August 2, 2005

US Army creating IQ test for Iraqi Army recruits:

One of the least known but most decisive facts in the pseudo-controversy over the validity of IQ tests is that the U.S. military, after 88 years of intensively studied experience with giving IQ tests to tens of millions of potential recruits, remains utterly committed to using them. Indeed, since 1992, when the end of the Cold War and the destruction of Iraq, reduced the need for a giant standing army, only about one percent of all new enlisted personnel have gotten in with scores under the 30th percentile nationally on the military's entrance test.

The U.S. military currently gives potential recruits to the enlisted ranks a 10-part test called the ASVAB. Four of the current sub-tests made up the old AFQT IQ test, while the other six are more subject-specific, such as a test on automobile engine repair.

In all the discussions you've read about how the military might solve the problem of meeting its recruiting goals, you've probably never seen reference to the simplest: just lower the minimum IQ from the 30th percentile to the Congressionally-mandated minimum 10th percentile. This would immediately increase the fraction of eligible young people by 29 percent. Indeed, since people with IQs in the 80s don't have many good opportunities in the private sector, many would flock to the military.

The reason you haven't hear about this (besides the usual stifling of IQ discussions in the media) is because military hates the idea of lowering IQ standards. It has done an enormous amount of research on trainability by IQ, accidents by IQ, and the like and it knows low IQ soldiers aren't worth the expense and risk in a high tech military.

By the way, IQ testing also explains why non-Hispanics white soldiers are being killed in Iraq at a rate higher than their proportion of the 18 to 30 year old segment of the population. A majority of blacks are ineligible to enlist due to low test scores, and roughly half of Hispanics can't enlist. On the other hand, at least three quarters of non-Hispanic whites score above the 30th percentile nationally.

Also, the much vaunted racial equality within the U.S. Army stems directly from the use of cognitive tests. As I wrote in a couple of years ago:

Professors Moskos and Sibley found in their 1994 book All That We Can Be:

"83 percent of white recruits scored in the upper half of the mental aptitude test (compared with 61 percent of white youths in the national population), while 59 percent of black recruits scored in the upper half (compared with 14 percent of the black youths nationwide)."

In other words, the Army's black enlisted personnel score just as well on the general aptitude test as the average white American. (African-American officers average even better, of course.)

There are still differences, so whites tend to predominate in the most intellectually-challenging military jobs. Still, by drawing just from blacks with relatively high IQs, the Army has managed to sidestep a huge number of problems.

So the magic race relations bullet that the military has found turns out to be - IQ tests.

A reader sent me an article about the US wanting to devise a cognitive test for Iraqi army recruits. It comes from the expensive newsletter Inside the Army, along with his comment: "No [kidding], Sherlock ... of course, we can't even talk about this in the States, without winding up on the SPLC's list of racists."


The U.S. Army and Iraqi Ministry of Defense want to devise a screening test for recruits to the new Iraqi armed forces, with an eye toward weeding out unsuitable recruits and possibly identifying those that may have leadership skills.

A private contractor is being sought to design and administer a paper-based, multiple choice test for potential recruits to the Iraqi armed forces. According to a July 21 Defense Department report to Congress on stability and security in the country, 171,300 members of the Iraqi Security Forces have been trained and equipped as of July 4. The new test would be given to those wanting to join these ISF troops.

The proposed test would take no longer than an hour and it would take officials no longer than 20 minutes to score 100 of them using electronic scoring equipment. Officials hope this proposed pre-induction screening program would eliminate “unsuitable applicants before significant time and resources are wasted in the vain effort to train” them, and identify “those applicants possessing superior cognitive skills that make them likely prospects for future leadership roles in the military service,” according to a solicitation released July 22.

The Iraqi and U.S. militaries said in the solicitation that they want tests translated in Arabic and Kurdish languages, as well as an English version. Kurdish and Arabic scholars, and “man-on-the-street groups,” will review the different translated tests to incorporate cultural changes.

Plans for the pilot project, which could last a year, include initial testing of 5,000 applicants, averaging 100 per day.

The U.S. military has used similar tests for nearly a century. Owen Jacobs, who recently retired from the National Defense University, where he developed and managed a U.S. military assessment battery, said many Americans could not read and write in the early 20th century, which presented problems in recruiting qualified soldiers for World War I. The military, with the same goal as the current proposal to test Iraq’s soldiers, instituted a multiple-choice test to satisfy its literacy requirement.

“Now, I don’t know how it is in Iraq, but here, individuals who are not literate can go to great lengths to conceal it,” Jacobs said. “On a multiple choice test, which requires reading and understanding, a whole lot of people were just guessing.”

Jacobs said the strictness of the literacy requirement in Iraq, where 56 percent of all residents 15 years of age and over can read or write, should be based “on how many you can afford to throw away.

