10 Ways to Boost Your Math and English Skills for the ASVAB

By Rod Powers

The ASVAB includes two math and two English subtests: Mathematics Knowledge, Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, and Paragraph Comprehension. These four subtests are probably the most important subtests of the ASVAB, because they comprise your AFQT score, which is the score that determines whether you qualify to join the branch of your choice.

Practice doing math problems

The best way to get a firm grasp of certain types of math is by doing math problems and not simply reading them. Take advantage of the practice math questions in this book, and visit the public library to see what kind of high school math textbooks it has to lend. The more you do math, the better you’ll get at it.

Put away your calculator

You’re not allowed to use a calculator when you take the ASVAB, so the time to get used to solving basic math problems without one is now, not during the test. You may have been taught to rely on a calculator for high school math, but you have to leave your calculator at home when you take the ASVAB. Practice working out problems by hand, and make sure you know your multiplication tables and other basic calculations. The ASVAB math questions are written by people who know how to compute 2 + 2 in their heads.

Memorize the order of operations

Mathematical equations with multiple steps must be solved in a specific order. Otherwise, you won’t get the correct answer. Memorize the order in which you do certain calculations when you’re solving equations, and practice applying these rules well before test day.

When solving an equation involves multiple steps, the correct order of operations is

  1. Whatever’s within parentheses (and other grouping symbols). If you have multiple parentheses nested inside each other, do the innermost set first. On the ASVAB, the other grouping symbols you run across are the fraction bar and the square root sign. Do what’s beneath the square root bar before taking the root. Do any operation above the fraction bar and any operation below the fraction bar before dividing.
  2. Exponents
  3. Multiplication and division. Operate from left to right.
  4. Addition and subtraction. Again, work from left to right.

You can remember order of operations as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” or PEMDAS.

Know your geometry formulas

You encounter some math questions that require you to calculate area, perimeter, and volume on the ASVAB. Memorize the following area formulas:

  • Area of a rectangle: For any rectangle, Area = Length Width; lw
  • Area of a triangle: For triangles, Area = Base × Height (or altitude) divided by 2: A = 1/2bh
  • Area of a circle: For circles, area is π (approximately 3.14) times the radius squared: A = πr2

Know these perimeter and circumference formulas:

  • Perimeter of polygon (a shape with straight sides): Calculate the perimeter of any quadrilateral (four-sided figure) or triangle by adding the lengths of all the sides together.
  • Circumference of a circle: Find the circumference of a circle by multiplying times the diameter: C = πd.

And know these formulas for the volume of 3-D solids:

  • Volume of a box: Find the volume of a rectangular solid by multiplying Length Width Height: V = lwh.
  • Volume of a cylinder: Find the volume of a cylinder by multiplying the area of the circular base (π times the base’s radius squared) by the cylinder’s height: V = πr2h.

Keep a word list

The ASVAB writers expect you to have a good grasp of many vocabulary words. One way to improve your vocabulary is to keep a word list.

How does a word list work? As you read, write down the words that you don’t know. Quickly look them up in the dictionary. You can then apply your word list in your day-to-day life. Of course, you can’t remember every single word, but you can focus on mastering one new word every day and using it in conversation.

Don’t waste your time and choose little-known words, such as absquatulate (which means to leave hurriedly or secretly). You’re unlikely to see obscure words on the ASVAB.

Study Latin and Greek

You can skip the grammar and pronunciation, but you should get to know some of the roots, prefixes, and suffixes that English has borrowed from Latin and Greek. These word parts are the building blocks of much of the English language, and they can give you clues about what words mean.

If you see an unfamiliar word on the Word Knowledge section, try to figure out its root. For example, if you know the meaning of mercy, you can figure out the meaning of merciful. Remember that prefixes and suffixes can be added onto a root to change the word’s meaning or function. Here are some examples:

  • Changing meaning: The prefix a– usually means opposite, so the word atypical means the opposite of typical, not a typical thing.
  • Changing parts of speech: Establish is a verb meaning to make stable or to prove, whereas establishment (with a suffix) is a noun meaning a thing that has been established.

Use flashcards

Flashcards help you remember important facts through the process of spaced repetition. Learning psychologists agree that this is one of the most effective methods of memorizing new information. Plus, it’s cheap — all you need is a set of blank index cards and a pen to create your very own studying machine.

You can use flashcards to improve both your mental math and vocabulary — write down vocab words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes; practice matching square roots and square numbers; or just make sure you know your math formulas.

Read more, watch TV less

The best way to improve your reading comprehension is simple: Read more. If you spend four hours a day watching TV or surfing the web, you can instead use those four hours to read a novel or the newspaper or a book about car repair — whatever interests you the most. You’ll be surprised at how fast your reading speed and comprehension improve with just a little daily practice.

Practice finding main and supporting points

All writing should have a point. The main point is the thing that the writer wants you to take away from his or her words. Some passages include more than one point. Usually, such passages have one main point and one or more subpoints that support the main idea. As you’re reading passages on the ASVAB, you want to be able to easily identify the main point. You should practice identifying the points during your own reading sessions. Read each paragraph and then ask yourself what information the author is trying to convey to you.

Use a study guide

Use practice questions only to test your own knowledge of the subject. Don’t expect to see the same questions on the actual ASVAB. Those test-makin’ hooligans who write the actual ASVAB tests keep a close eye on commercial study guides, like this one, and try to avoid having the same questions.