Standard Cognitive Psychological Tests to Predict Military Pilot Training Outcomes



Military pilot selection involves both the selection of candidates at pilots as well as selection of appropriate candidates as military officers. Military pilots must be medically and physically fit, demonstrate leadership as well as pass the military aptitude testing and pilot selection criteria. Given the costs involved in training a military pilot it is important that candidates are selected who have a high likelihood of completing their training and becoming operational pilots in order for the Government to gain their return on investment. King et al, 2013 examine the ability of two standard cognitive tests to predict military pilot training performance.


Cognitive tests were used as this has shown to be a good indicator of pilot success across a range of studies in the last 10 years (list references).

Multi Aptitude Battery (MAB)

The MAB is designed as a broad test to determine an individual's intellectual ability (Jackson, 1984). It has 10 subtests that produce three summary scores: verbal IQ, performance IQ and full scale IQ. These three scores have a mean of 100 and and a standard deviation of 15 in the general population. The norms are based on a sample of nine age groups and a mix of sex, race, ethnicity and geographic location.


The MicroCog is a test of cognitive ability over a range of cognitive behaviours (Powell et al, 1993). The primary purpose of this test was to assess clinical pathology in patients. The MicroCog produces 9 indices in domain based and higher order scores as listed in the results table above.

Research Approach

Cognitive assessments were taken across this sample group not to predict success, but to set a cognitive functioning baseline from which to make ideographic assessments.


All participants were USAF personnel selected for pilot training. 91% were male and 84% white. The mean age was 23 years and 99% of the sample were less than 30 years old. The sample size for the MAB was collected over a 14 year period between 1994 and 2008 and involved 12,924 participants. MicroCog the sample size was 5,582 participants over a 5 year period from 2003 to 2008.


The MAB and MicroCog were computer administered during the medical screening process for USAF Pilots. Data was collected in order to establish a baseline value of cognitive function. Participants were advised that results would be stored and made available in the event of a future need to establish baseline cognitive functioning in the event of a brain or other neurological injury. Participants were also asked if they would consent to allow their results along with an optional personality test to be compared with occupational outcomes, which is how this data was obtained.

Data Analysis

All statistical analyses used 0.05 type I error rate, one tailed test. A one tailed test was used because previous studies had shown a positive correlation between cognitive function and pilot training outcomes. The data was corrected for range restriction, dichotomisation1 and reliability to allow them to be compared. The two tests could not be corrected to the same reference groups and were corrected to their respective normative groups. Correlations were not made for the reliability of the test scores.


Observed correlations were corrected for range restriction and dichotomisation of the criterion and statistical significance was tested only for the observed correlations.


The graduation rate was 89.6%. The MAB showed moderate correlation for pilot graduation success, daily flying and check-flight grades and strong correlation for academic grades. The results were significant for mean score comparisons between successful graduates and all eliminees.

Score Graduation/All eliminees Academic Grades Daily Flying Grades Check Flight Grades
Full scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ) 0.29 0.56 0.28 0.26
Verbal intelligence quotient (VIQ) 0.26 0.55 0.25 0.24
Performance intelligence quotient (PIQ) 0.28 0.47 0.28 0.24


The overall graduation rate was 89.4%. The MicroCog showed the highest correlation with results from the general cognitive functioning and proficiency scores which showed a moderate correlation to graduation and academic grades. The results for this test were also significant for mean score comparisons between successful graduates and eliminees.

Score Graduation/All eliminees Academic Grades Daily Flying Grades Check Flight Grades
Attention/mental control 0.20 0.26 0.20 0.18
Memory 0.17 0.28 0.24 0.22
Reasoning/calculation 0.18 0.27 0.21 0.18
Spatial processing 0.29 0.26 0.25 0.22
Reaction time 0.12 0.13 0.09 0.08
Information processing speed 0.20 0.18 0.23 0.18
Information processing accuracy 0.22 0.35 0.21 0.20
General cognitive functioning 0.27 0.34 0.28 0.25
General cognitive proficiency 0.26 0.33 0.27 0.24


The results of this study were consistent with other studies regarding cognitive ability and pilot performance however the correlation of pilot performance for these two tests was not as high as that found for other USAF tests in use such as the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) and Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) scores. These tests also assess other factors that may have an impact on pilot success such as aviation knowledge, flying experience and psychomotor skills. Pilot training success is affected by an individual's ability and motivation. The MAB and MicroCog tests are able to assess an individual's ability to succeed in pilot training however they do not assess an individual's motivation which may affect the training outcome.

1. JACKSON, D.N. (1984).Multidimensional Aptitude Battery II: Manual. Port Huron, MI: SIGMA Assessment Systems. []
2. KING, Raymond E., Thomas R. CARRETTA, Paul RETZLAFF, Erica BARTO, Malcolm J. REE, Mark, S. TEACHOUT (2013). Standard Cognitive Psychological Tests Predict Military Pilot Training Outcomes. Aviation Psychology and Applied Human Factors 2013; Vol. 3(1): 28-38.[].
3. POWELL, D.H., E.F KAPLAN, D. WHITLA, S. WEINTRAUB, R. CAITLIN, H.H. FUNKENSTEIN (1993).MicroCog Assessment of Cognitive Functioning (Version 2.1), Manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation. []

Contributors to this page

Kiri Ohlson, Massey University (2013).

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