Army Alpha And Army Beta Test: What They Are And What They Were Designed For

Test Army Alpha and Army Beta

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

But the issue was not so easy, because not everyone could handle the weapons or organize the missions. Capable people were needed, and before sending them to the battlefield it was necessary to know their capabilities.

It is because of that Yerkes and Terman’s group designed two tests, the Alpha Army and the Beta Army, to find out which soldiers were worth it and which were not, in addition to knowing if there were any who could stand out as leaders. Let’s look at them in more detail below.

During World War I, the United States military faced the challenge of efficiently assessing the cognitive abilities of a large number of recruits to determine their suitability for military service. In response to this need, the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests were developed as intelligence tests to evaluate soldiers’ aptitude and capabilities. In this article, we delve into the history, administration, and significance of the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests in military recruitment and psychological assessment.

What are Army Alpha and Army Beta tests?

The Army Alpha and Army Beta tests are questionnaires that were developed for the United States Army during World War I They were introduced for the first time in 1917 due to the need to develop a systematic tool that would allow evaluating the intelligence and emotional adjustment of soldiers.

The Alpha test evaluated, in its beginnings, verbal and numerical ability and the ability to follow instructions, in addition to taking into account the knowledge and information that soldiers had before joining the ranks. These scores were useful to know if the soldiers were capable of serving their country in addition to selecting them to perform different functions within the army, such as being platoon leaders.

The Beta test was an adaptation to the Alpha, since the researchers encountered the fact that in the United States at the beginning of the last century, not everyone was literate, in addition to there being a significant immigration to North America.


Army Alpha and Army Beta based on the first intelligence tests, like those of Alfred Binet When World War I began, the American military became aware of the need to select good soldiers to ensure victory.

Army Alpha 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, met in 1917 and began to design a standardized and rapid method to evaluate the abilities of recruits.

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

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Army Alpha

The Army Alpha test was developed by psychologists under the leadership of Robert Yerkes and administered to literate recruits. It consisted of multiple-choice questions and tasks designed to assess verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities, as well as general knowledge and problem-solving skills. The test was written in English and could be completed individually or in group settings, allowing for efficient assessment of large numbers of recruits.

When administering the Army Alpha, because only people who did not have reading problems and had a native level of English could complete it, the illiterate were separated from those who could read.

The time taken to answer the Army Alpha was approximately 40 to 50 minutes, and it was administered as a group with about 100 to 200 men in each group.

Alpha Army structure

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

1. Description of recruits

This first test consists of checking whether the recruits are capable of giving basic information about themselves such as first and last name, age, place of birth, race, and highest academic degree.

2. Arithmetic problems

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

3. Common sense

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

Why are pencils used more than pens?

  1. Because they are bright colors.
  2. Because they are cheaper.
  3. Because they are not that heavy.

4. Vocabulary

This test consisted of evaluating the vocabulary, having to indicate whether two words are the same or opposite For example: “dry” and “wet”, opposite or synonymous?

5. Words in order

Very simple sentences are presented and recruits must indicate whether, syntactically speaking, they are in the correct order. They were very basic phrases, but they still made some sense when they were in the correct order. For example, strong lions (true, meaningful) and eating gold and silver well are (false, meaningless).

6. Determine number patterns

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

7. Analogies

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

8. Complete sentences

Sentences must be completed, which They refer to aspects of common culture For example:

Army Beta

Army Beta 1917 is a complement to Army Alpha, used as a non-verbal alternative. This questionnaire was used to test people who were illiterate, had no school education, or did not know English This questionnaire has been considered the archetype of modern tests of cognitive abilities, such as the WISC and the WAIS.

This test was administered in a time of between 50 and 60 minutes, and was administered in groups, as in the case of Army Alpha. Unlike the Army Alpha, the Beta was administered in smaller groups, about 60 people, since since those who had to complete it were illiterate, it was necessary to ensure that everyone understood the instructions given orally by the administrator. the proof.

