The Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB for short, is the standardized entrance exam used by all 5 branches of the United States of America. Each branch uses the ASVAB to set minimum standards for their branch of service and to assign new recruits a career classification based on their scores on the ASVAB.
Taking the ASVAB seriously is extremely important. The ASVAB is designed to place you in the best possible job which matches your intellectual and cognitive abilities. Your score not only determines which branches of the Armed Services you are eligible to serve in, but it also lays the foundation for your entire military career.
How Did the ASVAB Become the Standard?
In the early twentieth century, the military branches came to the realization that there needed to be a way to differentiate the roles of different soldiers as wars and peace-time responsibilities changed over time and became more complex and focused.
Originally every branch of the military utilized its own process to test and classify new recruits. This was done with great success through the World War II era, but by 1950 the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) was introduced as the new standard for all branches of service to use in career placement for recruits.
In the late 1960s, the Department of Defense completed its research and development of the first version of the ASVAB. It was originally designed to be utilized as a part of the Student Testing Program with a goal to assist high school students as a career assessment and qualification program.
Shortly after introducing the ASVAB to high school students, it was realized that it could also serve as a recruitment tool, and the ASVAB was tailored to that purpose. By 1976 the ASVAB replaced the AFQT as the norm, however, the AFQT was kept and became one of the scorable sections of the ASVAB.
The ASVAB version used in high schools is a bit different from the version used by recruits taking it after high school. The version offered in high school is now referred to as the ASVAB Career Exploration Program or ASVAB-CEP.
With all five of the branches of service using the ASVAB as their primary career assessment tool, there was a need to tweak the test a couple of times over the years, primarily due to technological advancements. The armed services refer to their career paths as a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). The MOS is standard throughout all five branches.
The only real difference between the five service branches is the minimum score requirements required to be eligible for service by the recruit in that particular branch. The lowest scores are accepted by the Army and Marines, then the Navy, the Air Force, and finally the Coast Guard requiring the highest score.
Changes in the ASVAB along the way include offering a computer-based version of the test, which has since evolved further into an internet-based offering. However, the Department of Defense prefers to have recruits test in person with exam proctors to ensure the validity of the test results and exam takers. The Paper and Pencil (P&P ASVAB) version is still the most popular, but it will soon be overtaken by the Computer Adaptive Test (CAT ASVAB) as computers in high schools become more readily available.
How Specific is the ASVAB?
Because of the nature and origins of the ASVAB in the Student Testing Program, the ASVAB gets very specific on actual jobs and careers resulting from the test. It covers a broad spectrum of possible career choices and uses algorithms to make sure you are matched with careers that match your scores and abilities.
The ASVAB results in the Career Exploration Program include over 1,000 occupations and these range from childcare provider and custodian to engineers and doctors. Remember, the entire point of the ASVAB is to match your answers on the test to these occupational parameters, so taking it seriously will give you the best result and set you on the right footing.
Outside of the high school-based Career Exploration Program, the ASVAB continues to offer numerous career opportunities for each individual branch of service. The Military Occupational Specialty for the Army, for example, has over 180 specialties for enlisted soldiers.
How do I Study for the ASVAB?
Studying for the ASVAB is much like studying for other standardized tests. However, there are certain parts of the ASVAB, such as the Mechanical Comprehension Portion, that are designed to test your natural abilities and are areas of content that may be hard to improve simply by studying.
Most of the areas on the test are geared toward basic areas of knowledge, such as math and science, so these are areas that can be improved on with studying and research. The higher the overall score you have in the ASVAB, the more options you have for Military Occupational Specialty.
There are other methods you can use to improve scores in certain areas. You can take the ASVAB multiple times with some time-related restrictions, and by utilizing your scores to find weaknesses can help to greatly improve your scores in the future.
Practice tests are available online, and there are even tutoring and classes geared just for the ASVAB available as well. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the original intent of the ASVAB is to find careers that align with your already existing abilities and talents. Studying to try and score specifically for certain career results defeats the purpose of the ASVAB.
Most recommendations are for the test takers to answer honestly and let the ASVAB do its part in steering the career results. Test takers may be surprised to find out they may be perfectly suited for a career they have never considered before. The armed services will factor in the requests of the recruits as far as career placement, but the priority is to fill the needs of the services first over the preferences of the recruits.
What to Expect on the ASVAB
As mentioned earlier, the ASVAB test is administered by proctors-whether teachers at school of you are taking the Career Exploration Program ASVAB, or by military personnel at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) or Military Entrance Test (MET) site. There are very rare occasions where the test may be administered online in more remote locations or under certain other criteria.
