Make a pass

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Spelling bees, sums and a bit of computer stuff - there's nothing in the skills tests that should prove difficult for trainees, especially after reading this advice from Sara Bubb

What a joy the skills tests are. The Teacher Training Agency's reason for inventing them is "to ensure everyone qualifying to teach has a good grounding in the use of numeracy, literacy and ICT in the wider context of their professional role as a teacher". So, in order to meet standard 2.8, all trainee teachers must pass the skills tests in ICT, literacy and numeracy, irrespective of qualifications, subject specialisation or age group taught.

It's insulting to think that these skills wouldn't be picked up in the course of training by graduates who have to have maths and English GCSE.

Most people pass on their first or second attempt. This person's view of the tests is typical: "They were basic and easy to do, and the whole process was well organised, but they were hyped up to be a lot worse than they were. It was too much added stress for nothing". However, I do know a talented art teacher who took 15 attempts to pass the numeracy test and nearly jacked the whole job in.

Still, everyone needs to pass all three to achieve qualified teacher status, so get them out of the way as soon as you can. Don't worry about them until you've failed once or twice. I know that's no comfort to those who go to pieces in tests, who don't feel confident at maths or literacy or ICT, or aren't computer literate, and would prefer to be tested using a pencil and paper. But put them into perspective: compared with teaching 30 children every day, they're a minor inconvenience.

Registering and booking the tests have been challenges in themselves for many people. It's quite a palaver. Before booking, you must register using the seven-digit registration number that will be given to you from your training provider. If you have a disability such as dyslexia, or a visual or hearing impairment, or if English isn't your first language, you can apply - only at the time of registering - for 25 per cent additional time in which to complete the tests.

Once registered, you'll receive a username and password via email to the address provided at registration. One trainee said, "The cynical among us reckoned that having got through this process we had automatically passed our ICT skills test. We were wrong." The tests are taken online at designated centres throughout the country.

It's important to book these in plenty of time, to allow time to resit any before the end of your course. You can only book one test at a time, but you may take all three on the same day. The literacy and numeracy tests run for 45 and 48 minutes respectively and the ICT test takes 35 minutes. Allow for a break in-between.

You need to prepare for the tests as you would any exam. I've known people come a cropper because they mistakenly thought that having a degree in the same subject was enough preparation. But don't go overboard - you can take the tests as many times as you need and no one will know that you didn't pass first time unless you tell them.

Support materials on the TTA website ( include sample questions, self-tests, answers to check against and a commentary on the questions. The benchmark tests are useful: they give you a feel for the level of knowledge required to pass. The pass mark for these is 60 per cent, so they're not that hard.

Sara Bubb's new book, 'The Insider's Guide for New Teachers: Succeed in Training and Induction', is published by TESKogan Page pound;12.99


Each numeracy test covers mental arithmetic (12 marks), interpreting and using statistical information (seven marks), and using and applying general arithmetic (nine marks). Many find the mental arithmetic hardest, but practice helps. Learn those tables and remind yourself how to work out percentages. You have to wear headphones, then questions such as "In a test a pupil scored 18 marks out of 25. What was the pupil's score as a percentage?" are read twice.

Each literacy test covers four areas, for which different total marks are available: spelling (10 marks), grammar (eight to 12 marks), punctuation (15 marks), comprehension (eight to 12 marks). You have to do spelling first, then the other three can be in any order. In the spelling test, you're asked to write words that you hear and they are put into sentences about school. The words aren't unusual, but are a little tricky, such as accommodation, receipt, available, initiative, advertisement and strategies. In the punctuation test, the little hand turns grey when it is expecting you to insert a change, and it won't let you insert punctuation where none should be. The grammar and comprehension tests use the sort of letters or documents you'd come across at school. Take time to read thoroughly.

The ICT test covers your knowledge of word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, email and using a web browser. It's like testing you on everything in "Microsoft Office", but without using the software we know and love. The spreadsheet is like Excel, but it doesn't have the handy icons. Instead, there are words that you have to scroll down. Keep calm and work through slowly. You definitely need to practise this one.

When you take the tests, remember to take photographic proof of identity.

The only equipment you'll need is a pen or pencil. You get your results at the end of each test.

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