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The Straight-Talking Guide to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Test

The Straight-Talking Guide to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Test

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The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is well known amongst candidates who want to pursue a career in the US military service.

This comprehensive series of tests developed and administered by the Department of Defense (DoD) are the key to unlocking a variety of career options in the military.

What Is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test?

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, or ASVAB, is a series of ability tests used for recruitment and selection in the US military service.

Anyone who applies for a role in the US military is required to take the ASVAB test.

The ASVAB test determines whether you have the skills and aptitudes required for a role in the military.

The scores a candidate attains on the ASVAB are used to decide which roles in the military candidates are most suited to. The higher the score a candidate attains in the ASVAB, the wider their options will be when selecting their preferred role.

The ASVAB assesses abilities and knowledge in four different categories:

  • Math
  • Verbal
  • Spatial
  • Science and technical

These abilities are assessed through 10 individual subtests, that together make up the ASVAB test battery. Candidates must sit all 10 tests in one sitting.

As the ASVAB is a test of all-round aptitude and ability, candidates must have:

  • A core knowledge of general science
  • Knowledge and understanding of mathematical principles
  • An understanding and practical application of mechanical and electronic principles
  • Overall spatial awareness
  • A good understanding of the meaning of words

What Are the Different Versions of the ASVAB?

The ASVAB comes in three different versions:

  • Student ASVAB
  • MET-site ASVAB


The CAT-ASVAB is a computerized version of the ASVAB.

All candidates that sit the CAT-ASVAB do so at a military entrance processing station (MEPS). For candidates that don't live near a MEPS, there is the option to take the CAT-ASVAB at a satellite entrance test center (MET).

The CAT-ASVAB is a challenging test in that it is adaptive. This means that the questions change according to whether the candidate correctly answered the previous question. If they got it right, the following question will be more challenging. If they didn't, the next question will be more straightforward.

The adaptive nature of the CAT-ASVAB allows candidates to perform to the best of their ability in each of the individual tests. The higher a candidate's score in the ASVAB, the broader the number of career options available.

There are many questions and a specific time limit in each of the CAT-ASVAB individual tests. The number of questions and the time allowed to complete each of the individual tests varies. Once a candidate has completed the questions, the test will automatically move on to the next test type until the nine subtests are completed. In general, most candidates complete the 135 CAT-ASVAB questions in 90 minutes.

Once a candidate has completed the test, they can leave the testing room whether or not other candidates have finished.

The Student ASVAB

The Student ASVAB is slightly different from the CAT-ASVAB and MET-site ASVAB in that it is used to help in a student's career choices and decisions.

This test is a paper-and-pencil test taken at the student's school or college. The results are then shared with the students' career advisers to help inform and guide them and their students in exploring what careers in the military they are most suited to.

There are eight individual subtests in the Student ASVAB (instead of the 10 in the CAT-ASVAB), and it takes approximately three hours to finish. The Student ASVAB is given to those who are considering a military career. Students will sit this test generally once or twice a year.

The MET-site ASVAB

The MET-site ASVAB is the paper-and-pencil version of the ASVAB. This version of the test is at the invitation of a military recruiter and is taken at a mobile examination test (MET) site.

There are eight individual subtests in the MET-site ASVAB. Each subtest has a set number of questions and its own allocated time duration.

This test differs from the CAT-ASVAB in that it is a paper-and-pencil version. Candidates sitting the test can also go back and change their original answer if they have time. Also, candidates must remain in the testing room until everyone has finished the test.

There are a total of 225 questions in this version of the ASVAB with a time limit of 149 minutes.

What to Expect on the ASVAB

The ASVAB is made up of individual subtests. Each of these tests has a defined number of questions to complete within a specified time.

The topics of each subtest are:

  • General science
  • Arithmetic reasoning
  • Word knowledge
  • Paragraph comprehension
  • Math knowledge
  • Electronics information
  • Auto and shop information
  • Mechanical comprehension
  • Assembling objects

General Science Test

The test assesses a candidate's knowledge of biological, life sciences and physical sciences.

