What's Tested on the ASVAB?

The ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) is the most widely used multiple-aptitude test battery in the world. It measures a test taker’s suitability to enlist in the United States Armed Forces and assesses his or her abilities to be trained in specific civilian or military jobs.
When you take the ASVAB officially, you will be given either a paper-and-pencil version of the test or a computer version (also referred to as a Computer Adaptive Test ASVAB, or CAT-ASVAB). About 70 percent of prospective recruits take the CAT-ASVAB, so that’s likely to be the version you’ll encounter.

What does the ASVAB test?

In addition to evaluating math and reading skills, the ASVAB also assesses performance in categories such as science, electronics, auto repair, and the ability to assemble objects. While the section topics and question types are the same on both the paper-and-pencil and CAT-ASVAB versions of the test, the amount of time and number of questions will differ slightly on each version. In the table below, you’ll see the order in which the ASVAB subtests are ordered, the material tested in each section, and the differences between the paper-and-pencil and CAT-ASVAB versions. Additionally, note the sections that are highlighted in gray. These subtests make up the AFQT. In this table, the subtests are listed in the order in which you’ll take them on Test Day.
SubtestQuestions / Time Limit in Minutes (CAT-ASVAB)Questions / Time Limit in Minutes (Paper & Pencil)What’s Tested
General Science (GS)16 questions / 8 minutes25 questions / 11 minutesKnowledge of general concepts from life, earth and space, and physical sciences
Arithmetic Reasoning (AR)16 questions / 39 minutes30 questions / 36 minutesAbility to answer word problems that involve basic arithmetic calculations
Word Knowledge (WK)16 questions / 8 minutes35 questions / 11 minutesAbility to recognize synonyms of words
Paragraph Comprehension (PC)11 questions / 22 minutes15 questions / 13 minutesAbility to answer questions based on short passages (of 30–120 words)
Mathematics Knowledge (MK)16 questions / 20 minutes25 questions / 24 minutesKnowledge of math concepts, including applied arithmetic, algebra, and geometry
Electronics Information (EI)16 questions / 8 minutes20 questions / 9 minutesKnowledge of electronic principles and terminology and of basic electronic circuitry
Auto and Shop Information (AS*)11 questions / 7 minutes; 11 questions / 6 minutes25 questions / 11 minutesKnowledge of automobiles, and of tool and shop practices and terminology
Mechanical Comprehension (MC)16 questions / 20 minutes25 questions / 19 minutesKnowledge of basic mechanical and physical principles
Assembling Objects (AO)16 questions / 16 minutes25 questions / 15 minutesAbility to determine how a disassembled object will look when it is put back together
Totals 145 questions / 154 minutes225 questions / 149 minutes

**On the CAT-ASVAB, Auto and Shop Information is split into two parts (Auto Information [AI] and Shop Information [SI]), but one score is reported.

ASVAB Logistics

Registering for and Taking the ASVAB

Unless you are taking the ASVAB at your high school as part of the Department of Defense Career Exploration Program, your first step toward registering to take the ASVAB is to visit the local recruiter for the service branch that you wish to join. The recruiter will help you complete your enlistment application; you will need to provide necessary documentation. Once you have met the basic qualifications for enlistment, the recruiter will schedule your ASVAB test.
ASVAB results are valid for two years. After taking an initial ASVAB test, you may retake it after 30 days. After the first retest, you may take another retest 30 or more days later. If you have had two retests, you must wait at least six months before taking the test again.

How to Read Your ASVAB Scores

Your official ASVAB scores will come in a variety of styles and will be fully explained to you by your guidance counselor or recruiter. All of the scores matter, though some may matter more than others. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you will find.
  • AFQT Score

    You will receive a single numerical score for the AFQT.

  • Standard Scores

    You will receive a “Standard Score” for each of the subtests. These scores are calculated using a comparison of your raw scores to the raw scores of a standard national sample. According to the Department of Defense, roughly half the population achieves a Standard Score of 50 or above but only about 16 percent scores higher than 59.

