The PiCAT Test
Updated May 17, 2022
The Pre-screening Internet-delivered Computerized Adaptive Test (PiCAT) is an online assessment, introduced in 2018, that applicants to the armed forces must sit.
The PiCAT is administered at the beginning of the enlistment process to help assess a candidate’s suitability for different military roles and aid in assigning appropriate training pathways.
It indicates what is referred to as a candidate’s Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) potential across the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.
The PiCAT evaluates career fields in positions such as:
- Field Artillery
- General Technical
- General Maintenance
- Mechanical Maintenance
- Operators and Food
- Surveillance and Communications
- Skilled Technical
Once candidates have their PiCAT score, they will be signposted to their local Military Entry Processing Site (MEPS) to explore their career options.
The higher a potential recruit scores on the PiCAT, the more significant number of career pathways open to them.
You do not need a high school diploma to sit the PiCAT and join the armed forces.
Still, entry standards vary according to whether candidates are high school or college graduates or have a General Equivalency Diploma (GED).
Candidates with a GED are tier-2 applicants, whereas those with a high school or college diploma are classified as tier-1.
Tier-2 candidates can raise their ranking by completing 15 college credits.
Note that GED only applicants need a higher score, or 50% or above, to meet enlistment requirements.
The number of slots for tier-2 applicants is limited across all military branches.
Each military service branch has a pre-requisite score for entry. There are also minimum score guidelines for each role.
These will be weighted to the areas of the test most relevant to the responsibilities of the job.
Branches accept scores of between 31 and 40 from individuals with a high school diploma. However, a score of 50 or above is a good goal.
The most desirable jobs require a solid PiCAT result, so it is worth investing time in comprehensive test preparation.
The PiCAT consists of 10 sections, with around 10 to 20 questions for each topic.
Each section has a different focus.
Some sections align more to general reasoning assessments testing mathematical and verbal skills, while others require high-school-level or technical subject knowledge.
The test is taken at home through a link from the local recruiter that, once issued, is valid for 30 days.
Once the test is activated, candidates have 24 hours to submit the completed assessment.
No outside assistance in the form of reference material, internet resources or verbal aid is permitted.
The PiCAT is not administered under timed conditions.
Upon completion, an instant review of the results should be available.
The PiCAT can be retaken if necessary; however, there is a minimum required wait time.
There are, however, no limits on repeat assessments.
The test is exclusively administered in English.
Within the PiCAT, there are 145 multiple-choice questions to answer.
The topics covered are as follows:
General Science – This section requires candidates to draw upon the knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, geology and meteorology.
Arithmetic Reasoning – In this section, mathematical problems will be presented as written problems, with candidates required to apply basic knowledge of mental arithmetic, fractions, ratios, percentages and sequences to reach the correct answer.
Word Knowledge – This section requires candidates to identify the correct definitions of words (highlighted within sentences) or synonyms for their use.
Paragraph Comprehension – Candidates will need to read, understand and interpret paragraphs of text, answering questions based on the given knowledge and its implications.
Assembly of Objects – This section of the test assesses spatial reasoning skills through questions involving technical figures and shapes. There may also be questions involving the interpretation of maps and graphs.
Shop Information – Questions in this section will cover standard shop tools, practices and methods. For example, a question may depict a tool, with the candidate required to select its function from the options given.
Auto Information – This section contains questions encompassing automotive systems and repairs. Questions may involve images or diagrams of tools and machine parts.
Mathematics Knowledge – The mathematics knowledge section covers understanding of algebra and geometry, along with other mathematical concepts such as fractions, ratios and percentages.
Mechanical Comprehension – This section tests a candidate’s knowledge of mechanical devices and processes. It assesses basic understanding of mechanical and physical principles and includes questions involving pulleys, gears and levers.
Electronics Information – The electronics section of the test assesses candidate familiarity with electrical components and formulas. It will include questions on circuits and currents, along with features of radio and television electronics.
The most significant sections of the PiCAT are Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning and Mathematics Knowledge. These provide a base skills assessment for all career pathways.
These are the four sections candidates must pass to progress with the rest of the test.
The technical sections, such as Mechanical Comprehension, Electronics Information, Auto Information and Shop Information, are more aligned to specific roles.
However, it is still essential to exhibit an overall level of comprehension.
The general education sections contain content similar to that featured in the high school SATs.
Each PiCAT section is scored individually. The section scores are then combined into a series of composite scores that determine a candidate’s fit for serving in the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps.
