The ASVAB: How Does it Compare to other Tests?

In comparing the difficulty of the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test to popular college-entrance exams like the ACT and SAT, multiple factors must be assessed. These tests differ in the number of sections, the types of sections and their uses.

The ASVAB has 10 sections. Four sections are comparable to both the SAT and ACT that cover language and math skills and one section is comparable to the ACT that covers science. The five additional ASVAB sections cover vocational areas like electronics information, automotive information, shop information, mechanical comprehension and assembling objects.

Although some sections are similar with the ACT/SAT, the ASVAB has key differences. For example, the Science section of the ASVAB tests recall of facts from high-school level physical sciences, life sciences, and earth and space sciences, according to The Science section of the ACT does not test prior knowledge but scientific reasoning, according to ACT test-takers are often asked to interpret given scientific data or charts.

The ASVAB math sections (Arithmetic Reasoning and Mathematics Knowledge) do not cover as many topics as the SAT and ACT, suggesting it is not designed to be as difficult. For example, the ASVAB test guides recommend studying algebra, geometry measurement, interest and properties of numbers. The SAT recommends these areas but also algebraic functions and graphs. The ACT guides include all of these areas and trigonometry.

The Paragraph Comprehension section of the ASVAB is similar to the Reading sections of the ACT and SAT. The SAT recently eliminated its section that was similar to the ASVAB’s Word Knowledge section. Both the ACT and SAT have an additional language section focusing on writing, punctuation and organization (called English and Writing & Language, respectively) that the ASVAB does not cover.

Which test is more difficult? The differences in the tests appear to reflect their different goals. The sections of the ASVAB test more often rely on prior knowledge, and the ACT and SAT more often provide test-takers with information and ask them to solve problems with the information available.

The ASVAB test makes the time limit a component of the test. For example, in the Paragraph Comprehension section test-takers are given only two minutes per question even though the questions require reading paragraphs and recalling detailed information so the reader cannot dawdle. This time limit is true of other sections as well. There is no penalty for incorrect answers, but being able to make correct decisions quickly is an advantage to the score – and a future soldier.

Another indicator that the goals of the tests are different is in how students are told to prepare. The suggested preparation for the ASVAB is to take basic courses in high school and to work practice questions, according to For the ACT and SAT, in addition to practice tests, students are often coached on the “tricks” to use in figuring out the questions.