The ABCs of the ASVAB

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Academy
••• By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andrew Wiskow [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a series of tests developed by the Department of Defense in the 1960s. The battery has undergone changes over the years, but currently consists of nine individual timed subtests: Word Knowledge (WK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), General Science (GS), Auto & Shop Information (AS), Mechanical Comprehension (MC), Electronics Information (EI), and Assembling Objects (AO).

The military services use the ASVAB to determine your aptitude to complete military training and to determine which military jobs you may qualify for. High school guidance counselors use the ASVAB to help you decide which civilian occupations you may have an aptitude for.

The Army began general testing of draftees during World War I. In order to provide a means of classifying draftees, the Army developed the Army Alpha Test, which consisted of 212 multiple-choice and true/false questions on the following subjects: vocabulary, sentence structure, arithmetic problems, number series, general knowledge, and "common sense."

When it became apparent that many draftees could not read or write, and therefore could not be properly classified using the Army Alpha Test, the army developed the Army Beta Test, which minimized verbal knowledge and used only pictures and diagrams.

During World War II, the Army replaced the Alpha & Beta Tests with the Army General Classification Test. This test consisted of 150 questions on the following topics: vocabulary, arithmetic problems, and block counting. More than 9 million recruits took this test during World War II. Interestingly, the tests showed that only 63 percent could read/write above a third-grade level.

During this time, a completely separate aptitude test was being administered by the Navy (The Air Force was still part of the Army).

When Congress passed the Selective Service Act in 1948, they mandated that the Department of Defense develop a uniform screening test to be used by all of the services. In response, DOD developed the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). The test consisted of 100 multiple-choice questions in the following subjects: vocabulary, arithmetic, spatial relations, and mechanical ability. This test was given to recruits from 1950 to the mid-1970s. The separate tests were used to form a composite AFQT score, and each service was allowed to set their own minimum score standards.

In the 1960s, DOD decided to develop a standardized military selection & classification test and administer it throughout U.S. High schools. ASVAB tests were first used in high schools in 1968, but it wasn't used for military recruiting until a few years later. In 1973, the draft ended and the nation entered the contemporary period in which all military recruits are volunteers. Three years later, in 1976, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) was introduced as the official mental testing battery used by all services.

In December 2002, DOD removed two subtests from the ASVAB and included one new test. Removed were Numerical Operations (NO) and Coding Speed (CS). Added was a new test called " Assembling Objects."