Even in times of peace and military drawdown, every branch of the United States Armed Forces must continue to recruit new service members. Part of the process is taking the ASVAB, or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam_._ Test-taking can be scary. Here are some tips to help you do your best.
What Is the ASVAB?
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam is actually a series of tests that will help measure your strengths and weaknesses. It's a multiple choice test that identifies the military jobs that would be best for you. It is only given in English. There are no foreign language versions of the test.
You can take the ASVAB as early as sophomore year of high school, although your scores will not be used to determine eligibility for the military or job placement. Only scores taken from junior or senior year of high school count, provided you were at least 16 years old at the time you took the test.
What's on the ASVAB?
Knowing what to expect can help you prepare. The ASVAB consists of 10 short tests administered over a three-hour period. The ASVAB is not an IQ test, but instead, it's meant to assess your abilities in certain subjects, including general mathematics and science reasoning, vocabulary and reading comprehension. It also assesses your knowledge of more specialized skills such as coding, auto mechanics and electronics. Don't worry about the specialized skills if you don't have them. Scoring well on the other parts of the test opens the door to a variety of interesting jobs in the military. The purpose of the test is to determine which jobs you are best suited for.
How Do I Sign Up to Take the ASVAB?
The ASVAB is free, but you must register to take it. If you're a high school student, your guidance counselor can help you with registration. Otherwise, visit a military recruiter. At the present time, the ASVAB is only available in English.
Taking the test does not obligate you to join the military, so you might want to use it to help you make decisions about a career or further your education. You can take the ASVAB as early as your sophomore year in high school, although the test results will not be valid if you decide later to enlist. Test results are good for two years. If more time elapses, you will need to take the ASVAB again if you want to join the military.
Studying for the ASVAB
The ASVAB is designed to measure your general knowledge and aptitudes, so you can't really study for it. However, it does help to know what to expect. The ASVAB test measures the following:
- General Science: Knowledge of life science, earth and space science and physical science
- Arithmetic Reasoning: Ability to solve basic arithmetic word problems
- Word Knowledge: Ability to understand the meaning of words through synonyms
- Paragraph Comprehension: Ability to obtain information from written materials
- Mathematics: Knowledge of mathematical concepts and their applications
- Electronics: Knowledge of electrical current, circuits, devices and electronic systems
- Auto and Shop Information: Knowledge of automotive maintenance and repair and wood and metal shop practices
- Mechanical Comprehension: Knowledge of the principles of mechanical devices, structural support and properties of materials
- Assembling Objects: Ability with spatial relationships
Remember, the ASVAB does not measure your ability to do a particular job, only your aptitude for the job. The military wants to find the right fit for you and will train you for the job.
For sample ASVAB questions, look online. You don't have to pay for ASVAB test-prep training. Your high school guidance counselor or local Armed Forces recruiter can help you find practice questions to get an idea of what's going to be on the test.
Highest ASVAB Score
The ASVAB is scored on a percentile basis from 1 to 99, which means your score is compared to the scores of all the others who take the test. For example, if you score in the 75th percentile, that means you tested better than 75 percent of the people who took the test. That puts you in the top quarter, or top 25 percent. A score higher than 50 means you scored above average. A score lower than 50 means you scored below average.
The Night Before the Test
The best thing you can do for yourself is to get a good night's sleep. That may mean going to bed earlier than usual. Avoid drinking alcohol. Set your alarm to rise a little earlier than usual. If you have a hard time waking up in the morning, you might want to set a second alarm to be sure you're up and out the door on time.
The Day of the Test
Eat a good breakfast and arrive on time. If you're late, you won't be allowed to take the test, and you'll have to reschedule. Be sure to use the bathroom, as you will not be allowed to leave the test site once the exam begins.
Bring a picture ID, such as a driver's license or student ID. You don't need pencils or scratch paper, as these will be provided for you. Calculators are not allowed. You will not be able to bring your phone into the testing room.
You'll have three hours to complete the 10 sections of the test. The test administrator will give you the start and end times for each section. Before beginning the test, you'll have an opportunity to work on practice questions. You can also ask questions you may have about the test-taking procedure and next steps.
What If I Fail?
You can't! Test scores are used to find the best fit for your military occupational specialty (MOS). You'll receive your scores within a few days of the test, and, if you're planning to join the military, you can talk over the results with your recruiter. Your ASVAB score does not affect your high school grades and will not be placed in your academic record.
Interpreting Your Scores
The military uses composition scores, which you can think of as ASVAB formulas, to determine whether you're qualified to enlist and also what military occupational specialty (MOS) you're qualified for. Here's how composite scores are used:
Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT): This is the most important score, as it determines whether you can enlist. It is also called the Military Entrance Score. The AFQT compiles scores from tests on Paragraph Comprehension, Word Knowledge, Mathematics Knowledge and Arithmetic Reasoning.
The Armed Services do not release average ASVAB scores by branch, nor do they publicize averages for the AFQT or other composite scores. Average scores vary year to year according to whom takes the test. The Armed Services establish cut-off scores, which are the minimums required for enlistment or job training.
Cut-off scores vary according to each branch of the military and its needs. Check with your recruiter for the latest information. Here are the current minimums for each branch for individuals with a high school diploma. In parentheses, you'll see the minimum score required for individuals with a high school equivalency degree (GED, TASC or HiSET). In the case of individuals holding an equivalency degree, 15 hours of college credit may also be required.
- Army: 31 (50)
- Air Force: 36 (65)
- Navy: 35 (15)
- Marine Corps: 32 (50)
- Coast Guard: 40 (50)
Unique and desirable skills sets, such as fluency in a foreign language, could result in an AFQT waiver. The military can also waive AFQT minimums to address shortages in certain military occupational specialties.
Other composite scores:
- Clerical (CL): Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning and Mathematics Knowledge
- Combat (CO): Work Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Auto & Shop and Mechanical Comprehension
- Electronics (EL): General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge and Electronic Information
- Field Artillery (FA): Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge and Mechanical Comprehension
- General Maintenance (GM): General Science, Auto & Shop, Mathematics Knowledge and Electronics Information
- General Technical (GT): Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension and Arithmetic Reasoning
- Mechanical Maintenance (MM): Auto & Shop, Mechanical Comprehension and Electronic Information
- Operators and Food (OF): Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension and Mechanical Comprehension
- Surveillance and Communications (SC): Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning, Auto & Shop and Mechanical Comprehension
- Skilled Technical (ST): Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, General Science, Mechanical Comprehension and Mathematics Knowledge