The qualified teacher status (QTS) skills test is the last hurdle before finishing what has already been a challenging year. You need to pass a literacy, ICT and numeracy test before achieving QTS, and while the literacy and ICT tests don't usually cause too much trauma, many soon-to- be teachers find the numeracy test tough to pass.
Before being accepted on to a teacher training course, you need to prove your academic ability by having an undergraduate qualification, A-levels and GCSEs, including maths, but this will have been a few years ago. Regardless of what subject you are going to teach, you need to pass the numeracy test before becoming a fully fledged teacher. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) says: "The QTS skills test in numeracy is intended to ensure that everyone qualifying to teach has a good grounding in the use of numeracy in the wider context of their professional role as a teacher."
The maths test covers three areas: mental arithmetic; interpreting and using statistical information; and using and applying general arithmetic. The TDA website (www.tda.gov.ukskillstestsnumeracy.aspx) contains a lot of information about the test content as well as practice papers so you can fully prepare yourself beforehand.
It may have been a while since you had to revise for an exam, but it will come back to you. The website has a numeracy glossary with all the terms and formulas that you will need, and you could start off by writing out revision cards of everything that you are unfamiliar with.
Georgina Kearney, who did her PGCE at Bath Spa University last year, was nervous about doing the numeracy test, but after taking the time to revise, she managed to pass first time. "I did lots of revision beforehand, which included attempting the practice tests that are available online," she says. "I also got excellent general training in maths and I bought the book The Numeracy Skills Test to support my revision."
You are given five chances, but because you can't get a job until you pass, it can be stressful. "The testing is done in a serious way and although you have lots of attempts to undertake the tests, there is pressure to pass as soon as possible," says Ms Kearney.
Laura McGowan, who did her PGCE at London Metropolitan University two years ago, agrees and says that she was surprised by how difficult it was. "I always considered myself quite good at maths and got an A in my GCSE quite easily, but I failed the numeracy test twice before passing my third time around," she says.
"It's really worth doing the practice papers to know what's expected and to get a sense of timing. I realised that my lack of familiarity with the format - for example, not knowing that I couldn't go back to questions I'd already tried - was what held me back, and then I got quite nervous after not passing the first time."
Ms McGowan qualified as a secondary teacher, but now works as a supply teacher in primary schools in London. "It's good to know that I have a enough knowledge to take maths classes," she says. "Coming into a class without knowing even the topic can be daunting, but doing the test and revising for it has made me a bit more confident."
Working out averages, understanding statistics and interpreting graphs are all things that come in handy during your own professional career, alongside your subject knowledge.
Maths lectures were already built into Ms Kearney's course. "I felt that I got far more mathematical training and revision from my university seminars than from a stressful, challenging test," she says.
Although she thinks the QTS test was an additional hassle in an already stressful year, her maths tutor was able to help when she was revising. "My advice to other students is, if you need extra support, speak to your maths tutor or maths colleagues," she says.
Regardless of how useful you think it is, the numeracy test is something that you will have to do. The better prepared you are and the sooner you get it out of the way, the less stressful it will be.
- Fairclough, L., Lea, C., et al (2001) Success with Numeracy for the QTS Skills Test (BookCDRom), Success Publications. The audio CD contains seven mental arithmetic tests.
- Patmore, M. (2003) Passing the Numeracy Skills Test (Achieving QTS), Learning Matters
- Cooke, H. (2001) Passport to Professional Numeracy, David Fulton Publishers.