merit-badge requirements

For requirement #5, take a look at this page from a 1948 civics textbook.

QUESTION: Why is it important to serve on a jury if you’re called to do so? What could happen if one of your friends or family members were to be accused of a crime, but there was no right to “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury …”? Suggested reading: Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

QUESTION: If we didn’t have the U.S. Constitution, is it likely that we’d have chaos in society? (Hint: Look at other countries that we consider to be reasonably free; also consider how the U.S. was governed after the Revolution but before the Constitution.)

QUESTION: If we didn’t have the Declaration of Independence, is it likely that we’d still be a colony of Great Britain? (Hint: Consider Canada.)

Appendix: Presentation tips for Citizenship in the Community

Item 8 of the Citizenship in the Community badge requires you to:

Develop a public presentation (such as a video, slide show, speech, digital presentation, or photo exhibit) about important and unique aspects of your community. Include information about • the history, cultures, and ethnic groups of your community; • its best features and • popular places where people gather; and • the challenges it faces. Stage your presentation in front of your merit badge counselor or a group, such as your patrol or a class at school.

[Bullets added.]

A truly great PowerPoint or Keynote presentation has just a couple of words on each slide, and maybe an appropriate picture on some or all of the slides. The idea is to have you and your talk be the audience’s focal point, with the slides merely illustrating the points you’re making.

If you’ve ever watched Seth Meyers do Weekend Update on SNL, or local newscasters who use on-screen graphics to illustrate a story as they talk, that’s what I mean.

For another illustration, see a slide presentation I developed a few years ago. The specific legal content of that presentation isn’t im­port­ant for this purpose; what matters is the approach, with lots of slides but very few words on each slide, along with a picture for many or even most slides. (FYI, I paid for a license to use the photos you’ll see in the slide presentation, which are from iStockPhoto.com. But you can find free photos from U.S. Government Web sites, plus for a Boy Scout merit badge project I would think there’d be a strong argument for “fair use” under U.S. copyright law.)