“If you can afford to throw away a large number, and literacy requirements are a part of the job, than it’s no problem. If I were doing it, I’d want one level of selection for individuals who are going to be doing security duties but aren’t likely for leadership roles or promotion. [As] in the U.S. Army, I would want one level of selection for privates and corporals, and then I would want another level of selection for lieutenants and captains. If I think a guy has a possibility of becoming a higher-level leader, I would be willing to invest more in that person.”

Jacobs raised questions about the value of paper-based assessments, suggesting they should instead consider use of “non-verbal” tests as a better alternative. Nonverbal refers to the type of question, not the way the question is asked. A mathematical equation, for example, would be a verbal test. Jacobs cited object rotation as a particularly effective method, in which a test taker spots five sets of five geometric figures and determines which set has been rotated, for example, 90 degrees. Another testing option favored by Jacobs is “matching” or “cancellation,” in which a test taker has to examine a succession of 50 letters and numbers and cross out all the number 5s or letter As. “Can I pay attention to detail?” Jacobs said of the point of that exercise.

In Iraq, police recruits now go through rigorous testing, for example. The screening process for police recruits includes a physical training test, a medical screening and a literacy test, including a requirement that all applicants have at least a high school diploma, according to the Defense Department. Police forces already are tested with an assessment tool developed by a contractor for the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq. That tool screens for literacy, and cognitive and suitability characteristics, according to DOD’s report to Congress.

Responses to the solicitation are due by Aug. 5.

“Research has proved that cognitive ability or general intelligence, is the single greatest predictor of job success -- for any position,” the solicitation states. “More effective than resumes, education, references or interviews, cognitive-ability testing gives objective information to aid hiring decisions.”

The solicitation said an effective screening mechanism has a potential savings of about 30 to 1 in training dollars. “In addition to screening out individuals who just don’t have the cognitive capacity to serve in the army, it should also significantly reduce the attrition rate in the training pipeline,” the solicitation says. Following the pilot program, the contract solicitation says, “validity studies” will be used to “evaluate whether the test would prove itself as a useful predictor of future success in the training program much the same as it has done in the U.S.” The test could become permanent if validity studies are positive and the U.S. and Iraqi governments agree to go forward.

An Army source, talking about the U.S. military’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test that anyone entering the services must take, said the goal is much the same as what is being sought of the Iraqi army.

“If we, the Army, are going to send you through training, we could pretty much successfully predict [based on the test results] that you are going to make it through training, and we’re not going to waste any money, we’re not going to set anyone up for failure,” the source said. “You’ve got a pretty good opportunity to successfully pass the course and be a successful rifleman, computer operator, signalman, medic, computer specialist, and they’ve had practically this whole century to develop this stuff.”

Army Col. Paul Bartone of the National Defense University’s Department of Leadership and Information Strategy, said in an e-mail to ITA that the U.S. military, like many organizations, relies on multiple choice tests a great deal. “They are cost effective and demonstrably valid. They are certainly not the only type of measure one might ider, but definitely a good place to start.

“No single test -- multiple choice or otherwise -- is used to identify high potential future leaders in the U.S. military, or to screen out low potential ones,” Bartone continued. “Rather, in U.S. officer selection, both [Reserve Officer Training Corps] and the service academy process, we rely on a wide range of indicators including high school grades, community service, demonstrated leader potential. . . . To my knowledge, there are no psychological tests, personality, intellectual or otherwise, given to our officer candidates as part of the application process.” -- Glenn Maffei

On the other hand, in the classic movie "The Man Who Would Be King," Sergeant Daniel Dravot (as played by Sean Connery) offered a contrasting opinion on the value of IQ in native troops. Here's a paragraph from my essay on the movie from late September, 2001, in which I predicted the US would win easily in Afghanistan, but then not find it easy to civilize it:

Daniel explains to his uncomprehending boot privates, "Good soldiers don't think. They just obey. Do you think that if a man thought twice, he'd give his life for Queen and country? Not bloody likely!" Noticing an Er-Heb man with an extremely small head, Daniel remarks, "Him there with the five and a half hat size has the makings of a bloody hero."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Unknown said...

hey fellas can someone tell me if the modern ASVAB is even an IQ test?

DevilDocNowCiv said...

I retired from the Navy in Aug 2012, after twenty years and 10 days. I took the ASVAB. This was an informative article, because I never knew about the IQ cut-off. I last read about the ASVAB in reading The Bell Curve a few years ago, because of all the controversy. I think if Reuters or AP ran Steve's article (above) we'd see the same controversy. Of course, it would also mean the end of the Global Warming controversy, because for them to run an article from Steve would mean Hell has frozen over.