Before embarking on your teacher training, you'll have to take professional skills tests in literacy and numeracy. Discover how to prepare for and pass this crucial assessment of your core skills
While you might need specialist subject knowledge to become a primary school teacher, and certainly to go into secondary teaching, all prospective trainees require a finely-tuned skill set.
Taking the professional skills tests
Professional skills tests are for aspiring teachers who have submitted an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) application, in the process of obtaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
The tests are computerised, though some elements are delivered via audio headset. You can take the tests up to three times in any 24-month period - your first attempt is free, but you'll incur a charge for any subsequent resits.
Testing takes place at registered Learndirect centres across the UK and Europe. You can take the test at any available centre, and broadening the range of your search means you're more likely to find a time slot that suits you.
The numeracy skills test
The numeracy test is made up of 28 questions - 12 mental maths questions and 16 written arithmetic problems. The test takes approximately 48 minutes to complete.
The mental maths section will test you on:
- BIDMAS (brackets, indices, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction)
- fractions, decimals and percentages
These are examples of the types of mental maths questions asked:
- 2/3 of a sum of money is £8.40. What's the total sum of money?
- How much change would I receive from a £10 note after buying three watermelons priced at £1.65 each?
The written section of the test incorporates these areas but is more focused on testing your skills of interpretation, identifying trends and the ability to make comparisons. This section involves longer questions with accompanying graphs or diagrams.
The literacy skills test
The literacy skills test is divided into four sections:
- spelling (10 marks) - a ten-word spelling test given via audio headset, or in multiple choice format for the hearing impaired
- punctuation (15 marks) - candidates must add the correct punctuation to a passage which has none
- grammar (10-12 marks) - testing how to apply grammar, not the technical terms
- comprehension (10-12 marks) - identifying key points, distinguishing fact from opinion and making deductions are among the abilities tested.
The test should take no longer than 45 minutes.
Booking the tests
To book the skills tests you'll need to register online for free with Learndirect.
In busier areas of the country, you may have to wait up to three months until there's a slot available for you to book onto the tests. Access arrangements, including extra time allowance, a scribe or a reader, can be made if you're a candidate with additional needs.
The Department of Education offers a wealth of support for both the literacy and numeracy tests, including practice papers and glossaries of areas to revise. Take as many practice exams as you like - you won't be penalised for doing so, and they're a great way of preparing for the tests by finding out what to expect.
Revision materials exist to suit all methods of learning:
- On paper - Achieving QTS is a series of revision guides including basic overviews of what you'll need to learn and practice questions.
- Online - you'll be sent free online practice questions via email once you've registered with Learndirect.
What to take to the test centre
On the day of the tests, the assessment centre will ask for:
- Two forms of ID - your primary ID could be a passport or EU photo driving licence. Your secondary ID needs to be a document with your signature on, which could be a debit or credit card, UK armed forces ID or any form of identification that isn't being used as your primary ID.
- Evidence of application for initial teacher training (ITT) - this could be a welcome letter or email of correspondence from an organisation such as UCAS or Teach First, and can be presented as an original copy, photocopy or on a mobile device
Arriving without these documents means you won't be able to sit the tests and will forfeit the attempt, whether it's your first or a resit. This counts towards your three attempt limit in any 24-month period.
Tips from student teachers
- Ask for help if you're feeling stuck - 'I had connections at a school so asked Maths and English teachers for guidance,' says Laura Marshall, PGCE secondary trainee from the University of Worcester. 'They gave me some revision guides and helpful tips on how to answer some of the test questions.'
- Stay connected on social media - 'For any new teacher, Twitter is brilliant,' Cardiff-based TeachFirst student, Polly Clarke, recommends. 'If you're in a tough spot, almost all teachers are on Twitter these days and are there to help each other.'
- Good time management will keep you focused - 'On the day of the tests, get to the centre early to find somewhere to park and allow yourself time to sit and run through some questions and answers. This will help you stay calm,' says Laura.
The pass mark for skills testing currently stands at 63%. As no two skills tests are identical, tests with slightly harder questions will have a lower pass rate while the pass rate of slightly easier tests will be higher.
You'll receive your results as soon as you finish as a printed score report. Within 48 hours, you'll be able to access them digitally via your Learndirect account.
Once you've passed both tests you're ready to begin your teacher training. You'll need to begin your ITT course within three years as this is how long your pass results are valid for.
Should you need to book resits, you can do so 48 hours after receiving your results through your Learndirect account. In a 24-month period you're able to sit your first attempt and two resits before being 'locked out', at which point you'll have to wait until 24 months after your first attempt to begin the process again. Resits are priced at £19.25 per exam.
While you can book resits after 48 hours, it's a good idea to give yourself time to revisit weaker areas and build your confidence with more practice before trying again.