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U.S. Navy Lowers Test Standards to Meet Recruitment Numbers

USN recruits practice line handling
Recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, 2019 (USN)

Published Dec 5, 2022 11:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, the U.S. Navy announced that it will lower its entrance test standards, the latest in a series of quiet changes intended to address hiring challenges. 

About 80 percent of Americans of prime recruiting age are ineligible for military service due to obesity, criminal records and other obstacles, and the remainder have many non-military options to choose from in a robust job market. This year, the Navy needs to convince about 38,000 eligible Americans to enlist, and it is making some headline-grabbing changes in order to do it. 

In November, the service raised the maximum enlistment age from 39 to 41, the statutory limit. Effective Monday, it has also told recruiters that it will accept candidates who score well below average on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), the standard test administered in all U.S. military recruiting. 

For candidates with a high school diploma, the Navy's minimum allowable performance on the AFQT is now set at the 10th percentile, lower than 90 percent of all test results. This is the statutory minimum, and it is below historical standards for the armed forces. Previously, the Navy drew the line at the 30th percentile.

Recruitment in this lower bracket is limited by law, so the impact of the change may be small. Federal statute restricts the number of recruits scoring between the 10th and 30th percentiles on the AFQT to at most 20 percent of the annual cohort for any of the armed services. For the Navy, this would amount to a maximum of 7,500 low-scoring recruits per year. 

All Navy applicants will still have to qualify for a rating by taking a separate test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

“As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, changing the AFQT requirement removes a potential barrier to enlistment," Cmdr. David Benham, spokesperson for Navy Recruiting Command, told defense media outlets in a statement.

Last fiscal year, the Navy met its numbers, but it wasn't easy - and this year the target is 3,400 recruits higher. “Competition for top talent [is] fierce within the branches of the Department of Defense and the private sector, where major corporations have begun offering incentive packages to compete with the military,” the Navy said in October.