Pros and Cons of the Pencil-and-Paper ASVAB Test

By Rod Powers

Most people take the pencil-and-paper version of the ASVAB under the Career Exploration Program, a cooperative program between the Department of Education and the Department of Defense at high schools all across the United States.

Although the results of this version can be used for military enlistment purposes (if taken within two years of enlistment), its primary purpose is to serve as a tool for high-school guidance counselors to use when recommending possible careers to high-school students.

You can also take the pencil-and-paper version for purposes of enlistment through a recruiter, but that’s not done very often these days. In unusual circumstances, when it’s impractical for an applicant to travel to a MEPS location, arrangements can be made to administer the pencil-and-paper version locally.

A final pencil-and-paper version of the ASVAB is the Armed Forces Classification Test (AFCT). This version of the ASVAB is used by folks already in the military who want to improve their ASVAB scores for the purposes of retraining into a different military job. Except for the name of the exam, the AFCT is exactly the same as the other versions of the ASVAB.

Pros of taking the paper-and-pencil test

The paper-based test allows you to skip questions that you don’t know the answer to and come back to them later. You can’t do so on the CAT-ASVAB.

This option can be a real 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 can mark up the exam booklet as much as you want. If you skip a question, you can circle the number of the question in your booklet to remind yourself to go back to it. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can cross off the answers that seem unlikely or wrong to you and then guess based on the remaining answers.

Cons of taking the paper-and-pencil test

On the pencil-and-paper version, harder questions are randomly intermingled with easier questions, so you may find yourself spending too much time trying to figure out the answer to a question that’s too hard for you, and you may miss answering some easier questions at the end of the subtest because you ran out of time. The result: Your overall score will be lower.

The paper answer sheets are scored by an optical scanning machine. The machine has a conniption when it comes across an incompletely filled-in answer circle or stray pencil marks and will often stubbornly refuse to give you credit for these questions, even if you answered correctly.