The paper version and the computer version are slightly different; however, the results are so similar there is basically no difference in the tests other than the testing delivery. The questions are all multiple choice and you will not be penalized for wrong answers, so guessing is acceptable if you are unsure.
The test can take several hours so be sure to dress comfortably. There is no effect on your score for your appearance, so dress casually and comfortably. Cell phones are not permitted in the testing area. Remember how serious the exam is and come well rested and ready to succeed!
The paper version is scored at a later date and the test taker is sent the scores with all of the interpretive data necessary to understand their results. The computer version is scored instantly, and the test taker will have the results right away.
Here are more study tips for the ASVAB: https://civilservicehq.com/how-long-to-study-for-asvab-the-study-schedule-that-works/
How is the Exam Scored?
Depending on the type of exam you take, the scoring can vary slightly. The ASVAP-CEP is much more exhaustive as it is geared to high school test-takers who are probably genuinely taking it as part of exploring possible careers and occupations after high school.
For the CEP results, the scores are based on 12th-grade-level learning. Your results are returned in percentile rankings. Simply put, this tells you how you stack up in score to other test takers. A score of 80 means you tested better than 80 percent of test-takers. Currently, the scores are broken down by gender and overall test-takers.
The score breakdown for the CEP program can really give you a glimpse into how you stand when you are ready to enter the career field. The percentile rankings combined with areas of interest and areas of recommendation can work wonders for someone who is really searching for a successful career path.
As far as those taking it after high school, or for those in high school who are already planning on entering the armed services, the score to watch is the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score. The AFQT pulls from specific subtests within the ASVAB to return a score used by all military branches as their entrance exam and the results of this scoring factor in directly to your soon to be assigned Military Occupational Specialty, or military career assignment.
The AFQT Sets the Career Standard
The AFQT score is what makes the ASVAB so important, especially if military service is the career path you are looking at. Each of the five branches requires a minimum score for entrance in the branch. The higher the AFQT score, the more options you have down the road.
The AFQT score is on a scale from 1 to 100 and is a percentile score with 50 being average. None of the service branches have minimums as high as 50 for acceptance. The lowest branch minimums are the Marines and the Army with a minimum score of 31. Next is the Navy with a minimum score of 35, and then the Air Force with a minimum score of 36. The Coast Guard has the highest minimum score requirement which is 45 points.
This is another example of where the importance of the ASVAB score comes into play. Many recruits have a specific branch in mind when they enlist in the service. However, if they can not meet minimum scores then they will not be able to serve in that branch. Approaching the ASVAB with a serious mindset is imperative to reaching your goals in the armed services.
What if I go to College?
College programs for military bound students do not put the same weight on the ASVAB scores. Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programs at colleges and universities often negate the results of the ASVAB as the students are likely to use their degree in their military career field.
ROTC classes and lectures prepare college students in a way that enlisted recruits relying on the ASVAB for placement are not privy to. However, taking the ASVAB before beginning their service commitment is still a technicality and as a college student entering the military, you will still need to take the ASVAB.
Can you fail the ASVAB?
Yes and no. In the Career Exploration Program, if you are not entering the armed services, there is no failing. You are simply measured up against other test takers and then offered a list of careers that are suited for you based on your test results. The AFQT score, while listed in the results, does not carry the weight it does with those choosing to enter the military.
However, if you are planning on entering the armed services you can fail the AFQT portion of the test and not be eligible for enlistment. Many high school students who choose to enter the military will rely on the Career Exploration Program ASVAB AFQT score for their military entrance. If it does not meet the minimums mentioned earlier, they will have failed to meet the requirements.
Likewise, those testing after high school taking the ASVAB through the recruiter’s office must also meet the minimum scores to be eligible for recruitment. A score below the bare minimum of 31 will result in the failure of their attempt at the ASVAB.
When can I take the ASVAB again after failing?
If you fail an attempt at the ASVAB, or if you simply want to try for a better score, you can take it again after waiting a month. If you fail or wish to test again, you must wait one more month. If you again fail or wish to test again to increase your score, you need to wait 6 more months before taking it any more subsequent times
Two things to remember. Your ASVAB score is good for two years from your testing date. Second, only your most recent test is considered in the process. So, if you are trying to raise your score and actually score lower on your next test, you will be in a worse spot than when you started.
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.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
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