ASVAB Math Strategies

Know What to Expect on the ASVAB Math Exam

Often the most efficient way to get the correct answer to a math problem is to use a strategy rather than just to “do the math.” That’s especially true on the ASVAB Math Exam, since you cannot use a calculator on the exam. On some math tests, if you get the wrong answer but show that you set up at least some of the math correctly, you’ll still get partial credit. On the ASVAB, you only get credit for a right answer. One advantage of this is that you will get credit for the correct answer regardless of how you get to it.
The two math sections on the ASVAB are called “Arithmetic Reasoning” and “Mathematics Knowledge.” Together they form the quantitative half of the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT), so you’ll want to do well on these sections no matter what your ultimate vocational aim in the military.
  • ASVAB Arithmetic Reasoning (AR)

    The Arithmetic Reasoning (AR) section tests your ability to handle arithmetic word problems. The CAT version of this section gives you 39 minutes to answer 16 questions, while the paper-and-pencil version gives you 36 minutes for 30 questions. This section is designed to measure your ability to apply reasoning to solve problems involving common math concepts. Many of the questions will be in the format of word problems. Typical AR topics involve number properties, rates, percentages, ratios, proportions, averages, and unit conversions.

  • ASVAB Mathematics Knowledge (MK)

    The Mathematics Knowledge (MK) section tests your understanding of a wide range of concepts in applied arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. The CAT version gives you 20 minutes to answer 16 questions; the paper-and-pencil version gives you 24 minutes to answer 25 questions. This section is designed to measure general mathematical knowledge. You may see the occasional word problem on the MK section of the ASVAB, but in general the questions are more direct than the word problems found on the AR section. For this reason, you are given less time per question on this section than on the AR section.

[ TRY KAPLAN’S PRACTICE QUESTIONS: ASVAB Arithmetic Reasoning and Mathematics Knowledge ]

The Kaplan Method for ASVAB Math Questions

Working quickly and efficiently is essential to maximizing your score on these sections. To accomplish this, use the Kaplan Method for ASVAB Math Questions.
  • ASVAB Math Step 1: Analyze the information given.

    Read the entire question carefully before you start solving the problem. If you don’t read the question carefully, you may make a careless mistake or overlook the simplest approach to answering the question.

  • ASVAB Math Step 2: Identify what you are being asked for.

    Before you choose your approach, make sure you know what you’re solving for. In other words, what does the correct answer choice represent? This is an important step to keep you from falling for tempting wrong answer choices. For example, if you are given an equation with two variables, x and y, identify whether you are solving for x, for y, or for something else. This step is important because the ASVAB may give you wrong answer choices that represent the “right answer to the wrong question.” That is, if you are asked to solve for x, one wrong answer choice might represent the value of y.

  • ASVAB Math Step 3: Solve strategically.

    Once you understand what the question is asking for, it’s time to look for the most strategic approach. Use your analysis from Steps 1 and 2 to find the most efficient route to the correct answer. This step might involve performing calculations (that is, “doing the math”), or it might be the case that applying a strategy would get you to the correct answer more quickly.

  • ASVAB Math Step 4: Confirm your answer.

    Reread the question as you select your answer. Make sure you are answering the question asked. If you notice that you missed something earlier, rework the problem and change your answer if necessary.

Strategies for Solving ASVAB Math Problems

Several methods are extremely useful when you don’t know—or don’t have time to use—the textbook approach to solving the question. In addition, performing all the calculations called for in the question can often be more time-consuming than using a strategic approach and can increase the potential for mistakes.
Two problem-solving strategies that may be new to you are Backsolving and Picking Numbers. These strategies are a great way to make confusing problems more concrete. If you know how to apply these strategies, you’ll nail the correct answer every time you use them.

1) Backsolving

Sometimes it’s easiest to work backward from the answer choices. Since many Arithmetic Reasoning questions are word problems with numbers in the answer choices, you can often use this to your advantage by using Backsolving. After all, the test gives you the correct answer—it’s just mixed in with the wrong answer choices. If you try an answer choice in the question and it fits with the information given, then you’ve got the right answer.
Here’s how it works. When the answer choices are numbers, you can expect them to be arranged from small to large (or occasionally from large to small). Start by trying either choice (B) or (C). If that number works when you plug it into the problem, you’ve found the correct answer. If it doesn’t work, you can usually figure out whether to try a larger or smaller answer choice next. Even better, if you deduce that you need a smaller (or larger) number, and only one such smaller (or larger) number appears among the answer choices, that choice must be correct. You do not have to try that answer choice: simply select it and move on to the next question.
By backsolving strategically this way, you won’t have to try out more than two answer choices before you zero in on the correct answer.
[ GOOD TO KNOW: What is the AFQT? ]

2) Picking Numbers

Another strategy that comes in handy on many Mathematics Knowledge questions and also on some Arithmetic Reasoning questions is Picking Numbers. Just because the question contains numbers in the answer choices, that doesn’t mean that you can always backsolve. There may be numbers in the answer choices, but sometimes you won’t have enough information in the question to easily match up an answer choice to a specific value in the question stem. For example, a problem might present an equation with many variables, or it might give you information about percentages of some unknown quantity and ask you for another percent. If the test maker hasn’t provided you with a quantity that would be really helpful to have in order to solve the problem, you may be able to simply pick a value to assign to that unknown. The other case in which you can pick numbers is when there are variables in the answer choices.
When you are picking numbers, be sure that the numbers you select are permissible (follow the rules of the problem) and manageable (easy to work with). In general, it’s a good idea to avoid picking −1, 0, or 1 because they have unique number properties that can skew your results.
Strategic Guessing Using Logic and using a combination of approaches are other useful shortcuts to getting more correct answers more quickly. Remember, you get points for correct answers, not for how you got those answers, so efficiency is key to maximizing your score.
[ KEEP STUDYING: ASVAB Strategies  •  ASVAB Technical Subset Strategies ]

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