Before starting 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 may require specialist subject knowledge to become a primary school teacher, and certainly will do so if you aim to teach at secondary school, all prospective trainees must successfully navigate professional skills tests. Here's a breakdown of what's expected of you.

Application stage

You can register to take the professional skills tests with learndirect as soon as you've made an initial teacher training (ITT) or early years ITT application. If you meet the institution's entry criteria and pass this examination of your literacy and numeracy skills, you're then eligible to start your course and ultimately be recommended for qualified teacher status (QTS).

Your first attempt at passing each test is offered free of charge. However, resits currently cost £19.25. Should you fail your third attempt, you'll have to wait for two years before you're allowed to book any more tests. In other words, you'd be back at the beginning of the teacher training application process.

Test preparation

As you've only got three attempts to pass these tests, allowing enough time to revise beforehand is highly recommended.

You can take advantage of the comprehensive support available from the Department for Education to ensure that you're fully prepared. The site contains practice resources, such as interactive tests and details of what each test involves. You can even download paper versions of the online tests, to familiarise yourself with the types of questions asked.

Core skills test content

The content is set in accordance with the professional requirements of being a teacher. However, this isn't a test on the national curriculum for the subject, or how you'd be expected to teach it. No test is identical, with multiple sets of questions available - all of a similar standard.

The numeracy skills test consists of 28 questions (one mark for each) and lasts approximately 48 minutes. It's split into two sections: 16 questions on written arithmetic and data, and 12 questions on mental arithmetic. There's also a practice question that isn't included in the scoring.

The literacy skills test has a time limit of 45 minutes. It's split into four sections, with the following mark breakdown: spelling (10 marks), punctuation (15 marks), grammar (10-12 marks) and comprehension (10-12 marks).

See the specific Department for Education pages for more detail on what each test might contain.

Special arrangements can be made for those whose first language isn't English, or if you have a physical disability, visual or hearing impairment, or dyslexia. In these situations, you may be given additional time to complete the test. See access arrangements.

How to book your tests

The computerised professional skills tests are booked through approved learndirect test centres, up to three months in advance. Those already on a course will need to provide their Teacher Reference Number (TRN), but new applicants won't need one.

Once registered, you'll be given the option of taking the tests at one of the five closest centres to where you're based. The most up to date spreadsheet of approved test centres can be found via the Department for Education. Alternatively, you can call the learndirect helpline to find out what's available near you.

After booking, you're able to access your details online, manage your appointment, check your results and view your test history.

What to take with you

On the day of the tests, the centre will ask to see the following:

  • Proof of your teacher training application - This could be: a copy of a completed application form; your invitation to interview; or any other correspondence from a school, teacher training organisation or training provider.
  • Two forms of identification (ID) - The primary ID can be a passport, driving licence, student card or a completed alternative ID form; the secondary ID should be something with a name and signature, such as a debit or credit card.

Tips on taking the tests

  • Find out where the centre is and aim to arrive at least 20 minutes before your test is scheduled to begin.
  • Make sure you take all of the required documentation with you.
  • If you need to cancel the test, do so more than three days in advance; otherwise, you'll have to pay for your next attempt.

What happens next?

Test results are available 48 hours after taking the test. If you fail, you can rebook by logging into your learndirect account.

Once you've passed your professional skills tests, you're ready to start your teacher training. The pass results are only valid for a period of three years though, so you'll need to have started an ITT course within this timeframe - or the tests will need to be retaken.

For more information on how to apply to be a teacher, visit Get Into Teaching.