AFOQT: Breaking the Language Barrier
US Air Force | Oct. 6, 2021
In a giant leap toward increasing diversity within its ranks, the Department of the Air Force recently made changes to its qualifying test for officers. By reducing the mandatory delay between tests from 180 to 90 days and allowing for ‘super-scoring’ of test subcategories, much like college SAT and ACT scoring, DAF is making headway in modernizing its approach to accessions and human capital management. These changes are expected to increase the pool of qualified applicants without adjusting standards, and are expected to have the most impact in underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
Since 1953, the primary test the DAF uses to measure and align officers is the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. The AFOQT is a managed aptitude test utilized to select the most qualified pool of officers and outplace candidates to job-specific functions. The AFOQT is divided into 12 subtests, with results in the following areas: quantitative, verbal, academic aptitude, pilot, combat systems officer and air battle manager. While the AFOQT has proven to be beneficial, the validity, fairness, and bias of the test are continuously being scrutinized to ensure the DAF is able to recruit and use America’s top talent.
The Hispanic Empowerment and Advancement Team, a DAF Barrier Analysis Working Group, sought feedback from across the total force on how the AFOQT presents testing barriers that do not allow qualified, English as a second language candidates to serve in the DAF. Maj. Rafael, the lead for the HEAT’s overcoming language barriers line of effort, analyzed the issue and advocated for AFOQT modernization to ensure the test continues to maintain a high standard for its officers and is equitable for Hispanic officer candidates who desire to serve their country.
The HEAT line of effort complements the initiatives of the Air Force Pilot Selection Process Working Group, led by Air Education and Training Command. This working group, which includes experts from the Air Force Personnel Center and HAF/A1, conducted extensive research to identify and remove barriers for qualified candidates and improve diversity, while upholding standards of excellence when selecting pilot candidates. The working group has provided 12 comprehensive recommendations, including updates to the Pilot Candidate Selection Method and modernizing the AFOQT, to provide more diverse qualified candidates.
Here are the recently implemented changes that resulted from the Pilot Selection Process Working Group’s recommendations:
- Minimum time allowed between testing: Previously, 180 days. Now, 90 days.
- Super-scoring: Previously, AFOQT scores associated with only a single test administration were used. Now, the highest AFOQT composite scores are used across any and all previous AFOQT attempts.
- Super-scoring for rated: Previously, individuals could not compete in rated boards with a super score. Now, super-scoring can be used across all composites to include rated score sets.
First, the minimum time allowed between testing provides greater flexibility for cadets competing for field training, rated boards or commissioning slots. This means that cadets will have more opportunities to take the AFOQT before field training or before Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps boards. Moreover, cadets and detachments are better suited to track cadet progression while they complete the AFROTC program.
Secondly, the super-scoring system is a great equalizer for ESL cadets because they can focus on the verbal portion of the AFOQT after they have a passing score on the quantitative portion of the test. Cadets of Hispanic-Serving Institutions with a STEM focus, like the University of Puerto Rico, typically receive above-average scores in the quantitative portion of the AFOQT the first time. However, these cadets fail the verbal portion of the AFOQT due to language barriers. Allowing the highest AFOQT composite score will allow ESL cadets to focus solely on the verbal portion of the test thus increasing the overall pass rate.
Lastly, allowing those cadets to compete for a rated board enables the Air Force to leverage talents to fill critical manpower shortfalls and have opportunities to lead at the highest levels in the Air Force. Typically, rated board restrictions prohibited waivers or deviations during the application phase. This regulation change will allow for more Hispanic cadets to leverage the super-score change to be able to apply for rated positions.
Editor’s Note: The HEAT is comprised of total force volunteers across the Air and Space Force, who want to be the change they want to see in the Department of the Air Force. If interested in being a catalyst for positive change for the Department of the Air Force Hispanic community, please reach out through the HEAT Facebook group.