Change in ASVAB question format in recent times

Exam: ASVAB Test - Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test: General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Mathematics Knowledge, Electronics Information, Automotive & Shop Information, Mechanical Comprehension, Assembling Objects

A significant change has been made in the format of The Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). For being enlisted in “The United States Armed Forces”, the military applicants are needed to take the ASVAB test. They could either opt for paper-and-pencil (P&P) or a computerized adaptive test (CAT). The CAT-ASVAB has 145 questions as compared to 225 questions in P&P-ASVAB.

Traditional P&P-ASVAB test Format

It is a classical paper pencil test of ASVAB, which uses an optical scanning machine. This testing system allows you to read the paper and answer only those questions, which you are comfortable answering first. It gives you the opportunity to change an answer provided the question is a part of your current work-in-progress. Thou it does not allow you to come back to a finished subtest.

Both the tough and easy questions are distributed fairly in the test; scarcity of time can be an issue for those who might get stuck with the harder questions. You might have to wait for weeks to get your score as the process takes time to be reviewed.

CAT-ASVAB test– the newest Format

This test has almost the same set of questions as the ASVAB’s P&P test but has been slightly molded and suited according to student’s performance. If a student gets the first answer correct, the next questions he would be attempting, would be a tougher one, saving him/her the time from answering the easier ones. Similarly, if he/she gets it wrong, they will land with fairly easy question in their next attempt. The recruiters want to enhance confidence while answering the questions to the given test so that they perform better and not lose their morale.

Thou the computerized version test do not allow skipping a question or changing an answer. You cannot strategize your time; as the system does not allow you to see the next question in line as you progress. The Automotive and Shop Information subtest is subdivided into separate “Auto Information” and “Shop Information” subtests in CAT-ASVAB.

Revisiting history of CAT-ASVAB

Historically speaking, ASVAB, a section of CEP (earlier called Student Testing Program) was introduced in the year 1968.

Approximately 20 years from its introduction, it has been evolving and adapting to computerized adaptive test (CAT). After conducting many experiments and initializing research programs, its first successful implementation was at all Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) in 1996. Since then it has been ranked as the first large-scale adaptive test battery which was conducted in a massive scale. Even after adapting to CAT-ASVAB, P&P-ASVAB was still being used as a measure of aptitude tests.

Computer Version

Appropriate measures have been taken to simplify the CAT-ASVAB test. The applicants need not have prior knowledge of computer, as the keyboard or the mouse has been made easy for general use. With a very few clicks on the mouse or stoke of the keyboard keys, an applicant can respond to the questions which are to be answered. Most of the applicants respond better in CAT-ASVAB than P&P-ASVAB.

System shutdown

CAT-ASVAB is so well developed that it does not loses your data during the test even after the computer crashes. The same test can be administered on a different computer provided the time will start over and so would the subtest you were currently working on.

Answering Sequence

The built in software used by CAT-ASVAB refrains its applicants to go back to a question and change its answer. Moving from one question to the next, its adaptive feature gradually adapts to the ability and performance of the applicant.

Time Evaluation

  • All the subtests are timed and every applicant is required to finish a subtest before its expiry. However, you can be upgraded to the next subtest if you finish before the allotted time.
  • An applicant might need help in between the ongoing test. By pressing the red key on the keyboard that says, “HELP” may be used to stop the timer from ticking. This would not have any negative affect on the ongoing subtest and you can return to where you had left off.
  • Similarly, the time given to read the instructions do not take away time from your subtest, as they are not counted.

CAT eliminates unnecessary questions and tailors them accordingly. It exposes only the necessary questions as per the individual’s ability, thus saving time. Nearly two-third of applicants opts for CAT for its adaptive ability.


Both use a different strategy for computing the scores but eventually mean the same. For example, if a student receives a score of 97 in their P&P might receive a 95 in CAT; this does not count much of a difference.

In the absence of negative scoring, one-third of the examinees opt for P&P instead of CAT. It allows you to come back to the question you don’t know the answer to and make a guess or change your previously selected answers.


With the introduction of CAT-ASVAB there have been false myth regarding ASVAB.

>P&P-ASVAP tougher than CAT-ASVAB or vice-versa

Truth:The test conducted by ASVAB is same for both P&P-ASVAB and CAT-ASVAB test. Both tests have the same set of questions; CAT is computed on the basis on “AFQT score or Armed Forces Qualification Test score” and P&P by “equating”. The process is different but the scores are the same. The only difference is in the format and the method of computation. With CAT “Higher the level, harder the questions, higher you score!” but with P&P you choose “Your level, your questions which needs to be answered, and score!”

CAT’s accuracy in prompt scoring, minimizing errors, ability to tailor as per the individual’s performance, eliminating unnecessary objects for the applicants, increase in time utility, makes it a friendlier choice.

ASVAB format

Knowing the structure of the ASVAB test will help you to perform better. This will help you prepare for different type of questions asked in the exam and know the exact time required to finish the test. This is as important as studying for your test and aiming to achieve a high score.

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