PiCAT candidates are required to complete a follow-up 25 to 30-minute verification test (at their Military Entry Processing Site) to confirm their results.
This test comprises 30 questions, chosen at random from the selection answered in the full PiCAT.
The verification test checks that candidates can follow the same processes as they did in the PiCAT.
It is therefore important to feel comfortable in redisplaying employment of methodologies and formulas used.
If PiCAT results are not verified, they are considered invalid. Also, if too much time elapses between taking the PiCAT and validating the results, the results will be void.
There is usually a 30-day deadline for verification. If a candidate fails the PiCAT verification test, they will need to sit the alternative ASVAB (see below).
If a candidate changes their mind about enlisting straight away, their PiCAT score remains valid for five years.
To comprehensively prepare for your PiCAT test, consider the following tips:
Practice using sample tests and questions – Sitting practice tests is the best way to become familiar with the format, style and content of the PiCAT. If you can’t find enough practice for PiCAT tests or want to be thorough in your preparation, you can look at practice ASVAB papers, as both tests focus on the same core competencies.
Refresh your high school English, math and science knowledge – If you finished high school several years ago, you might benefit from reviewing your SAT level English, numeracy and science knowledge and, if necessary, doing some extra work to increase your comfort with the material.
Anticipate and fill the gaps in your education – If you have never done any mechanical, electronics or auto-based subjects, learn the basics of each to prepare for the test. For example, ensure you know the basics of a circuit and feel comfortable performing force calculation methods.
Set yourself up for success by sitting the test in an appropriate environment – Take the PiCAT in a quiet room, free from distractions. The test is lengthy and requires good concentration to ensure accuracy. One of the benefits of the PiCAT is that it can be sat in a space you find comfortable.
Prepare your equipment – You will need a desktop computer or laptop to sit the PiCAT. Before beginning the test, check that you have a stable internet connection to prevent any technical glitches. It is also advisable to update your browser and clear your tabs to allow the test to run as smoothly as possible.
The most common method to assess the suitability and strengths of recruits looking to join the armed forces used to be the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB).
The ASVAB is a timed and invigilated assessment taken at a Military Entry Processing Site or Military Entrance Test center.
The computerized PiCAT is a self-administered alternative to the ASVAB testing procedure. Therefore, unlike the ASVAB, the PiCAT can be taken at home, making it more efficient to both sit and administer the test.
However, the PiCAT requires score verification in the form of a short second proctored assessment – whereas the ASVAB test stands alone.
Here are some of the other key differences between the two tests:
The ASVAB has a time limit of three hours, whereas the PiCAT is completed at a candidate’s own pace.
Both tests cover content from the same 10 skill areas to assess general education and aptitude for specific military occupations.
If you fail to pass the first four sections of the PiCAT test (paragraph comprehension, word knowledge, arithmetic reasoning and mathematical knowledge), you will be disqualified from progressing with the rest of the assessment. The ASVAB is graded as a whole once completed.
If a candidate fails the ASVAB, a second attempt can be made after a period of two months. However, if the PiCAT fails, the candidate must wait two years until reapplying and retaking the test. This means that preparation is crucial to avoid a substantial setback to your timeline.
While the retake time for the PiCAT is longer, it can be taken as many times as desired. The ASVAB can be taken a maximum of four times.
If a candidate has already taken the ASVAB, they are not eligible to sit the PiCAT. A score achieved through the ASVAB can only be improved by retaking the same test.
For candidates who suffer from anxiety when taking tests, sitting the assessment in the comfort of their own home may be an attractive option and could increase the chances of success.
Taking the PiCAT also often speeds up the enlistment process.
The test can be taken as soon as a link is provided, rather than candidates needing to wait for a test session at their local Military Entry Processing Site.
Whichever test you are asked to take, taking either the PiCAT or the ASVAB results in an Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score.
Depending on its strength, it qualifies applicants for enlistment into the different service branches of the armed forces.
The PiCAT and the ASVAB are similar assessments, with differences relating to administration rather than content.
Like its sister test, the PiCAT is a challenging exam covering a wide range of technical and general education topics.
Remember that military recruiters use the PiCAT to highlight potential candidates, so they are looking for the ability to learn and develop rather than a large existing base of high-level knowledge.
By preparing thoroughly for the PiCAT, you can ensure you will be familiar with the test format and comfortable tackling any tasks set.
Practicing thoroughly for the test is the key to achieving a high score and picking career pathways within the Armed Forces.