The Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)

In 1950, the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) was introduced as the single test that would be used to screen draftees and volunteers for entry into any of the armed services. With some changes in content (Table 1, p. 18), the AFQT has remained as the primary screening test for military service through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and up to the present. As noted by Eitelberg, et. al (1984, p. 16). In developing the AFQT, care was taken to make certain that speed was not emphasized, so that slow workers would not be penalized, and that the verbal instructions were not so difficult as to obscure the test items themselves. In these ways, the test was designed to be especially useful for distinguishing among the least able.

The 1950 AFQT Subtests (Figure 6, p. 28)

The Vocabulary test, involves the retrieval of information in the form of word meanings from the long term store of knowledge, and selecting the correct multiple choice alternative.

The Arithmetic test, involves mathematics knowledge, semantic word meaning knowledge and the processing of information for problem solving in working memory.

The Block-Counting test, involves visualizing missing information in graphic displays in working memory.

The Spatial test, involves reasoning in working memory while studying graphic displays of visual patterns.

The 1953-1973 AFQT Subtests (Figure 7, p. 29)

The AFQT for 1953-1973 retained Vocabulary, Mathematics, and Spatial subtests similar to those of the 1950 test. But the Clock-Counting test was dropped and a new Mechanical Ability test was added.

The Tool Recognition test, required knowledge in long term memory of automotive and other shop tools for completion.


In practice, the scores on each of the AFQT subtests were combined into a single score and distributions were matched to the World War II distributions of examinee scores on the Army General Classification Test (AGCT). Then, as with the Army Alpha and Beta tests, and the AGCT, the total scores were grouped into "mental categories."

In 1968, an article in American Education, published by the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, reported distributions by mental categories for Whites and Blacks.

Table 2. Estimated Percentage of Draftees
by Mental Group, by Race: FY 1966

Mental Group Whites Blacks Total
I 7.6 0.3 6.7
II 32.1 3.3 28.8
III 34.6 18.2 32.8
IV 16.0 38.2 18.5
V 9.1 37.1 12.3

Source: R. de Neufville & C. Comer (1968). How good are our
schools? Armed Forces Qualification Test Provides a Clue.

American Education, p. 7.

On June 30, 1951, Congress passed Public Law 51 establishing the minimum acceptable standard for entry into military service at the 10th percentile, hence excluding persons in AFQT mental category V from service (Mater & Sims, 1986, A-14).


Mark Eitelberg, Janice Laurence, Brian Waters, and Linda Perelman (1984). Screening for Service: Aptitude and Education Criteria for Military Entry. Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization (p. 16).

Milton Mater and W. Sims (1986, July). The ASVAB Score Scales: 1980 and World War II. CNR 116.

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