2021 / 2022 ASVAB For Dummies
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Many versions of the ASVAB exist, but you don’t have a say in which one you take. The versions primarily boil down to two basic differences: the computerized version and the paper version. Each version has advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re taking the ASVAB as part of the student program in high school, you’ll take the paper version of the test—the one that doesn’t include the Assembling Objects subtest.

If you’re taking the ASVAB to enlist in the military, you’ll take the enlistment ASVAB. This version comes in two formats: computerized (CAT-ASVAB) and paper-and-pencil (P&P).

You may even take the "Pre-screening, online Computerized Adaptive Test" (PiCAT) on your own time.

In any event, there’s a great chance that you’ll take a computerized version, because to save time and money, recruiters often accompany their applicants to the nearest Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) for testing, medical examination, and enlistment (one-stop shopping).

MEPS only uses the computerized version, and the P&P version is offered only at Military Entrance Test (MET) sites that aren’t within an easy traveling distance to MEPS. If your high school schedules a testing event, you’ll most likely take the P&P version as well.

Your recruiter might be able to schedule an ASVAB-only test session and bring you back in for a follow-up physical (and to sign your contract) if you can’t complete everything in one day. There are 65 MEPS locations in the United States and Puerto Rico, and MET sites are located in each state (often at National Guard armories or local high schools).

Cheating gets you thrown out of the testing location. But even if you were able to get away with looking at your neighbor’s paper or computer screen, you’d fail the test. There are several versions of the test, and the people sitting around you have different questions presented in different orders.

Going paperless: The pros and cons of the computerized test

The computerized version of the ASVAB uses computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to make sure each applicant gets questions tailored to his or her ability level. This version, called the CAT-ASVAB, presents test questions in a different format. It adapts the questions it offers you based on your level of proficiency (that’s why it’s called adaptive).

In a CAT test, the first test item is of average difficulty. If you answer this question correctly, the next question may be more difficult. If you answer that first question incorrectly, the computer will most likely follow with an easier question. By contrast, on the paper ASVAB, easy and hard questions are presented randomly.

The CAT-ASVAB also has fewer questions than the paper-and-pencil version has — the people who designed it did that on purpose. With this type of testing, the computer can quickly determine how much you know without asking you a full range of very easy to very hard questions.

Maybe it’s because people today are more comfortable in front of a computer than with a pencil, but military recruiters have noted that among applicants who’ve taken both the paper-based and computerized versions of the ASVAB, many applicants tend to score slightly higher on the computerized version of the test.

You don’t have to be a computer guru to appreciate the advantages of the computerized version of the ASVAB:

  • It’s impossible to record your answer in the wrong space on the answer sheet. Questions and possible answers are presented on the screen, and you press the key that corresponds to your answer choice before moving on to the next question. Often, only the A, B, C, and D keys are activated when you take the test.
  • The difficulty of the test items presented depends on whether you answered the previous question correctly. On the two math subtests of the ASVAB, harder questions are worth more points than easier questions are, so this method helps maximize your Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score.
  • You get your scores right away. The computer automatically calculates and prints your standard scores for each subtest and your line scores for each service branch. This machine is a pretty smart cookie — it also calculates your AFQT percentile score on the spot. You usually know whether you qualify for military enlistment on the same day you take the test and, if so, which jobs you qualify for.
On the downside, you can’t skip questions or change your answers after you enter them on the CAT-ASVAB. Instead of being able to go through and immediately answer all of the questions you’re sure of, you have to answer each question as it comes. This can make it difficult to judge how much time to spend on a tough question before guessing and moving on. Also, if you have a few minutes at the end of the test, you can’t go back and make sure you marked the correct answer to each question.

Finally, the CAT-ASVAB is the only version of the test that includes tryout questions, which can stretch out your total test-taking time. But on a positive note, the tryout questions don’t affect your score.

The PiCAT: The ASVAB’S stay-at-home cousin

The Pre-screening, internet-delivered Computer Adaptive Test, or PiCAT, is the military’s way of operating more efficiently and speeding up the enlistment process. It allows recruiters to give applicants a special access code to take a full-length, unproctored ASVAB on any computer.

After a recruit completes the PiCAT, and his or her scores are high enough to enlist in the military, the recruiter can take the recruit to MEPS for verification testing. Verification testing takes 25 to 30 minutes, and its purpose is simple: to make sure the recruit wasn’t at home looking up answers to ASVAB test questions.

When PiCAT scores are verified (meaning the recruit most likely didn’t cheat on the test), the recruit is good to go for enlistment. When the scores aren’t verified (meaning the recruit scored poorly on the verification test compared to how they scored on the PiCAT), the recruit must take a full-length ASVAB at MEPS. The resulting ASVAB score will be the score of record.

Not all recruiters use the PiCAT, and those who do may not use it for all applicants.

Writing on hard copy: The advantages and disadvantages of the paper version

The questions on the CAT-ASVAB are the same questions you get on the paper version. Some people feel that the paper-and-pencil ASVAB provides certain advantages:
  • You can skip questions that you don’t know the answer to and come back to them later. This option can help when you’re racing against the clock and want to get as many answers right as possible. You can change an answer on the subtest you’re currently working on, but you can’t change an answer on a subtest after the time for that subtest has expired.
  • You may not make any marks in the exam booklet; however, you may make notes on your scratch paper. If you skip a question, you can lightly circle the item number on your answer sheet to remind yourself to go back to it. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can mentally cross off the answers that seem unlikely or wrong to you and then guess based on the remaining answers. Be sure to erase any stray marks you make on your answer sheet before time is called for that subtest.
Killing trees isn’t the only disadvantage of the paper-based test. Other drawbacks include the following:
  • Harder questions are randomly intermingled with easier questions. This means you can find yourself spending too much time trying to figure out the answer to a question that’s too hard for you and may miss answering some easier questions at the end of the subtest, thereby lowering your overall score.
  • The paper answer sheets are scored by using an optical mark scanning machine. The machine has a conniption when it comes across an incompletely filled-in answer circle or a stray pencil mark and will often stubbornly refuse to give you credit, even if you answered correctly.
  • Getting your scores may seem like it takes forever. The timeline varies; however, your recruiter will have access to your score no later than 72 hours after you finish the test (not counting days the MEPS doesn’t work, such as weekend days or holidays).

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Angie Papple Johnston joined the U.S. Army in 2006 as a CBRN specialist. Currently, she's the CBRN noncommissioned officer-in-charge of an aviation battalion in Washington, D.C. Rod Powers served more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired as a first sergeant.

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