Cover: Strength Testing in the Air Force

Strength Testing in the Air Force

Current Processes and Suggestions for Improvements

Published Dec 5, 2014

by Carra S. Sims, Chaitra M. Hardison, Maria C. Lytell, Abby Robyn, Eunice C. Wong, Erin Gerbec


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Research Questions

  1. How is the Strength Aptitude Test used in practice?
  2. How could the current processes for establishing minimum strength requirements be improved?
  3. Are there other valid methods for collecting physical requirements information?

Since 1987, the Air Force has used the Strength Aptitude Test (SAT), a test of physical strength that uses the incremental lift machine, to screen and classify enlisted personnel into career specialties. In this study RAND evaluated the usefulness, validity, and fairness of the SAT — something not done for more than two decades. RAND's research focused on two areas. The first area was implementation of the SAT at military entrance processing stations. The researchers observed that SAT administration, while fairly consistent, could be improved: SAT machines need to be inventoried on a regular basis to identify and repair damage; a standardized training procedure is needed for all test administrators; and recruits need to be fully informed prior to taking the test as to its purpose and the value of preparation. The second area was the process for setting strength requirements for career fields. The researchers concluded that the method of collecting physical requirements information might be deficient because it involves only limited input. As an alternative, they developed and tested an online survey tool for defining strength requirements. The survey asked respondents in eight Air Force Specialties to describe aspects of the job's physical requirements that are vital for defining strength requirements. Analysis of the data collected validates the potential effectiveness of the survey, and the researchers suggest it can be used in conjunction with the Air Force's existing occupational analysis survey. Further, they recommend the Air Force establish a new method for calculating SAT scores.

Key Findings

Although the same incremental lift machines were used for Strength Aptitude Test (SAT) administration at all military entrance processing stations (MEPS), there were some inconsistencies in test administration.

  • In some MEPS, recruits were tested individually; in others, they were tested in groups.
  • Other variations were found in testing protocol: for example, at some MEPS, recruits were tested to the full range of the incremental lift machines, and at some MEPS, re-takes were allowed.
  • Some recruits were told how the test will be administered and what score they needed to have for a particular job; others were not.
  • However, overall, most machines were found to be in good working order.

The process for setting strength requirements for career fields might be deficient because it involves only limited input.

  • Many elements of the program are unsupported.
  • Other key elements that should be considered in the method are absent (including the duration and importance of various tasks).
  • The process should be changed to consider a broader range of factors that more accurately reflect physical demands.


  • Inventory incremental lift machines on a regular basis to identify and repair damage.
  • Develop a standardized training procedure for those administering the Strength Aptitude Test (SAT) and audit implementation regularly.
  • Issue new guidance to recruiters requiring them to fully inform recruits about the SAT and encourage preparation.
  • Establish a new method for converting job demands information into minimum scores for each Air Force specialty.
  • Add items addressing physical demands to the Air Force's occupational analysis survey.
  • Begin collecting data on the SAT and other alternative tools before and after basic training for use in future validation studies.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Directorate of Force Management Policy (AF/A1P) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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