Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

The ASVAB, shorthand for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, anchors the Career Exploration Program (CEP) offered free to schools by the Military Enlistment Processing Command through teams of Educational Services Specialists. The CEP encourages exploration through OCCU-Find, which integrates vocational interests with ASVAB scores and Occupational Information Network. This entry is based on available documentation for the ASVAB and CEP, including journal articles and technical reports. Many issues identified by reviewers of the ASVAB have been addressed, some remain.

ASVAB Test Purposes and Scoring

Test purposes served by the ASVAB include career counseling, enlistment screening, and placement. Scores are provided for eight tests, as well as numerous composites including verbal, math, and science-technical; the tests are administered by trained individuals in high schools that make voluntary requests. The ASVAB is rooted in a rich tradition. The Army Alpha test, developed to screen recruits during World War I, evolved into the Army General Classification Test administered to recruits in World War II. Differentiation of testing occurred across the services until conformance to the ASVAB and the Armed Forces Qualifying Test composite became mandatory. Testing for secondary students began in 1968 as a value-added purpose. Computer-adaptive testing is available, but only for enlistment testing.

Currently, eight tests make up the ASVAB. The raw scores are formed into composites for multiple purposes. The tests, number of items, and content are as follow: General Science (25 items; knowledge of life science, earth and space science, and physical science), Arithmetic Reasoning (30 items; ability to solve basic arithmetic word problems), Word Knowledge (35 items; ability to understand word meaning through synonyms), Paragraph Comprehension (15 items; ability to obtain information from written material), Mathematics Knowledge (25 items; knowledge of mathematical concepts and applications), Electronics Information (20 items; knowledge of electrical current, circuits/devices, and electronic systems), Auto and Shop Information (25 items; knowledge of auto maintenance and repair, wood-metal shop), Mechanical Comprehension (25 items; knowledge of mechanical devices, structural support, and properties of materials). The composition of the ASVAB should be continually scrutinized across purposes and populations.

The focus here is the paper-and-pencil ASVAB used for counseling within the CEP versus the distinct purposes of military testing. A recent refocusing, guided by an expert panel, resulted in enhanced ASVAB scoring moving from a single to a three-construct model and support materials delivered via the Internet. Score reports are well laid out, but may require support to be discussed in family settings after postinterpretation sessions. During the refocusing, a measure of work values was dropped and a measure based on Holland’s theory (Interest Finder) was replaced by a scale called Find Your Interests (FYI) delivered by paper or by Web. The FYI is described in the 2005 Counselor’s Manual. OCCU-Find, with passcode access generated by a third party, provides test takers, who input their scores, with links to civilian and military jobs aligned with the Occupational Information Network. An update of OCCU-Find to create alignments to more occupations is under way.

The ASVAB is an intersection among societal institutions, namely testing and occupational information; the armed services; and education. Testing as an institution creates consequences for individuals.

Harley E. Baker noted in 2002 that the goal of the CEP program is to present appropriate norm information for secondary and postsecondary career counseling. Norms by grade and gender are derived from the regularly updated Profile of American Youth surveys. Two important aspects of the ASVAB and CEP are the validity of score interpretations for multiple purposes and receptiveness in the test-user and test-taker populations. Baker’s research showed reductions in career indecision for a group of Student Testing Program participants compared to two control groups. Score interpretations would be enhanced by investigating distal career outcomes for civilian and military jobs. As a voluntary tool, patterns of requests over time should be informative to developers and users. And despite concerns, according to CEP staff less than 5% of test takers use their scores for enlistment. Schools are given substantial latitude in dictating post-ASVAB contact, although No Child Left Behind regulations grant access unrelated to the ASVAB, which might explain misperceptions.

Evaluation of the ASVAB

Resources, diminishing though they may be, are invested in the CEP and thus meeting objectives, tradeoffs, and return on investment become legitimate evaluation questions. The ASVAB-CEP is valuable for school districts and especially for those who cannot afford to purchase off-the-shelf tests of abilities and interests and for the development of occupational linkages. The technical characteristics as described in the Counselor’s Manual seem solid on reliability and validity with known gender differences. Further, due to a misnorming of the ASVAB (admittedly, long ago) that led to acceptance of lower-scoring recruits, substantial attention is paid to quality assurance. A recent technical review by a committee of experts presented 22 recommendations for the ASVAB. The final paragraphs of this review indicated the quality of the research base with acknowledgment of slow accep-tance of innovations by the Department of Defense. The ultimate effect of this review on the CEP is unknown because of its focus on the military testing program. The ASVAB can still be improved for all its purposes.


  1. Baker, H. E. (2002). Adolescent career indecision: The ASVAB Career Exploration Program. Career Development Quarterly, 50, 359-370.
  2. Campbell, J. P., & Knapp, D. (Eds.). (2001). Exploring the limits in personnel selection and classification. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  3. Drasgow, F., Embretson, S. E., Kyllonen, P. C., & Schmitt, N. (2006, December). Technical review of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Alexandria, VA: HumRRO.
  4. Edwards, J. E., Scott, J. E., & Raju, N. (Eds.). (2003). The human resources program-evaluation handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  5. Sands, W. A., Waters, B. K., & McBride, J. R. (Eds.). (1997). Computerized adaptive testing: From inquiry to operation. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  6. Yerkes, R. M. (Ed.). (1921). Psychological examining in the United States Army. Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, 15, 1-890.

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