2022 / 2023 ASVAB For Dummies
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Uncle Sam wants you! But first, you have to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). This battery of tests covers ten subjects, and you have to earn a passing score before you can join any branch of the military.

Soldiers in formation saluting ©Bumble Dee / Shutterstock

The catch is that you can only take the ASVAB if your high school offers it or a military recruiter arranges an appointment at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) or another testing location. Usually, high schools arrange for large groups of juniors and seniors to take the test all at one time — but if yours didn’t, you missed school that day, or high school is a distant memory for you, your only other option is to sit down with an Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Space Force, or Army recruiter and schedule the test.

Your ASVAB scores are only valid for up to two years. If you took the test in high school more than two years ago, you have to retake it at your nearest MEPS before you can enlist.

How you take the ASVAB test

The ASVAB isn’t a one-size-fits-all test; it comes in a few varieties. High-schoolers typically take the paper-and-pencil (P&P) version, which requires you to open a test booklet and fill in answer bubbles on a separate sheet of paper; people who take the test at a Military Entrance Test (MET) site do this, too. (MET sites are located in remote areas that aren’t within a reasonable drive of a MEPS.)

But most people take the computer adaptive test (CAT-ASVAB), which all takes place on a computer. You select an answer choice and move on to the next question, moving through the subtests until you’re finished or run out of time.

It’s nearly impossible to cheat on the ASVAB (and you wouldn’t want to, anyway — when you get busted, you won’t be allowed to enlist). Your test-taking neighbors are all answering different questions than you are. When test proctors hand out P&P test booklets, they hand out several different versions, and the CAT-ASVAB adapts itself to your skill level.

What does the ASVAB cover?

The ASVAB tests your knowledge in ten topic areas through the following subtests:
  1. General Science tests your high school science knowledge, touching on biology, chemistry, and physical sciences.
  2. Arithmetic Reasoning takes a snapshot of your ability to solve mathematical word problems at a high-school level.
  3. Word Knowledge asks you to find the correct meanings of words to gauge your English vocabulary.
  4. Paragraph Comprehension presents you with reading passages, and it’s your job to answer questions and draw conclusions about them.
  5. Mathematics Knowledge tests your ability to solve algebra and geometry problems.
  6. Electronics Information features questions about circuitry, electrical principles, and electronic terminology.
  7. Auto Information asks questions about (you guessed it) automobiles and how they work.
  8. Shop Information checks your knowledge of tools, shop terminology, and best practices when it comes to building and making repairs with a wide range of materials.
  9. Mechanical Comprehension opens the door to your knowledge of mechanical (as in levers and pulleys) and physics principles.
  10. Assembling Objects requires you to connect the dots (literally) to show off your spatial reasoning skills and demonstrate how well you can fit together puzzle-like pieces.
The Auto Information and Shop Information subtests are combined and called Auto and Shop (AS) on the paper-and-pencil version of the test; on the CAT-ASVAB, it’s presented on its own.

How long is the ASVAB test?

The P&P version of the tests presents questions of easy, medium, and hard difficulty in random order, but the CAT-ASVAB tailors itself to your ability. It starts by asking you a question of medium difficulty; if you get it right, it asks you a harder question. If you get it wrong, it asks you an easier question.

The following tables break down how many questions you need to answer (and how quickly you have to tackle them) in each subtest.

CAT-ASVAB Subtest Number of Questions Time to Complete
General Science 15 10 minutes
Arithmetic Reasoning 15 55 minutes
Word Knowledge 15 9 minutes
Paragraph Comprehension 10 27 minutes
Mathematics Knowledge 15 23 minutes
Electronics Information 15 10 minutes
Auto Information 10 7 minutes
Shop Information 10 6 minutes
Mechanical Comprehension 15 22 minutes
Assembling Objects 15 17 minutes
Total 135 questions 173 minutes
P&P Subtest Number of Questions Time to Complete
General Science 25 11 minutes
Arithmetic Reasoning 30 36 minutes
Word Knowledge 35 11 minutes
Paragraph Comprehension 15 13 minutes
Mathematics Knowledge 25 24 minutes
Electronics Information 20 9 minutes
Auto and Shop Information 25 11 minutes
Mechanical Comprehension 25 19 minutes
Assembling Objects 25 15 minutes
Total 225 questions 149 minutes

If you took the ASVAB through an Army recruiter and later discover that the Air Force (or any other branch) is a better choice, it’s no problem — your scores are portable. Every branch takes the same test, and the military-at-large breaks down your scores for each branch when it grades your performance. You can join any branch you want, as long as you qualify, after taking the ASVAB once.

What is the AFQT score?

Your scores on Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Mathematics Knowledge blend together to make up your Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score. Every branch has a minimum AFQT score it’s willing to accept — and if you don’t make the grade, you don’t qualify for enlistment. Each branch also uses individual subtest scores and combinations of those scores to determine which military jobs you qualify for.

If you take the CAT-ASVAB, the computer automatically (and immediately) tallies your score. If you take the P&P version, your test proctor will arrange for scoring and you’ll find out how well you did within several days. Your recruiter will tell you which jobs are open to you based on your scores.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Rod Powers, a recognized expert in all U.S. military matters, is the author of ASVAB For Dummies and serves as a military guide for About.com.

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