Scores Impact Military Careers

Did you know that 70% of US Navy enlistees enter the service hoping to obtain training in a specific occupation? In the Army, nearly all enlistees cite career training as their primary motivation for service. Military service can provide a wonderful way to build skills for a civilian career, but you will need to do well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery in order to reach your goals.

The Department of Defense classifies recruits according to the their AFQT scores, which are a measure of scores on the sections Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning, and Mathematics Knowledge. If you score below a certain percentile, you won’t be allowed to enlist.

Beyond basic requirements for enlistment, you need to meet minimum ASVAB score requirements in order to be eligible for career training. Recruits with AFQT scores that classify them as Category I or Category II have the most options for career training. You will also receive Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) scores that determine your aptitude for specific career areas. For example, if you want to join the Marines, you’ll need to have strong scores in the General Sciences, Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge, and Electronics Information sections in order to be eligible for jobs in the electronics area.

Military incentive programs, such as those that offer enlistment bonuses and college tuition assistance, also take your test scores into account. The higher your scores, the more desirable you’ll be as a recruit.

Military Officer Corps

Retaking the Exam

If you’re not happy with your initial scores, you can retake the exam if you wait one month after your first testing date. Use this time to review practice-test questions and study guides, focusing on the areas you had trouble with during the first test. However, you should keep in mind that you will need to retake all of the sections of the test. You aren’t allowed to choose which portions you want new scores for.

Score Review

If you are taking the test for military enlistment, you’ll receive an Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score with your result report. This score is determined by using the scores from the Word Knowledge (WK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), and Mathematics Knowledge (MK) portions. The formula for calculating your AFQT is 2VE+MK+AR = AFQT. However, this results in a standard score that must be converted to a percentile ranking to measure your performance against other recruits. You can get a good idea of what you’ll score by taking a practice test.


Percentile scores are classified by the Department of Defense according to the following chart:

  • Category I – 93-99
  • Category II – 65-92
  • Category IIIA – 50-64
  • Category IIIB – 31-49
  • Category IVA – 21-30
  • Category IVB – 16-20
  • Category IVC – 10-15
  • Category V – 0-9

Ideally, you want to have an AFQT score that puts you in Category I, Category II, or Category IIIA. This means you will have a wide range of military jobs to choose from as long as you meet other enlistment requirements.

If your score places you in Category IIIB or Category IV, your chances of acceptance are not as high. Different branches of the military have different AFQT requirements, but recruits with higher scores will be given priority. If your AFQT score places you in Category V, you will not be eligible for enlistment in any branch of the military.

Education Classifications

In addition to ranking recruits according to their AFQT scores, the military also assigns potential servicemen to one of three tiers according to their education level:

  • Tier I: At least 90% of military recruits are classified as Tier I. Recruits in this category are high school graduates, including adult diploma holders. State laws vary as to whether or not completion of high school via home schooling is equivalent to a traditional high school diploma, so you will want to ask your recruiter for additional information if you are a home-schooled student.
  • Tier II: Tier II recruits have a GED, but strong AFQT scores or special skills that make them desirable for military service. Each branch of the military limits the number of Tier II candidates it will accept each year, with no branch accepting more than 10% of all applicants from the Tier II category.
  • Tier III: People classified as Tier III recruits have no high school diploma or GED. The military very rarely accepts people from this group as eligible for military service. If you are classified as a Tier III recruit, completing 15 college credits will result in a ranking that is the same as someone with a high school diploma.

Standard Scores

The test (currently contains eight sections that all test takers complete, whether they are using the test for military enlistment or as a career-exploration tool:

  • Electronics Information
  • Auto and Shop Information
  • Mechanical Comprehension
  • General Science
  • Arithmetic Reasoning
  • Word Knowledge
  • Paragraph Comprehension
  • Mathematics Knowledge

If you are taking the CAT version for military enlistment, your computer-assisted test will also include a section on Assembling Objects. This section was added to the test in 2002.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is revised periodically to reflect changes in general education standards within the United States as well as specific military recruitment needs. Previous versions have included sections on:

  • General Information
  • Attention to Detail
  • Numerical Operations
  • Space Perception
  • Tool Knowledge
  • Coding Speed

The sections that are used to calculate your Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score are Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning, and Mathematics Knowledge. The other sections are used to determine what types of military jobs you may be suited to perform. For example, if you are interested in obtaining electronics jobs in the Army or National Guard, you will need to have high scores on the General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge, and Electronics Information sections.

There aren’t passing or failing scores on the exam, since it is an aptitude test only. It is completely normal for test takers to have higher scores on certain sections based on their personal strengths and weaknesses. However, different branches of the military have specific minimum AFQT score requirements for potential recruits. The required minimum scores vary depending upon whether you have a high school diploma, at least 15 college credits, or a GED. If you are planning on a military career, you will want to take the time to review practice questions in order to make sure you are adequately prepared for testing day.

Composite Scores

Military Occupational Specialty Scores

In addition to your AFQT score, you’ll receive Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) scores that determine if you are eligible for training in specific military occupations. These MOS scores are sometimes called “composite scores,” “line scores,” or “aptitude area scores,” depending upon the recruiter you are working with.

Each branch of the military has slightly different formulas for calculating MOS scores. For example, the Marines have the following formulas for determining MOS composite scores:

  • General Technical – VE+AR
  • Skilled Technical – GS+VE+MK+MC
  • Mechanical Maintenance – NO+AS+MC+EI
  • Electronics – GS+AR+MK+EI
  • Clerical – VE+AR+MK

There are minimum score requirements in order to be eligible for training in a specific area. Your recruiter should be able to provide more information about what options are available to you based on your scores.

MOS scores are important because they show whether your skills indicate you’d be successful in a specific job. The military, like any major company in the private sector, spends a large portion of its budget on training. MOS scores help ensure that people are trained for jobs that they will actually be able to perform.

If you are not happy with your initial MOS scores, you can retake the test one month after your testing date. Even though ASVAB questions are carefully formulated, some people have poor test results due to nervousness or being distracted on testing day. Reviewing practice test questions and study guides may help you become more familiar with the structure of the test, thus resulting in overall scores that are a better reflection of your true ability.