  • Service Composite Scores

    These score combinations, sometimes called Line Scores, are used to determine whether a test taker has the necessary vocational aptitude to be trained for different job assignments in all the military branches. For example, a Navy “Engineering Aid” composite score (abbreviated “EA”) is the sum of twice the Mathematics Knowledge score plus the Arithmetic Reasoning and General Science scores. An enlistee must achieve a minimum composite score for the vocation of interest to be able to qualify to be trained for the job. To cite another example, to qualify for electronics training and occupations in the Army, you must attain a certain score that combines your results on the General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge, and Electronics Information tests. For more detailed information, contact your local recruiter or visit the website for your service branch of interest.

  • Career Exploration Scores

    In addition to the Standard Scores, students who take the ASVAB in their high schools as part of the Career Exploration Program also receive three Career Exploration Scores in the composite areas of Verbal Skills, Math Skills, and Science and Technical Skills, which are all reported as standard scores and as percentiles relative to grade in school and gender.

Different Versions of the ASVAB

Depending upon your reasons for taking the ASVAB and your stage in the career decision-making process, you will take on one of the following three versions of the test battery:
Enlistment Testing Program ASVAB

This version of the ASVAB, sometimes referred to as the Production Version, is used for enlistment purposes only and is administered to potential enlistees in all branches of the military. A potential recruit’s performance on the ASVAB subtests is used to determine whether the candidate has the necessary aptitudes to enlist in a desired branch of service and for which military jobs the candidate is best suited.
Career Exploration Program ASVAB

This is a paper-and-pencil, eight-subtest version of the ASVAB that is administered, along with an interest inventory, to high school and postsecondary students as part of the Department of Defense’s Career Exploration Program. The content and format of this ASVAB are the same as the enlistment paper-and-pencil version, with two exceptions: the Assembling Objects subtest is not given, and the Auto and Shop Information subtests are combined into one subtest.
Armed Forces Classification Test (AFCT)
Also known as the “In-Service” ASVAB, the AFCT is administered to those already in the military who are looking to switch jobs within the military. It is identical to the paper-and-pencil version of the ASVAB given prior to enlistment.

The Paper-and-Pencil Test vs. the CAT

“Computer-adaptive testing,” or CAT for short, is just a fancy way of saying that the difficulty of the questions you get on the test adapts based on your performance up to that point.
The diagram below models how a computer-adaptive test works. In the diagram, each dot represents a question. Each question is labeled with whether the test taker got the question correct (C) or incorrect (I). The graph also shows the difficulty of each question.
The first question you will see will be of medium difficulty—that is, it will be aligned to the average ability of test takers. Notice that each time you answer a question correctly, you “earn” a more difficult question, which is aligned to a higher scoring level. Each time you give a wrong answer, your next question will be easier and thus aligned to a lower scoring level. The CAT continues to adapt until you are getting roughly half of the questions you see correct. Once your performance has stabilized in this way, the CAT determines your score based on the difficulty level around which your answers are hovering.
Studies have shown that, overall, people perform the same on the ASVAB whether they take the paper or CAT version of the test. There are, however, some individuals who will tend to do better on one version of the test than the other. Now, you may not have a choice regarding which version of the ASVAB you take. If you do have a choice as to which version of the test you will take, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of taking the CAT versus the paper test:
Advantages of Taking the CAT-ASVAB
  • The length of time of many of the subtests has been reduced from the paper-and-pencil ASVAB, and the number of questions that you are required to answer has been reduced even more.
  • The test can be scored immediately. You will know how well you did as soon as you finish the test.
  • The test administration is very flexible, so you don’t have to wait for the next scheduled test date to take the test.
  • There’s no chance of losing points by filling out your answer sheet incorrectly.
  • The CAT format gives you the chance to work methodically on one question at a time with no other questions there to distract you.

Disadvantages of Taking the CAT-ASVAB

  • You cannot skip around on this test; you must answer the questions one at a time in the order the computer gives them to you.
  • If you realize later that you answered a question incorrectly, you cannot go back and change your answer.
  • You can’t cross off an answer choice, so you’ll have to use your scrap paper to keep track of the answers you’ve eliminated.

Want more info like this? Check out Kaplan’s ASVAB Prep Plus!