Army Alpha and Army Beta Test: what they are and what they were designed for

At the outbreak of World War I, the United States urgently needed a good army to ensure victory.

But the question was not so simple, because not everyone could handle the weapons or organize the missions. Competent people were needed and before sending them to the battlefield it was necessary to know their abilities.

That is why the Yerkes and Terman group designed two jars, the Alpha Army and the Beta ArmyTo find out which soldiers were worth and which were not, in addition to knowing if there were any who could stand out as leaders. Let’s take a closer look below.

    What are the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests?

    The Army Alpha and Army Beta tests are questionnaires that were developed for the US military during World War I.. They were first introduced in 1917 due to the need to develop a systematic tool to assess the intelligence and emotional capacity of soldiers.

    The Alpha test initially assessed verbal, numerical and ability to follow instructions, as well as taking into account the knowledge and information soldiers had before joining the ranks. These scores were useful in determining whether the soldiers could serve in their country., In addition to selecting them to fulfill different functions within the military, such as being group leaders.

    The beta test was an adaptation of the Alpha, as researchers found that in the United States at the turn of the last century not everyone was literate, in addition to the existence of significant immigration into North America.

    the story

    Army Alpha and Army Beta are they were based on the first intelligence tests, similar to those of Alfred Binet. When World War I broke out, the US military recognized the need to select good soldiers to ensure victory.

    The Alpha Army was created by Robert Yerkes’ group, along with his colleagues WV Bingham, Henry H. Goddard, TH Haines, Lewis Terman, GM Whipple, FL Wells. These experts in measuring psychological constructs, especially intelligence, got together in 1917 and began to design a standardized and rapid method for assessing the abilities of recruits.

    The intention of these questionnaires was to separate those who were mentally incapableIn the words of the researchers themselves, in addition to classifying soldiers according to their mental abilities and choosing them for specialized positions.

    Alpha Army

    During the administration of the Alpha Alpha, because they could only be completed by people who had no reading problems and had a native English level, the illiterate were separated from those who could read.

    The Alpha Army’s response time was approximately 40 to 50 minutes and was administered in groups., With about 100 to 200 men in each group.

    Alpha Army Structure

    The Alpha Army is divided into 8 tests. The recruits had to answer the tests as quickly as possible, and these consisted of tests of arithmetic, “common sense”, vocabulary, word order, number models, analogies and complete sentences. . Below we will briefly see what these tests were.

    1. Description of recruits

    This first test it consists of checking whether the recruits are able to give basic information about them, Such as first and last name, age, place of birth, race and highest university degree.

    2. Arithmetic problems

    There are 20 arithmetic problems of increasing difficulty, which include addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.

    3. Common sense

    Questions are asked in which they are given three alternative answers. The questions relate to aspects related to general American culture. An example of a question would be.

    Why are pencils used more than pens?

    1. Because they are brightly colored.
    2. Because they are cheaper.
    3. Because they are not that heavy.

    4. Vocabulary

    This test consisted of evaluating the vocabulary, have to indicate if two words are the same or opposite. For example: “dry” and “wet” in front or also?

    5. Words in order

    Very simple sentences are presented and recruits must indicate if, syntactically speaking, they are in the correct order. These were very basic sentences, but that too, in the cases that were in the correct order, made some sense. For example, strong lions (real, significant) and eating good gold or silver are (false, meaningless).

    6. Determine the digital models

    Series of numbers are presented and recruits should indicate which numbers would be the following. For example: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, … (9, 10)

    7. Analogies

    The participant must complete an analogy using the words presented to them as alternative answers.

    • The gun is to stab what the shots are to …
    • Running, cups, hat, bird. Answer: cuts.

    8. Complete sentences

    Sentences must be filled in, which they refer to aspects of the common culture. For example:

    • America was discovered by …
    • Drake, Hudson, Colom, Balboa. Answer: Colom.

