What is the Hardest Part of the ASVAB? 

Though this will depend significantly on your strengths, most people claim the Mechanical Comprehension subtest as the hardest part to take on the ASVAB. 

Most people claim that the Mechanical Comprehension subtest is the most difficult part of the ASVAB. Many different subtests may be just as challenging to you personally. These include: 

  1. Mechanical Comprehension 
  2. Auto and Shop Information (combined on the pencil/paper exam) 
  3. Electronics Information  
  4. Assembling Objects  
  5. General Science  
  6. Math Knowledge  
  7. Arithmetic Reasoning      
  8. Word Knowledge 
  9. Paragraph Comprehension 

As you’re deciding where to focus your study efforts, the following information may give you an idea of the difficulty level of each subtest.  

The ASVAB is one of those exams that opens many doors in each military branch. I remember sitting for this exam and thinking that though it was challenging, it offered a lot of opportunities. Depending on what branch of the military you are considering and what job you want within that branch, it will determine your focus (and which subtests you find the most challenging).  Read on to get an idea of what each subtest is all about. 

General Overview 

If you haven’t already realized, there are two different versions of the ASVAB  administered: the CAT-ASVAB is on the computer or the paper/pencil version. There may be fewer test items on the CAT-ASVAB due to it being self-leveling. This means your next question will be based on whether you successfully answered the previous question correctly.  The computer will give you less or more challenging problems based on your ability level. 

The paper version has the same questions for all those testing. 

As indicated on the official ASVAB testing site, this exam wants to know your abilities in four different domains: 

  1. Science and Technical 
  2. Math 
  3. Verbal 
  4. Spatial 

Each subtest fits into one of these domains. Decide which area you may struggle with the most and brush up on those areas first. Remember, each of these areas could be the most difficult for you personally if you don’t have the background knowledge to take that subtest. 

Domain: Science and Technical  

What is the Hardest Part of the ASVAB? 

The Science and Technical domain of the ASVAB is the largest portion of the test covering five different subtests. The following will give a brief overview of what each subtest will include. 

General Science 

General science will cover sciences learned in high school or beyond. The CAT-ASVAB will give you 16 questions to answer in 8 minutes. The paper/pencil exam will provide you with 25 questions to answer in 11 minutes. This subtest will not count towards your Armed Forces Qualification Test, it tests your ability for other jobs within the military. 

The types of sciences you will see in this section are: 

  1. Life Sciences 
  2. Astronomy and Physics 
  3. Biology 
  4. Chemistry 
  5. Geology 

If the sciences are an area you’re considering while in the military, this is the subtest for you! 

Mechanical Comprehension 

On the paper ASVAB, the Mechanical Comprehension subtest has 25 questions you need to answer in 19 minutes. The CAT-ASVAB has 20 questions you answer in 16 minutes. Remember, the computer test is self-leveling, hence fewer questions to reach your score. 

This subtest tests your knowledge of mechanical and physical principles related to how mechanisms function together in machines. 

There are different items covered in this subtest you may run across. Since most people find this subtest the most difficult, I included more information: 


How do gravity, elevation, and different equipment make an object move? Brush up on fundamental physics and how gears, pulley systems, and the mechanical parts of a machine work together to overcome friction and gravity. 


What mechanical structure will offer the most advantage for a given situation, and how does it work? Think in terms of properties and structural supports meant for specific conditions.  

Physics of Fluid Movement 

This includes the structure and nature of water and air. Think about how tanks fill and empty, air and atmospheric pressure are exerted or released, and how both are used with mechanical devices. 

Auto and Shop Information 

On the CAT-ASVAB, they split up the Auto subtest and Shop subtest, but on the paper/pencil, it is all one section. 

Your time limit for the Shop section on the computer would be 6 minutes to answer 11 shop related questions. In the Auto section, you have 7 minutes to answer 11 questions. The paper/pencil version gives you 25 items you have to answer in 11 minutes. 

This section tests your knowledge of the following: 

  1. How an engine works 
  2. The parts of an automobile and how they work together 
  3. Auto shop tools and procedures 
  4. How to fix different components of an automobile 

Electronics Information 

What is the Hardest Part of the ASVAB? 

