ASVAB Test Breakdown

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a set of multiple aptitude tests meant to judge the suitability of a candidate to take up a military profession in the US. The exam is the first step one has to take to recruit to any military service and hence it is imperative for any military aspirant. It is not a surprise then that more than one million applicants take the test each year!
If you want to take ASVAB, then you need to familiarize yourself with the exam pattern, the content areas covered, the formats of the exam, the conduct of the exam etc. This initial warm up shall make you better informed about the test and consequently more focused in your preparation.

ASVAB Testing Areas

ASVAB is taken by candidates after they are screened by a recruiter from the Armed Forces. The recruiter determines if you are a capable candidate for ASVAB through questions about yourself. Upon his satisfaction, you can take the ASVAB.

The ASVAB is administered in two formats.

  • Paper and pencil test format
  • Computer adaptive test format

All questions in each of the subtests of ASVAB are of multiple-choice type. It is a timed test, which is divided into several subtests. These subtests can be classified into four areas, depending upon the skills tested in the subtests. These four testing areas and the subtests categorized in these areas are:

  • Verbal – Word Knowledge (WK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC)

These subtests are a test of your verbal language skills. Word Knowledge tests your vocabulary. Paragraph Comprehension is used to test the skills of students in reading and comprehending written information. Understanding complicated text becomes a very important part of service in the military, due to which this section has been included in ASVAB. The multiple-choice questions are based on a given paragraph. The candidate is required to answer the questions aptly in context of the passage. These questions could be either direct or indirect in nature.

  • Math – Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Math Knowledge (MK)

This area of testing particularly tests the ability of candidates to perform mathematical calculations. Such skills are very handy in military jobs. The subtests thus test the problem solving capacity and mental sharpness of the candidates. The AR subtest tests the ability of candidates to solve arithmetic word problems with precision. MK on the other hand is a test of general abilities in calculation and knowledge of basic mathematical concepts acquired by students in their high school.

  • Science and Technical – General Science (GS), Electronics Information (EI), Auto Information (AI), Shop Information (SI), Mechanical Comprehension (MC)

This area of testing includes testing students in various skills necessary for military services. In the military career, a candidate is expected to have the basic knowledge of science subjects like physical science, life science and earth science. Hence, the knowledge of students gained in these areas in their high school years is tested in the GS subtest. In addition to this, the military personnel are required to have basic information about automobiles and their working (tested in AI), knowledge of tools and technology (tested in SI), knowledge of electronics and use of basic electronic devices (tested in EI) and knowledge of mechanical and physical principles (tested in MC).

  • Spatial – Assembling Objects (AO)

This section has been added in the updated format of ASVAB in order to make the test more comprehensive in terms of testing the skills of candidates. It tests the ability of candidates to visualize and determine the way an object would appear by organizing its parts. This is required in the test in order to judge the aptitude of students for specific military jobs. This test uses graphic images that need to be organized by the candidate. It does not require the student to have any particular type of previous knowledge in order to do well in this subtest.

Paper and Pencil Administration of ASVAB

The paper and pencil version of the test is administered at most Military Entrance Test (MET) sites. This test is administered in places where the testing site for computer adaptive test is not available. The testing time of all subtests taken together is 149 minutes. However, it takes about three to four hours to complete the administration of this test, including the time taken for instructing the candidates.
In the paper and pencil test, all candidates are offered the same questions. The questions in this format contain easy as well as difficult questions. The test does not differ for candidates with different levels of abilities. 
The number of questions and time allotted for all subtests in the paper and pencil format is given below.

    • General Science  – 25 questions to be completed in 11 minutes
    • Arithmetic Reasoning – 30 questions, 36 minutes
    • Word Knowledge – 35 questions, 11 minutes
    • Paragraph Comprehension – 15 questions, 13 minutes
    • Math Knowledge – 25 questions, 24 minutes
    • Electronics Information – 20 questions, 9 minutes
    • Auto and Shop Information – 25 questions, 11 minutes
    • Mechanical Comprehension –25 questions, 19 minutes
    • Assembling Objects – 25 questions, 15 minutes

These subtests are administered in the order in which they are presented. The candidate may go to a previous question within a subtest to review it, however, he cannot review a previous subtest and has to maintain the order of administration.
The subtest of Auto Information and Shop Information is combined in the paper and pencil test to form a single subtest called Auto and Shop Information or AS.

Computer Adaptive Administration of ASVAB

The computer adaptive test is administered in Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), which are Departments of Defense joint-service organizations in the US and Puerto Rico.
In the computer adaptive test format, the difficulty of the test gets adapted according to the ability level of the candidates. The questions are presented one by one. The initial questions are of a medium level of difficulty. The difficulty of the following question is determined by the candidate’s response to the current question. If the candidate is able to answer the given question, the consequent question is of a little higher level of difficulty. However, if his response is incorrect, the next question presented is easier than the previous question. That is why this test is called ‘adaptive’.
Unlike the paper and pencil test, in the computer adaptive test it is not possible to move among the questions of a single test. The answers once submitted cannot be reviewed or changed. Moreover, the candidate must provide an answer to move on to the next question.
Total testing time for this format of ASVAB is 154 minutes. There are 145 questions that need to be answered in this time. The division of time and number of questions amongst the various subtests is as follows.

  1. General Science – 16 questions to be completed in 8 minutes
  2. Arithmetic Reasoning – 16 questions, 39 minutes
  3. Word Knowledge – 16 questions, 8 minutes
  4. Paragraph Comprehension – 11 questions, 22 minutes
  5. Math Knowledge - 16 questions, 20 minutes
  6. Electronics Information – 16 questions, 8 minutes
  7. Auto Information – 11 questions, 7 minutes
  8. Shop Information – 11 questions, 6 minutes
  9. Mechanical Comprehension –16 questions, 20 minutes
  10. Assembling Objects – 16 questions, 16 minutes

Auto Information and Shop Information are administered separately in the computer adaptive format. However, a single score is received for these subtests as the score in AS.
The scores of this format are received immediately after the test is completed.

ASVAB Scoring

The score received in Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension and Math Knowledge form the score of Armed Forces Qualifying Test or AFQT. This score determines if the student is qualified to enroll into US military service. It is a percentile score that is received between 1 and 99. The scores received in other areas determine your entry into specific military fields.
A Standard Score is received in each of the subtests. Most of the candidates are able to score a Standard Score of 50 and above. However, only about 16% candidates are able to score a Standard Score of 60 and above.
Significant Points
Some significant conclusions can be drawn from our understanding of the test breakdown.

  • Since the test contains multiple-choice items, you shall have to prepare yourself for making educated guesses. This means that you must learn how to arrive at the most likely answer through elimination of unlikely answers.
  • Science and math are important subjects since there are more sections corresponding to these subjects.
  • Each subtest has different time requirements. Where some require you to complete each question in around half a minute, others allow you to answer a question in nearly two minutes. Hence, you shall have to keep a check on your timing while you prepare, according to the subtest.

In case you take the computer adaptive test, you shall have to prepare especially according to the testing conditions. This can be done through taking practice tests under simulated conditions.


Scoring well in the ASVAB is as essential as doing well in your career. It is with high scores that you have a good chance of getting selected for top military jobs that offer handsome salaries. Understanding the test format and gaining knowledge of the content areas is the first step in preparation that can lead to a desired ASVAB score.

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