Questions could be asked about the Earth and space, or anatomy and physiology, testing a candidate's general science knowledge. The questions are presented with multiple-choice answers.

This test has 15 questions in the CAT-ASVAB version with a 10-minute time limit. The paper-and-pencil version has 25 questions with an 11-minute time limit.

Example question:

H2O is more commonly known as?

a) Oxygen
b) Hydrogen dioxide
c) Water
d) Hydrochloric acid

Answer: c) Water

Arithmetic Reasoning Test

This test assesses a candidate's ability to use basic mathematical arithmetical knowledge to solve math-related problems.

Candidates need to use their practical understanding of calculating ratios and percentages of fractions to determine the correct answer from a list of multiple-choice answers.

The CAT-ASVAB has 15 questions to answer in 55 minutes. The paper-and-pencil version has 30 questions to answer in 35 minutes.

Example question:

If a 2-liter barrel has 500 ml of liquid in it, how full is the barrel?

a) 50% full
b) 25% full
c) 10% full
d) 40% full

Answer: b) 25%

Word Knowledge Test

The word knowledge ASVAB subtest assesses a candidate's vocabulary knowledge and understanding of the meaning of words.

Words are presented in a sentence, and candidates need to select a word from a multiple-choice list that the original word could be replaced with, i.e. which word has a similar meaning.

The CAT-ASVAB has 15 questions to complete in 9 minutes. The paper-and-pencil version has 35 questions in 11 minutes.

Example question:

The word 'remain' almost always means:

a) Stay
b) Repeat
c) Vacate
d) Withdraw

Answer: a) Stay

Paragraph Comprehension Test

This subtest assesses a candidate's ability to understand the information presented as a passage of text and answer questions on it. Questions can relate to drawing conclusions from the information or identifying a sequence or relationship.

There are 10 questions to complete in 27 minutes in the CAT-ASVAB and 15 questions in 13 minutes in the paper-and-pencil test.

Example question:

A lot of people say that baking is for fun. But many pastry chefs would argue that baking is a science. If you don't follow the recipe carefully, if you don't weigh out and assemble the ingredients precisely, and if you don't bake your cake at the right temperature, the result will not turn out correctly.

In the above paragraph, the word 'assemble' means:

a) Storing
b) Putting together
c) Measuring
d) Separating

Answer: b) Putting together

The Straight-Talking Guide to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Test
The Straight-Talking Guide to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Test

Math Knowledge Test

This test assesses a candidate's understanding of math-related principles and concepts such as algebra, equations, measurement or geometry.

In the CAT-ASVAB, there are 15 questions in 23 minutes. In the paper-and-pencil version, there are 25 questions in 24 minutes.

Example question:

The ratio 72:24 is the same as:

a) 2:1
b) 3:1
c) 4:1
d) 5:1

Answer: b) 3:1

Electronics Information Test

This test assesses a candidate's understanding of electronics such as circuits, currents, materials and devices.

There are 15 questions in 10 minutes in the CAT-ASVAB and 20 questions in 9 minutes in the paper-and-pencil version.

Example question:

Four amps equal how many milliamps?

a) 0.004
b) 40
c) 400
d) 4,000

Answer: d) 4,000

Auto and Shop Information Tests

The auto information and shop information tests are presented to candidates as individual tests. The scores from these tests are combined.

The tests assess a candidate's understanding and knowledge of automotive processes, maintenance, and how a vehicle operates and functions. Questions can be asked on repairs, construction or components.

There are 10 questions each in the auto and shop information CAT-ASVAB with 7 minutes and 6 minutes to complete these tests, respectively. The paper-and-pencil version has 25 questions to finish in 11 minutes – note this test is a combined test.

Example question:

What is the function of an alternator in a car?

a) Turns electrical energy into mechanical energy
b) Purifies the car battery
c) Cleans chemical energy
d) Turns mechanical energy into electrical energy

Answer: d) Turns mechanical energy into electrical energy

Mechanical Comprehension Test

This tests a candidate's understanding of mechanical principles and concepts related to levers, pulleys, force and motion.

There are 15 questions to complete in the CAT-ASVAB in 22 minutes and 25 questions in 19 minutes in the paper-and-pencil test.

