Data are presented for military assessments during World War I (1917-1919), the World War II era (1940's), the Korean War era (1950's), Vietnam era (1960's) and the present, volunteer military service era (1970's to 1990's). Aside from the World War I tests of "intelligence," the military's tests of "aptitude" have looked very similar for the last half century. There have always been vocabulary and mathematics of some sort in the military's aptitude tests. These have been used to indicate "verbal" and "quantitative" "aptitudes". At various times, there have been tests of spatial perception, tool recognition, and mechanical comprehension to detect special aptitudes.

Overview of Military Tests

For over 75 years, the armed forces have pursued a policy of assessing the mental ability of adults who are eligible for military service. In World War I, some 1.9 million men were tested on the Army Alpha test of intelligence for literates, and the Army Beta test of intelligence for illiterates and non-English speakers.

Over the years, the mental ability tests used by the armed services have changed in content and in the definition of what they measure (see Table 1, p.18), but they still represent attempts to assess the cognitive skills of adults and to use that information to select people for military service and to assign them to work for which their "aptitudes" suit them.

For the present report, four major periods in the history of military mental testing (Table 1) are considered. The first witnessed the introduction of mental testing during World War I. The second occurred during World War II, when the first large-scale, operational use was made of mental tests for classifying recruits into job assignments. Separate tests were used by the Army and the Navy. The third major period occurred in the 1950s, when the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) was specially designed and developed to serve as a test for screening out low mental ability persons for all military services. The AFQT subtest scores were then combined with other tests, which differed for each service, to classify recruits into job assignments. The fourth period in military mental testing began in 1976, during the All Volunteer Force, when the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) was introduced as the single test battery to be used by all military services for both screening and job classification..

In Table 1, only the four subtests of the ASVAB that make-up the AFQT that is used for screening for military service are shown. Additionally, the ASVAB includes six other subtests that assess special knowledge or skill (Electronics Information; Mechanical Comprehension; Automotive and Shop Information; Coding Speed; General Science; Numerical Operations). The special knowledge subtests are combined with subtests from the AFQT to form ASVAB composites for classifying military applicants into job fields for which the military has determined their aptitudes suit them best. For instance, all four military services use an electronics composite made-up of Arithmetic Reasoning + General Science + Mathematics Knowledge + Electronics Information. The different services weight each subtest score differently in combining them into one composite score.


Thomas G. Sdcht (1992, October) see p. 13 of Compendium for full citation.

A. K. Wigdor & Green (1991). Performance Assessment for the Workplace. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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