Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Acing the ASVAB: How to be a Good Test Taker

I was helping a friend study for the ASVAB the other day and I think I understand why he has always been, as he says, a "bad test taker".  This is a very common ailment but I had never really thought about why until then.  So, to all of you future service members (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard...), I present this guide to doing your very best on the ASVAB, and any other test you take from this day forward.

I'll use my friend as an example.  He's neither unintelligent, nor uneducated, so there is no reason why he should ever do poorly on this test.  His problem, and I suspect most "bad test takers'" problem, is that he goes about taking a test in a way that makes it more difficult and more stressful on himself.  In other words, he both does things the hard way and gets in his own way emotionally over it.  For example, let's say he has a word problem (math) that he's trying to figure out.  He's worried about time, so the first thing he does is rush in and try to start figuring numbers.  Next, he realizes that the numbers are too difficult to deal with without a calculator and take too long to compute anyway.  Half way through, he finds out he's not really sure what the question is asking because he rushed into it.  He may or may not come up with a good answer eventually, but by now he's getting flustered and makes a simple error of not converting feet into yards.  Reluctantly, he chooses and answer but is really worried about whether it's right.  He hurriedly moves on to the next question, still thinking about the last possible failure (and the clock), and starts layering on stress and frustration with each new question.

Wow.  I made this journey with him through about three questions before I realized that he actually intended to do the whole test this way.  I can't imagine anyone ever doing well on a test with that attitude.  Stress and frustration have a nasty habit of clouding your mind and making you more stressed out and frustrated.  I like to skip that part.  Here's how...

Stop.  Smile.  "Okay, we're about to answer some questions.  This should be fun.  Let's go!"  This may sound very strange to you, but this is the way I look at test taking.  I am great at taking tests, so maybe this method has merit.  Hear me out.  Your attitude greatly affects your mood and your ability to learn, focus, perform, etc.  When I go to take a test, I only bother to think about stuff that's going to help me.  I ignore things that will not.  The ASVAB is a great test because it is multiple choice, there is no point penalty for answering incorrectly, all of the math is meant to be done without a calculator, and everything is at a level meant for people who just passed high school.  In other words, the test is meant to be passed.  That's the good news.  There is no bad news.  Just remember not to waste too much time on any one question because you may run out of time.

Multiple choice tests are the greatest.  On the ASVAB, there are four options to each question.  Normally, you can eliminate one or two of those questions without having to do much work, if any.  If you're looking at an English question, at least one answer is always ridiculous.  In math, if you take a moment to see what the question is really asking, there is always at least one answer that, if you even just estimate, is not even close.  What that means to you is that when you inevitably come across a question you don't really know the answer to, you can make a blind guess between the two or three answers that look reasonable and still have a pretty good chance of getting it right.  That said, there is no need to panic whatsoever.

Speaking of math, keep in mind that, as mentioned, all of the questions are meant to be able to be done in a reasonable amount of time without a calculator.  You have scratch paper.  You'll be fine.  Just remember that if you're getting too caught up in strange numbers that are difficult to calculate, you're probably working too hard.  Who wants to work too hard?  I don't like dealing with strange numbers that take me too long.  I don't even like dealing with familiar numbers that take me too long.  If I don't know 13x9=? right off the top of my head, I don't waste my time trying to remember it.  I know that 3x9=27 and 10x9=90.  It's much quicker and easier to at 27+90 than try to remember multiplication tables, so I skip that part and do the easy adding instead.  There's no pride here.  I don't get hung up on why I can't remember my multiplication tables from third grade.  I don't care.  I can get that same answer much quicker my own way right now when it is needed.  In fact, after I add it up, I know that 13x9=117, just in case that comes up in another problem later on in my test.

It is also a good idea to glance at the answers before reading through the problem so you have a good idea of what your answer should look like when you're finished.  This will help you make a decision if you're unsure exactly what to do with the information they give you.  At least you'll know if they're asking for a dollar amount or a square footage of carpeting or a time or temperature.  Also, if the answers are just a number value and each one is very different, you shouldn't even have to do any real math.  You can just estimate and choose the one that is closest.  That way, you get the answer really quickly and save some time for the questions that will actually require a little scratch paper.

There is a section pertaining to shapes and spacial awareness.  A lot of people panic when they see this, but you don't have to because I'm about to tell you how to finish it quickly and get them all right.  If you sit and stare at all the shapes in front of you, you won't see anything but a bunch of odd shapes staring back at you.  Most of what you will be doing is matching up shapes in the example with shapes in the answer options.  Step 1: Pick a detail in the example.  If there is a particular shape of triangle, or a particular angle or side or arrow sticking out of a square or something distinguishable, find it.  Chances are, each answer will offer some version of this.  Most likely, upon closer inspection, two of the answer options will have a different version of this detail.  Immediately, you can eliminate those two answers.  Now you are left with only two to choose from.  Step 2: Pick another detail.  Which one of your two remaining options has the correct version of this detail?  That's your answer.  If you can do those two steps, you can avoid confusion and get all of those questions right, every time, in a timely fashion.  You are left with absolutely nothing to worry about.  Congratulations.