For the CAT-ASVAB, you have 8 minutes to answer 16 questions. On the paper/pencil, you have 9 minutes to answer 20 questions.

This subtest deals with everything electrically related, including: 

  1. Electrical terms: Ohm’s law, symbology, volts, amps, circuits, and more 
  2. How electricity works within its structures: circuits, transistors, transformers, and resistance 
  3. Devices using electricity 

Domain: Verbal 

This domain will test your English language ability and your ability to obtain information from what you read. There are only two subtests. 

Word Knowledge 

I’ve heard this subtest can be considered the one to be the most successful overall. It does count towards the Armed Forces Qualification Test and plays a role in qualifying for numerous military jobs. 

The CAT-ASVAB will give you 8 minutes to answer vocabulary related and spelling questions in 16 minutes. The paper/pencil test gives you 11 minutes to answer 35 questions. 

Some of the items will cover: 

  1. Definitions 
  2. Affixes 
  3. Usage 

This section would be a good one to buckle down and thoroughly study, especially if you haven’t had an English class for a while.  

Check out this guide to learn more about the word knowledge component of the ASVAB: https://civilservicehq.com/the-definitive-guide-to-asvab-word-knowledge/

Paragraph Comprehension 

This subtest assesses your ability to read a passage and glean information to answer questions.  

You will have 11 minutes to answer 22 questions on the CAT-ASVAB and 15 questions in 13 minutes on the paper/pencil version. 

Some of the areas of focus will be on: 

  1. Context Clues-determining meaning within a text without it being explicitly told to you 
  2. Key Ideas and Details-be able to determine the key ideas of the passage and why they’re important 
  3. Inference-use context clues to state what the author is trying to say in the article or passage 
  4. Author’s Purpose-why did the author write this passage? 

Domain: Math 

There are also two different subtests for the math domain. As with the verbal domain, math will also be a part of the Armed Forces Qualification Test. There will be many types of math, all questions you could find in a high school classroom. So, brush up on all those math skills you may not have used for a while! 

Math Knowledge 

This subtest assesses your knowledge of high school math concepts. You will be given 24 minutes to answer 25 questions on the paper/pencil version and 20 minutes to answer 16 questions on the CAT-ASVAB. 

Some of the items you’ll be assessed on include: 

 Order of operations 

  1. Fractions 
  2. Algebra 
  3. Geometry 
  4. Percentages 
  5. Math Vocabulary 

Arithmetic Reasoning 

Arithmetic reasoning is the part where you solve math word problems. You’re not able to use a calculator on the ASVAB, so review doing many of these problems long-hand while you’re studying. The CAT-ASVAB will give you 39 minutes to answer 16 questions, and the paper/pencil allows 36 minutes for 30 questions. Pace yourself accordingly. 

How this will look: 

  1. You’ll have a word problem formatted in a paragraph and have to use either division, multiplication, subtraction, or addition to answer the question. 
  2. Review keywords used in math to break down the math story problem. 
  3. Use reasoning skills when stumped. 

Domain: Spatial 

There is only one subtest in this domain. Spatial reasoning means you can look at an object three-dimensionally and determine the function and draw conclusions based on how its constructed. 

Assembling Objects 

What is the Hardest Part of the ASVAB? 

The Navy is the only branch of the Armed Forces that uses this subtest to qualify for jobs. So keep that in find when you’re divvying out study time. If it is essential for a job you’re interested in, by all means, focus more energy in this area.  

You’ll have 15 minutes to answer 16 problems on the CAT-ASVAB and 16 minutes to solve 25 questions on the paper/pencil version. 

The two significant areas tested are: 

  1. Your ability to solve puzzles 
  2. Your ability to make connections (e.g., connecting lines) mentally then transferring them to paper.  

Hopefully, the above information will help determine which areas you’ll need to focus your study efforts. Remember to look for excellent websites like ASVAB tutor and hard-copy study guides to help you achieve success on this exam! 

Related Questions

What subtests on the ASVAB will be on the ASQT?  

The only subtests that will count towards your ASQT are Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Math Knowledge.  

Can I retake the ASVAB if I score low? 

According to the official ASVAB website, you can take the test one month after the initial test. You can do that one more time before having to wait six months between testing sessions. 

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To learn more on how to pass the ASVAB exam click here!

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.