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The main objective of this test was to be able to evaluate those people who had some type of problem regarding reading and speaking skills. Thus, despite there being barriers in oral and written language, it was possible to evaluate skills that, at first, did not seem to have anything to do with linguistic abilities and that could be useful on the battlefield.

The Army Beta test was developed as an alternative to the Army Alpha test for illiterate or non-English-speaking recruits. It utilized nonverbal, pictorial formats and tasks that did not require reading or writing skills, making it accessible to individuals with limited literacy or language proficiency. The test included tasks such as matching, assembling, and completing visual patterns, allowing for the assessment of intelligence regardless of language or literacy barriers.

Army Beta Structure

The Army Beta was divided into seven tests, which we will describe very briefly below.

1. Labyrinth

Participants They have to connect the entrance and exit of a maze with a line which is drawn on one of the cards that are administered to them.

2. Cubes

On the cards they had some figures made with cubes and they had to indicate how many cubes there were.

3. X and O

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

4. Encode numbers

There are ten symbols that are each assigned 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 lines full of numbers and see if they are the same numbers or not.

For example:

6. Complete a drawing

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

7. Build geometric figures

to the subjects They are given cardboard that is used to make geometric figures that are represented in the cards that are administered to them.

What were these tests for?

Both questionnaires Their objective was not only to know the abilities of the soldiers and, thus, to be able to classify them according to where they could be most useful They also had the objective of finding people who had some type of intellectual disability, who at that time were known as “feeble-minded”, and thus prevent a person who simply could not perform any beneficial function for the army from ending up in the ranks.

However, the group that developed these tests were aware that getting a low score on a questionnaire was not synonymous with intellectual disability, something that was seen when they began to apply the Army Alpha and saw that people who presented cognitive abilities at first glance normal, did not perform well on the tests because they either did not understand them due to language barriers or because they did not know how to read.

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Likewise, Getting low scores on the Army Beta did not necessarily imply that the person evaluated had an intellectual disability something the creators of the questionnaires were aware of, and to ensure that no soldier was wasted, every effort was made to ensure that a use could be found for them.

Notably The United States at the beginning of the last century was in great need of lives that could be sacrificed on the battlefield No person was officially reported as “feeble-minded” until they had undergone an extensive individual psychological interview to confirm this hypothesis.

Administration and Implementation

Both the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests were administered by trained personnel, including psychologists, officers, and test administrators. The tests were conducted in group settings, often in makeshift testing centers or barracks, with recruits completing the assessments under standardized conditions. Test scores were used to classify recruits into various military roles and assignments based on their cognitive abilities and aptitudes.

Significance and Legacy

The Army Alpha and Army Beta tests represented significant advancements in the field of psychological assessment and intelligence testing during World War I. They demonstrated the feasibility and utility of standardized testing methods for evaluating large populations, informing military recruitment, training, and placement decisions. The tests also laid the groundwork for future developments in intelligence testing and psychometric assessment, influencing the development of subsequent intelligence tests such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.


The use of questionnaires and other intelligence tests to make important decisions about people has always been a highly controversial aspect of measuring cognitive abilities. Many psychologists who trained in the development of the test had a too extreme view on the inheritance of intelligence traits and other behavioral aspects in addition to being very supportive of eugenics.

Yerkes and his colleagues, by using Army Alpha and Army Beta on non-white or non-American people, used it as a justification against immigration and racial mixing, ensuring that there were inferior ethnic groups and races, and that the excessive immigration that The United States was receiving at the time was something that could harm America’s IQ. The psychologists who conducted these questionnaires, once the First World War ended, contributed to the legislation of anti-immigration laws.

Besides, in Army Alpha there is a clear cultural bias, especially in the common culture test It does not measure intelligence, it measures the knowledge expected of an average white American. Given the differences between whites and blacks at that time, in terms of educational rights and opportunities, it was to be expected that black people would have lower performances on that test.

The Army Alpha and Army Beta tests played a crucial role in assessing the cognitive abilities of military recruits during World War I, providing valuable insights into their aptitude and potential for service. While the tests had limitations and controversies, they represented important milestones in the history of intelligence testing and contributed to the advancement of psychological assessment methods in both military and civilian contexts.


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