Staff Voices: The ASVAB and what it means to us

Staff Voices: The ASVAB and what it means to us

A member of the CDP staff, Ms. Elizabeth Rishkofski, recently took -- and did very well on -- the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).  Based on her scores, she was given an opportunity to select her career field in the Air Force Reserves and will be leaving us temporarily for training.  We wish her godspeed.  But her experience got me thinking again about the ASVAB – what is it and why might it matter to us as behavioral health providers?

The ASVAB is taken by over one million high school students, graduates and military applicants every year.  Many students take it rather than the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the ACT (formerly American College Testing).  The standardized scores of all of the ASVAB subtests are used to determine the best job for a military enlistee.    There are 10 tests in the ASVAB battery designed to measure aptitudes in four domains: Verbal, Math, Science/Technical and Spatial.  The subtests are: General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, Work Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Mathematics Knowledge, Electronics Information, Auto Information, Shop Information, Mechanical Comprehension and Assembling Objects.  Scores from the Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning and Mathematics Knowledge are combined to compute the AFQT score and are presented as a percentile compared to the norm group.  Each of the Services uses different cutoffs for the AFQT to determine qualification for the Service and each has its own formula for selecting enlistees for particular jobs.  There is a significant amount of validity research supporting the use of the ASVAB to predict subsequent military performance (see Exploring the Limits of Personnel Selection and Classification, Campbell & Knapp, 2001)

About 70% of military applicants take the test on the computer.  The computerized ASVAB takes the average test taker about one and a half hours to complete, with time limits of just over two and a half hours allowed.  The ASVAB is taken either at a military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) or at a Military Entrance Test site.   The ASVAB is currently normed on 6,000 Americans aged 18-23.

As a psychology intern, I first experienced the ASVAB while doing a rotation in the Behavioral Analysis Service (BAS) at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center.  The BAS is responsible for the assessment of Basic Military Training (BMT) students who are experiencing difficulty due to possible psychological health issues.  Self- or leadership-referred basic trainees are assessed and their personnel files reviewed.  Potential clues to their premorbid functioning include their scores on the ASVAB.  A relatively recent study investigated the intellectual and neuropsychological correlates of the ASVAB by comparing the AFQT to some traditional neuropsychological measures such as the WAIS-III, the WRAT-3 and the computerized MicroCog Assessment of Cognitive Functioning (see Kennedy, CH, Kupke, T, Smith R, 2000).  They found that the ASVAB is primarily a measure of crystallized intelligence, although it also taps fluid neuropsychological abilities as well.  It was also noted that since the ASVAB measures attentional, processing speed and executive functioning, it may facilitate more accurate clinical interpretation of neuropsychological performance when cognitive declines are at issue. 

Learn more about the ASVAB at

The ASVAB also reminded me that most Active Duty enlisted members have at least a high school diploma (99%) compared to just 87% of the U.S. civilian population age 25 and over (in 2009).  In fact almost 5 percent of military enlisted have a bachelor’s or advanced degree.  We have a smart military -- one of the smartest in the world.  One of the Mental Health Technicians I worked with while on active duty had his PhD in research psychology!  The military emphasizes continuing education for all of its members, and promotion to senior enlisted ranks is often based partly on the attainment of advanced education and training.  Sometimes it can be easy to forget or overlook this, but it’spart of the culture; valuing education is what makes our military strong and enhances service members’ resilience. 

Having done well on the ASVAB, Ms Rishkofski had a wide range of career field options to choose from.  The former Mental Health Technician elected to enter the medical logistics field and will begin her training soon.  “Being able to rejoin the military and continue to serve my country means a lot to me” she said. 


Campbell, J. P., & Knapp, D. T. (Eds.) (2001). Exploring the limits in personnel selection and classification. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kennedy, CH, Kupke, T & Smith, R. (2000).A neuropsychological investigation of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).Arch ClinNeuropsych 15(8), p 696-7.


*****Providers – We are scheduled to conduct a series of interviews with TRICARE officials from the various regions in the coming weeks.  Please submit your questions for TRICARE either by commenting to this blog entry or by sending an email subject line TRICARE questions.  Provide us with the name of the State you practice in so we can be sure and ask the correct TRICARE region representative.*****