    Army beta

    The Army Beta of 1917 is a supplement to the Army Alpha, used as a non-verbal alternative. this questionnaire was used to assess people who are illiterate, out of school or not knowing English. This questionnaire has been considered the archetype of modern cognitive skills tests, such as WISC and WAIS.

    This test was administered over a period of 50 to 60 minutes, and was administered in groups, as in the case of the Alpha Army. Unlike the Alpha Army, the Beta was administered in small groups, like 60 people, since being illiterate subjects who had to complete it, one had to make sure that everyone understood the instructions it was giving.

    The main objective of this test was to be able to assess people who had some kind of problem in terms of reading and speaking. Thus, despite the barriers in oral and written language, it was possible to assess skills which in principle seemed to have nothing to do with language skills and which could be useful on the battlefield.

      Army beta structure

      The Army beta has been broken down into seven tests, which we’ll describe very briefly below.

      1. Maze

      the participants they must join with a line the entry and exit of a labyrinth which is drawn on one of the tokens administered to them.

      2. Small

      On the cards, they had figures made of cubes and they had to indicate how many cubes they had.

      3. X and O

      The administrator draws an X and an O on a board, asking the subjects to make XOXO-like series …

      4. Code names

      There are ten symbols which are assigned to each of them in numbers from 0 to 9. The subjects they must indicate, under each symbol, which number it corresponds to.

      5. Different numbers

      This test measures the ability to see if they notice the differences by giving them two rows full of numbers, And see if they are the same numbers or not.

      For example:

      • 2345132 ….. 2345132 They must mark that they are equal.
      • 4765847 …. 4765947 They must mark that they are different.

      6. Complete a drawing

      They are presented with drawings of everyday objects, such as a face, a hand or a violin, which have a blank or incomplete part. Recruits must complete the figure.

      7. Build geometric figures

      To the subjects we give them cardboard boxes used to make geometric figures which are represented in the files administered to them.

      What were these tests used for?

      The two questionnaires they aimed not only to know the skills of the soldiers and therefore to be able to classify them according to the areas where they could be most useful.. They also aimed to find people with some form of intellectual disability, which at that time they were known as “mentally weak” and thus prevented a person who simply could not perform a beneficial function for the military from finding themselves in. rows.

      However, the group that developed these tests were aware that getting a low score on a questionnaire was not synonymous with intellectual disability, which was seen when they started applying the Army Alpha and saw that people who had normal cognitive abilities with the naked eye, did not perform well on tests because they could not understand them because of language barriers or because they could not read.

      also, getting low army beta scores did not necessarily imply that the person being assessed had an intellectual disability., Which the creators of the questionnaires were aware of and, to ensure that no soldiers were wasted, every effort was made to find a use for them.

      It should be noted that the United States at the turn of the last century was in dire need of lives that could be sacrificed on the battlefield. No one was officially reported as “mentally weak” until a thorough individual psychological interview was conducted to confirm this hypothesis.


      Using questionnaires and other intelligence tests to make important decisions about people has always been a very controversial aspect of measuring cognitive ability. Many psychologists trained to write the test had an overly extremist view of the inheritance of intelligence traits and other behavioral aspects, In addition to being very favorable to eugenics.

      Yerkes and his colleagues, using Army Alpha and Army Beta in non-white or non-American people, used it as a justification against immigration and racial miscegenation, claiming they had inferior ethnicities and races, and that excessive immigration to the United States was receiving at the time was something that could hurt America’s IQ. The psychologists who carried out these questionnaires after the end of World War I contributed to the legislation of anti-immigration laws.

      Outraged, in the Alpha Army there is a clear cultural bias, especially in the common culture test. It doesn’t measure intelligence, it measures the knowledge expected of an average white American. Given the differences between whites and blacks at the time, in terms of rights and educational opportunities, it was to be expected that blacks would score lower on this test.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Waters, BK (1997). The Alpha Army at CAT-ASVAB: Eighty Years of Military Personnel Selection and Classification Tests. In RF Dillon (Ed.), Manual on Evidence (pp. 187-203). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
      • Schmidt, FL and Hunter, JE (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274.

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