How the CAT-ASVAB Works

The CAT-ASVAB is the computer-based version of the test that is offered to potential recruits at the military facilities called MEPS. If you take this version of the test, you will be seated in front of a computer and monitor in a room with others. The test comes up on the screen. As you answer the test questions, the program records your answer, scores it, and then calculates your ability level. Based on that information, the next item is selected. If you get the first answer wrong, the computer will give you an easier item. It you get it correct, the computer will give you a more difficult item. This process continues until you have completed the items selected for you. After you have completed the test, the AFQT and composite scores will be calculated.

Possible Advantages

One advantage of taking the CAT-ASVAB is that it takes less time than the paper-and-pencil version. Also, the test can be scored immediately, and scoring errors are reduced because of the automation. The test can be administered with minimal advance notice, while administration of the paper-and-pencil ASVAB needs to be scheduled well in advance.

Unlike scores on the paper-and-pencil ASVAB, the CAT-ASVAB score you get is not based solely on the number of items you answered correctly. Some people have claimed that the CAT-ASVAB is easier and can give you better scores because you get more "points" for answering more difficult items.

Possible Disadvantages

Unlike the paper-and-pencil ASVAB, the CAT-ASVAB does not give you an opportunity to go back to questions you previously answered to change your answer or think about the question again. You also cannot skip questions and go on to other questions that you might know. If you get items wrong, the computer will give you easier items, but your score will be lower than if you answered a few difficult items.

CAT-ASVAB Directions

When you arrive to take the CAT-ASVAB, you will be escorted to a waiting room. You will complete various forms, if you haven't already done so. Your social security number will be verified. There you will get a briefing similar to the one that follows.


[Your test administrator will read aloud to you the following.]

Welcome, I am [administrator's name], and I will be administering your test today. First of all, has anyone here taken the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery at any time in the past, either in a high school or at another testing site, and not indicated this on the USMEPCOM Form 680-3AE you provided? It is extremely important to identify this because your test will be checked against a nationwide computer file for armed forces applicants. If it is discovered that you were previously tested, but did not tell us, the results from today's test may not be valid for enlistment.

[If anyone raises his or her hand, the administrator will check that person's USMEPCOM Form 680-3AE to ensure that he or she has marked the retest box and entered the previous forms.]

It is important that you are physically fit to take this test. Is there anybody here who doesn't feel well enough to take the examination?

[If anyone says that he or she doesn't feel well, the administrator will remove that person from the session group, inform the service (if available), and indicate the reason for removal on USMEPCOM Form 680-3AE.]

The test you are about to take is administered by computer. Instructions for taking the test are on the computer, and the guidelines are very easy to follow. If you need assistance during any part of the test, press the red HELP key, raise your hand, and I'll assist you.

The use of calculators, crib sheets, or other devices designed to assist in testing is not permitted. No talking is allowed while in the testing room. Use the scratch paper and pencil on the side of your computer for any figuring you need to do while taking the test. If you need more paper or another pencil, press the red HELP key and then raise your hand.

Do not touch any keys except for the letter choices, the red HELP key, and the ENTER bar. Be careful not to kick the computer under the table.

After completing the examination, give your scratch paper to me, and then you are released. If you are staying at the hotel, wait at the front desk for transportation.

Does anyone have any questions?

What Happens Next?

After the briefing by the test administrator, you will be brought into the testing room and assigned a seat.

The CAT-ASVAB is designed so that individuals with very little or no computer experience can take the exam. It is recommended that you practice using a computer before taking the CAT-ASVAB. A recruiter may be able to give you some of this practice. The bottom line is to be prepared-well prepared.

The keyboard has been modified to make it easy for you to find the keys. The computer program will give you directions on how to answer the items. It will also tell you about time limits and give you the chance to do some practice items to be sure that you know how to navigate the keyboard.

The directions are quite simple. If you need help during the session, you need only press the HELP key. The administrator will come by to assist you. You should do this only if you are experiencing technical problems with the test, or if you are in need of more scratch paper or another pencil to use for your calculation. When you press the HELP key, the clock on the test will stop. It will restart when you restart the test.

You will answer each item by pressing the key that represents your answer. To register your response, hit the ENTER key, which is the space bar. The next item will then be presented to you.

Recent Changes

Recently, the Department of Defense began a roll-out of a new Windows-based version of the CAT-ASVAB. It has a Windows look and feel, and you can use a mouse instead of the keyboard to record your answers. The modified keyboard described earlier can be used as well if that is more comfortable for you.

Changes have been made in the look of the on-screen items, and the graphics have been improved. You can mark buttons for the various answer choices, or you can type the letter of the response.

This new system should be in place before you take the CAT-ASVAB.

No electronic devices are allowed in the testing room. It is best not to take cellphones into the MEPS because the phones will not be secured while you are testing. In addition, coats, jackets, and bags will be left in the CAT-ASVAB waiting room.

Special Strategies for Taking the CAT-ASVAB

Except where noted, the strategies for taking the CAT-ASVAB are the same as for the paper-and-pencil test. Here are some special things to keep in mind.

To raise your scores, try your very best to answer every item correctly. Take your time, especially with the early items in each test. If you get the early items correct, the computer will give you more difficult questions, and these carry more value. If you get the early items wrong, the computer will give you easier items, and even if you answer these correctly, your score will be lower than if you answered the same number of difficult items. Unlike on the paper-and-pencil tests, guessing is not necessarily a good strategy.

Focus hard and give the test your full attention.

Pay attention to the directions. Directions will not be given to you verbally. They will only be on the computer screen to be read.

Try hard to finish all the items. For every item you do not finish, there is a penalty. The more unfinished the items, the higher the penalty. Also, the penalty is high if you answer the last few items on each test incorrectly.


Myth: The CAT-ASVAB is harder than the paper-and-pencil ASVAB.

Reality: The CAT-ASVAB may seem harder to many people because the items are selected based on a person's previous answers. For example, a person with high ability will be able to skip over the easier questions that would be found on the paper-and-pencil version of the test.

A lot of research has been done to assure that the score you would get on the paper-and-pencil or computer adaptive versions will be the same.

Myth: The paper-and-pencil ASVAB is easier than the CAT-ASVAB.

Reality: For persons of lower ability, the paper-and-pencil version may seem easier because the questions are generally arranged from easy to hard within each subtest. As a result, you will receive many easier items to answer before you are challenged with the more difficult ones.

On the CAT-ASVAB, once your general ability level is determined, you will be getting more difficult items to answer to see how well you do. The easier items are skipped.