Example question:

What is 2 horsepower equivalent to?

a) 746 watts
b) 1,000 watts
c) 1,492 watts
d) 2,845 watts

Answer: c) 1,492 watts

Assembling Objects Test

The final subtest in the ASVAB focuses on a candidate's spatial awareness and ability to assemble objects from their parts.

Questions are presented in the form of pieces of shapes. Candidates must work out how the pieces fit together and then select the correct multiple-choice answer.

There are 15 questions to complete in 17 minutes in the CAT-ASVAB and 25 questions in 15 minutes in the paper-and-pencil version.

Example question:

Which shape is made from the pieces below?

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)

The answer is: a)

ASVAB Scoring

While the ASVAB is made up of a series of individual subtests, the results from each test are combined to give an overall score.

In the CAT-ASVAB, the number of questions answered correctly and the difficulty of each question are also taken into account when determining the overall score.

The ASVAB score is then split into two different scores:

  • AFQT score – Combined score from the verbal and math subtests
  • Overall ASVAB score

Candidates need to attain a minimum AFQT score of 31 to enlist in the army, although it is worth noting that the airforce, marines and coastguard have higher minimum AFQT score requirements.

In addition to a candidate's AFQT score, line scores are also calculated for candidates. Line scores are calculated from the specialist subtests of the ASVAB.

These line scores determine which parts of the military a candidate is best suited to. Each part of the military has a different minimum requirement for a line score. In general, the higher your ASVAB score, the more options for roles in the military.

How to Prepare for the ASVAB

The ASVAB is a comprehensive test battery that consists of several different subtests, each assessing a specific aptitude or area of knowledge.

Candidates need to ensure that they start preparing for their ASVAB test in enough time to cover each test subject, then refresh their memory of new information.

Ways in which a candidate can ensure that they fully prepare for the ASVAB in plenty of time include:

  • Creating a realistic study plan – Factor in study time as well as your job and hobbies. This will ensure that you leave yourself plenty of time to cover all of the subject topics in the ASVAB test.

  • Reviewing sample questions – This will prepare you for the level of difficulty that the questions are set at.

  • Taking practice tests – This will help you to familiarize yourself with the format and style of questioning. Becoming familiar with how the questions are worded will save you time in the test itself. You want to spend your time in the actual test answering the questions and not figuring out what the question is asking.

  • Assessing your strengths and weaknesses – Do this for each of the subtest topics. If you find some areas of your knowledge aren't as strong as others, you can revise basic knowledge in the assessed topics. Always make sure you go back and practice examples in the tests to ensure that you can put your knowledge into practice.

Top Tips for Passing the ASVAB

The ASVAB test is challenging, but there are things that candidates can do to help them perform at their best:

  • Monitor how much time you spend on each question and be aware of the allocated time for each subtest, especially when sitting the CAT-ASVAB.

  • Make sure you are well-rested before taking the test. This means getting a good night's sleep, eating a nutritious breakfast and keeping yourself hydrated so you can perform at your best.

  • Keep calm and don't panic if you feel one part of the test didn't go as well as you would have liked. Use calming techniques such as deep breathing to keep your nerves in check.

  • Read the instructions carefully and make sure you understand them before starting the test.

  • If taking the CAT-ASVAB, make sure you read the keyboard instructions carefully to know which keys to use for answering the questions.

  • When taking the CAT-ASVAB, remember marks can only be given for correct answers; wrong answers are not penalized. Rather than leaving a blank if you aren't sure of an answer, mark your best guess, then move on.

  • If sitting the paper-and-pencil version of the ASVAB, don't spend too long on one question. If you haven't answered the question after up to two minutes, move on to the next question or mark your best guess, then move on. You can always come back to the question once you have completed the test.

Final Thoughts

The ASVAB is the key to opening the door to a career in the US military. The test is a challenging one that assesses a candidate's ability and knowledge in various areas, all of which are relevant to a successful career in the military.

Being aware of what each subtest assesses and thoroughly preparing for the ASVAB will mean that you approach the test in a positive frame of mind and perform at your best.