You can't teach unless you pass the three skills tests, but they're not as bad as all the exams you've taken to get you this far, says Sara Bubb
You may have thought your days of taking exams were long over. But the skills tests continue to exasperate trainees and teacher trainers alike.
In 2003-4, more than 34,000 people took the tests for the first time, and many failed. The mean number of attempts needed to pass the numeracy test, for example, was 1.36, so they eat up a huge amount of money, time and stress.
To meet qualified teacher status standards, all trainees must pass the skills tests in ICT, literacy and numeracy, irrespective of their qualifications, subject specialisation or the age group they aim to teach.
The tests were introduced in 2001 by the Teacher Training Agency, as it was then known. Their aim was "to ensure everyone qualifying to teach has a good grounding in their use of numeracy, literacy and ICT in the wider context of their professional role as a teacher". It's insulting to think that these things wouldn't be picked up easily in the course of training by graduates who have to have maths and English GCSE.
Would you ever have to work out this little gem in test conditions?
A teacher started an activity which lasted 114 hours at 13:35. What time did the activity finish?
The tests aren't that hard and you only have to score 60 per cent to pass.
In its first year, the ICT test had the highest pass rate: 86.2 per cent of candidates passed first time; 96 per cent were qualified after two attempts.
Older people find it harder to pass than the younger trainee. Numeracy is hardest with only 81.6 per cent passing first time, but 9 people out of 10 pass after two attempts.
We all know that technology is great when it works and frustrating when it doesn't. One TES website correspondent, shinylittlestar, recounts: "I finished my ICT test and the computer crashed!! The others who were taking the test had to re-book theirs for another day because the computers crashed before they finished and results were lost. My friend failed her maths because the headphones were so quiet she couldn't hear the mental maths questions. The English test writing was so small it was hard to read."
Don't allow yourself to worry about the tests until you've failed at least once, if not twice. I know that it is no comfort to those of you who go to pieces in tests, don't feel confident or aren't brilliant on computers (especially an unfamiliar one), and would prefer to be tested with a pencil and paper.
Put the tests into perspective. Surely compared with teaching 30 children every day, such tests should be seen as a minor inconvenience?
Registering has been a challenge for many people, with computers crashing and individuals having to try in the dead of night when the system isn't overloaded. It's quite a palaver. In fact, another TES website contributor, jules30, thinks it's part of an extra skills test... in patience!
If you have a disability or English is not your first language, you can apply for25 per cent extra time in which to complete the test. People whose first language is not English needed more attempts in all tests than the average, so this is worth going for.
Once you're registered, you receive a username and password by email to book the tests online at designated centres throughout the country. At the moment there is a month's waiting time at some centres, so it's important to book these in plenty of time.
Details of directions, maps and general opening hours for each test centre are on the Training and Development Agency for Schools website*. You can only book one test at a time but most people take all three tests in the same half-day. The literacy and numeracy tests run for 45 and 48 minutes respectively, and ICT takes 35 minutes.
When you take the tests you must have photographic proof of identity. The only equipment you'll need is a pen or pencil. For the numeracy test there's an on-screen calculator, although many people say it's not easy to find. You get your results at the end of the test.
You need to prepare for the skills tests as you would for any other exam.
People have been known to come a cropper because they thought the tests would be a breeze as they have a degree in the subject. Some preparation is needed, 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 TDA website help you practise sample questions.
Test yourself, check your answers and consult the commentary provided on the questions. Just get used to working quickly, since the tests have a tight time limit.
Training and Development Agency for Schools www.tda.gov.ukskillstests
* This covers spelling, grammar, punctuation and comprehension. In the spelling test you're asked to write words that you hear, but they are put into the context of some sentences about school. l The Training and Development Agency for Schools chooses words that aren't unusual but which are a little tricky, such as accommodation, receipt, available, initiative, advertisement, strategies.
* In the punctuation test, the little hand turns grey when it is expecting you to insert a change so it won't let you put a piece of punctuation where none should be.
* The comprehension test involves reading several paragraphs, then answering some multiple-choice questions. The grammar is fairly straightforward. You're asked to select the best of several choices to insert in blank lines in a letter.
* This tests your knowledge of word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, email and web browsers. It's a bit like testing you on everything in 'Microsoft Office' but without using the programs people use in real life. For instance, you can't right click. The spreadsheet is like 'Excel' but it doesn't have the handy icons but words that you have to scroll down.
* This covers mental arithmetic, interpreting and using statistical information, and using and applying general arithmetic. l Most people find the mental arithmetic hardest but, again, practice helps. You have to wear headphones to hear questions such as: "As part of a 212 hour literature workshop, pupils watched a film lasting 1 hour and 42 minutes. How many minutes of the workshop remained?" l Each question is repeated so most people write the key numbers and units the first time and listen the second.