The most important thing for you to do is to stay in the moment.  Do not dwell on any previous questions.  In this test (if you take in on the computer, like I did) you will not be able to go back and change any of your answers.  Stay away from stressing about anything you can't change because it doesn't matter.  My friend was getting hung up on two basic things.  The first one is that he would answer a question and then really want to know what the real answer was.  Who cares?  You answered it.  Move on.  You won't know.  They will give you a number score when you're finished and that's it.  That question is over and effectively no longer exists.  Next.  The second thing is that if a question was vague, or let's face it, stupid, he would actually be judging both the test itself and the people who wrote it.  Again, who cares?  Just answer.  Guess if you have to.  Eliminate two answers and flip a coin.  You can get a great score without getting every question right, so let it go.  The sooner you answer the question, the sooner it's out of your life forever and you can move on to the next one.  The sooner you get them all done, the sooner the test is over and you can move on with your life.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Feel free to just guess and move on if you feel like you're getting too frustrated over one question.  If you're stuck on something you honestly don't know or remember how to do, make your best educated guess and save yourself some time and frustration.  Once you choose an answer, be sure to feel satisfied with it and relieved that that question is now gone.  This will help you move on to the next one with a positive attitude.  Remember, you really can get a great score without getting every single question right.

All of this is related to Emotional Discipline, which is another article for another day.  In a nutshell, just calm down.  You can't fight your emotions.  You can't try to force yourself to not get upset.  You can't get mad about getting frustrated.  Those are all just ways of trying to fight fire with fire.  The only way to lower your emotional level is to calm down.  Whatever it is, it's not helping you, so it doesn't matter right now.  You can get all worked up about it when the test is over if you want, but right now you need to focus on the task at hand.  Whatever it is you're worried about, let it go.  Maybe you're thinking about how much pressure you have on you to get this one question right because you need to get a good score to qualify for the job you want which is your future and your career.  What if you fail?  The military was your plan.  Now what are you going to do with your life?  How are you going to pay for school?  Ahhhh!  Deep breath.  How about we skip that part?  All of that pressure is stressing you out and clouding your test taking brain.  Plus, all of those thoughts are distracting you from your work.  The military does not ask you for a particularly high percentile to qualify for pretty much any job you want to do, so don't worry about it.  All you have to do is take your test.  You're not allowed to panic unless the test is over and you actually failed.  Even then, you have the opportunity to just study up a little and take it again.  No worries.

If you do feel like a little studying would help boost your confidence, offers some untimed practice tests and a little more information about the way the ASVAB is scored, etc.  ASVAB for Dummies gets pretty good reviews, so feel free to study up before you take your test. has a free online test that is timed, so that may help you.  If you have any questions about math or word meanings, a quick Google search should put your mind at ease.

Good luck on your test taking future.  Please remember that that ability to stay calm under pressure will help you at basic training, during your whole military career, and throughout your life.  Keep your head and it will look after you.  Thank you for your interest in serving in the US military.


  1. no wonder this blog doesnt have much followers, you're writing novels on common sense. tons of walls of text, no visuals and no unique content=recipe for failure

  2. Wow. Where to begin? First, problems are usually caused by lack of common sense or by people simply ignoring it for various reasons. That's why I started this blog. I don't get paid for this or anything, so I don't always make the time to take relevant pictures and upload them for visuals.

    About failure and lack of followers... I know you only read this article and my "about that" page. The stat counter on the bottom of each page is awesome. For you, it's just numbers. For me, it links to all kinds of interesting information. I know where in the world people are when they read my blog. I know what articles they are reading, when, and where they got the link from. I know when they come back and read them again later. They also contact me to thank me for writing on certain topics and forward my articles to their friends or share them on facebook. Yeah, my stat counter reflects that, too. All websites have one although sometimes it's invisible. Check my LHC visitor messages as some people contact me that way.

    Here's some common sense for you. A "follower" is only someone who has a blogspot account and bothers to hit the "follow" button. Most people access my blog by typing in the URL or by saving a link. You have no idea the international viewing this blog gets. I even had a few complaints during the time that I was not updating, yet people continued to read. My "followers" list is not representative of the actual following.

    In short, you're talking out of your ass. ;)

  3. the way, I wrote this article based on the conversation I was having with my friend when I was helping him study for his test. He is a pretty good example of someone who has the "bad test taker" issue. Surprise, they don't usually know why they're bad at taking tests! If he knew, he would have fixed it long ago. Guess what? He has since improved.

  4. Thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful blogs---
    By being motivated i have written something would like to share with you please read and give your valuable revert.
    Free asvab practice test

    How many times can you take the asvab

    Asvab test

    Asvab study

  5. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you got to watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Text Your Ex Back?