Pros and Cons of the Computerized ASVAB (CAT-ASVAB)

By Rod Powers

Nobody really cares about the AFQT score except the military — and it cares a lot! If you’re interested in joining the military, you’re most likely to take the computerized version of the ASVAB. That’s because most of those taking the ASVAB for the purpose of joining the military take it at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), and all these places use the computerized test.

The computerized version of the ASVAB — called the CAT-ASVAB (CAT stands for Computerized Adaptive Testing) — has the same questions as the paper version. The CAT-ASVAB adapts the questions it offers you based on your level of proficiency. (That’s why it’s called adaptive.)

The first test item is of average difficulty. If you answer this question correctly, the next question is more difficult. If you answer the first question incorrectly, the computer gives you an easier question. (By contrast, on the pencil-and-paper ASVAB, hard and easy questions are presented randomly.) On the ASVAB, harder questions are worth more points than easier questions, so you want to get to them sooner.

Pros of taking the CAT-ASVAB

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

When you take the CAT-ASVAB, 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 score on the spot. With the computerized version, 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.

Cons of taking the CAT-ASVAB

Unlike the pencil-and-paper version, you can’t skip questions or change your answers after you enter them on the CAT-ASVAB. This restriction can make taking the test harder for some people. Instead of being able to go through and immediately answer all the questions you’re sure of and then come back to the questions that require you to do some head scratching, you have to answer each question as it comes.

Also, judging how much time to spend on a difficult question before guessing and moving on can be tough. Finally, if you have a few minutes at the end of the test, you can’t go back and check to make sure you marked the correct answer to each question.