The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a multi-part test given by the U.S. Department of Defense. Your ASVAB score is used to determine whether you are eligible to join the U.S. military and a high score can increase your chances of getting into your desired specialty. But even if you haven't decided on a military career, taking the ASVAB is a good way to measure your potential - how well you might do in certain careers. Most people take the ASVAB for one of two reasons: to qualify for enlistment or to explore career options before the end of high school. Your purpose for taking the test, and where you are tested, will determine which version of the ASVAB you will be given and how the results will be interpreted. The ASVAB is not a pass-or-fail test. Instead, several composite scores are computed from your test results through the application of mathematical formulas.
What's on the test?
The ASVAB measures your verbal ability, math ability, science ability, and technical skills. There are 200 questions on the exam, which are divided into the following eight individual subtests:
- General Science. A 25-item test measuring knowledge of life science, earth and space science, and physical science.
- Arithmetic Reasoning. A 30-item test measuring ability to solve basic arithmetic word problems.
- Word Knowledge. A 35-item test measuring ability to understand the meaning of words through synonyms.
- Paragraph Comprehension. A 15-item test measuring ability to obtain information from written material.
- Auto and Shop Information. A 25-item test measuring knowledge of automotive maintenance and repair, and wood and metal shop practices.
- Mathematics Knowledge. A 25-item test measuring knowledge of mathematical concepts and applications.
- Mechanical Comprehension. A 25-item test measuring knowledge of the principles of mechanical devices, structural support, and properties of materials.
- Electronics Information. A 20-item test measuring knowledge of electrical current, circuits, devices, and electronic systems.
ASVAB for enlistment
If you wish to enlist and you're 18 years old (or 17 with parental permission), you should contact your local military recruiter about taking the ASVAB. The recruiter will arrange computer-based ASVAB testing at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) or testing at a Mobile Examining Team (MET) site. The test generally takes less than two hours to complete.
Your scores on four critical areas - Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Mathematics Knowledge - are used to compute a percentile score, called the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) Score. The AFQT Score determines whether you're qualified to enlist in the U.S. military. The minimum score is different for each branch. Your recruiter can tell you what the minimum requirement is for your branch.
ASVAB for students exploring career options or thinking about enlisting
Many high school students have an opportunity to take the test as part of the ASVAB Career Exploration Program (CEP). If the CEP is not offered at your school, you may contact Headquarters, U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command at 1-847-688-3680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be referred to an appropriate Education Services Specialist. The ASVAB and other CEP tools allow students to learn more about themselves and the world of work so they can make informed career decisions. Juniors and seniors may also take the ASVAB to determine eligibility for enlistment. If you take the test as a sophomore, you may retest as a junior or senior and use that score for enlistment for up to two years after taking the test. Talk to your guidance counselor or career counselor for details about testing at your school.
If you are testing through the CEP, three composite scores - verbal, math, and science/technical - are provided to help you explore career options. The ASVAB given to high school students is a pencil-and-paper version with timed subtests. It takes about three and one-half hours to complete, including administration time.
There is no cost for taking the ASVAB.
Preparing for the ASVAB
Getting a qualifying AFQT score should be no problem if you received good grades in high school. But if you need to brush up on math and verbal skills, or if testing situations make you anxious, you may want to spend some time studying. Here are some ways to prepare for the ASVAB:
- Take a practice test. It will help you determine how much preparation you need and on which areas to concentrate. Your recruiter can provide access to a screening test that provides an estimate of your AFQT score. You might also check out the sample questions at the DoD-sponsored ASVAB Program website. Keep in mind that the sample questions are for practice only, so don't try to memorize them.
- Use published study guides. The DoD does not sanction any specific study materials or programs, but books and online resources are available to help you. Your high school textbooks are also good study materials.
- Consider taking a course. When you've identified areas to review, you might want to explore opportunities to take a review course. Most states offer such courses through their employment offices.
- Be well rested when you take the test. Being alert and psyched up is the best way to approach any test. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the test location so you're relaxed when you begin the test.
ASVAB scores are valid for enlistment up to two years after the test. Ideally, you will test well the first time around. But if your score is disappointing, you may want to try again. For enlistment purposes, you are allowed to retest after a one-month waiting period. After the second test, you may retest once more a month later. After the third test, you must wait six months before taking the test again.
Keep in mind that your score of record (the one that counts for enlistment consideration) is the most recent test score. If you take the ASVAB twice, for example, you can't pick the high score for enlistment consideration.
The ASVAB is key to your enlistment, but it's not the final word on your military career. Depending on your branch, as a service member you may be able to retest at a later time to change occupational specialties.