Navy to Accept Recruits with Lowest Test Scores as Recruiting Goal Grows

Recruit chief petty officer does a count of his division as they prepare to march.
A recruit chief petty officer does a count of his division as they prepare to march in formation at Recruit Training Command. More than 35,000 recruits train annually at the Navy's only boot camp. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Mikal Chapman)

The Navy unveiled new guidelines Monday that allow the service to enlist thousands of sailors with entrance test scores that fall into the lowest aptitude percentile allowed by military standards as it faces a higher recruiting goal, according to a notice from Navy Recruiting Command reviewed by

Under the program, the service can recruit and contract up to 7,500 prospective sailors this year who fall under what the military calls "Category IV" recruits, or high school diploma-holding applicants who score within the 10th and 30th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT. Up to 20% of this year's active-duty enlisted pool could fall into the lowest allowable aptitude percentile.

The military has struggled with recruiting this year and, while it appears that the Navy is in calmer waters compared to its sister branches, namely the Army, the sea service squeaked by last year's active-duty enlistment goal by just 42 sailors. Now, it's been handed a goal that has been increased by more than 4,000 applicants, and the pressure to get prospective sailors to raise their right hand is high.

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"As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, changing the AFQT requirement removes a potential barrier to enlistment, allowing us to widen the pool of potential recruits and creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve," Cmdr. David Benham, spokesperson for Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, told via email Monday.

The notice, which was posted on social media and confirmed by the Navy, was effective as of Monday. Benham confirmed the service's previous and future recruiting goals to

He emphasized that the AFQT is graded on a scale against other applicants and is a barrier the Navy wanted to remove to expand the applicant pool. It is "not the determining factor" for eligibility as long as the applicant has a high school degree and does not score below the 10th percentile on the test, Benham told in a follow-up phone call.

"There'll be folks that score 10 that also don't qualify for a rating and therefore they're unable to join," he said. "There's going to be folks who score 30 or 40 or whatever, but still don't qualify for a rating and therefore would be unable to join."

The AFQT is part of the more commonly known Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB. While the AFQT determines whether someone is eligible for military service at all, the ASVAB determines the applicant's job prospects -- and Benham said that the "line scores" or subjects that relate to occupation-specific topics like general science, math or mechanical comprehension in the ASVAB remain the crux of eligibility.

"Individual Navy rating requirements are based off these fixed line scores, not the overall AFQT score," he said over email. "To qualify for enlistment, the individual must still meet the minimum line score requirement for a given Navy rating. These ASVAB line score requirements are unchanged by this policy, and they are not waiverable."

When asked whether the Navy is concerned that the change would produce a lower-quality talent pool, Benham again pointed to the line scores.

"Anybody who comes in under this change in policy will have still met the requirements to serve," he said over the phone, emphasizing that the Navy sees the notice as providing an opportunity for those hampered by AFQT scores, which are scaled based on all applicants.

He also emphasized that the 20% number for recruiting is a maximum, not a goal. But the policy change comes as other services attempt to broaden the pool.

Over the summer, the Army -- which missed its recruiting goal by 15,000 soldiers -- attempted to drop high school diploma requirements completely, only to reverse the policy almost immediately after the move was made public.

The Army also expanded efforts to shape up overweight or low-scoring recruits before they hit basic training, reported last month.

Last year, the Congressional Research Service reported that since 1993 the Defense Department's quality benchmarks for recruits have stipulated that at least 90% of enlistees without prior service must be high school graduates, and at least 60% must score above average on the AFQT.

It added that Pentagon regulations require that "no more than 4%" of the annual recruit cohort be in the Category IV bracket. Those who score less than the 10th percentile -- Category V -- are not allowed in the military at all.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: Army Expanding Pre-Boot Camp Course for Overweight and Low-Scoring Applicants

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