All trainee teachers must pass the skills tests, irrespective of their qualifications, subject specialisation or age group taught. These tests were brought in last year amid great controversy. Teacher trainers felt they had not been consulted. Students saw it as another huge burden they had not signed up to.
The tests add considerably to the pressure on beginning teachers, particularly for PGCE courses where time is very tight. Certainly, the tests distract people from crucial teaching practices.
The Teacher Training Agency's reason for bringing in the tests 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".
This seems unnecessary, as maths and English GCSE are an entry requirement anyway and all courses have to follow the initial teacher training national curricula for ICT. In any case, the ICT test has been postponed until the next academic year - because of technical problems.
So, what tests do you need to pass? If you got QTS between May 1 last year and April 30 this year, you have to pass the numeracy skills test. Ninety-three per cent of entrants have done so. You can have five attempts at the test in total, but must pass to complete induction.
If you are due to qualify between May 1 this year and April 30 next year, you have to pass the literacy and numeracy tests. You can have four attempts. People who are due to qualify after May 1 next year will have to pass the ICT test as well.
Apply for the tests now. The tests are taken online at designated centres throughout the country. It's important to book these up soon, to allow time to resit before the end of your course or induction period.
First of all, you have to register online. If you are an NQT, you will need your DfEE number to register. If you are a trainee teacher, you will eed the registration number issued by your training provider. They ask for personal data and details of training before you receive a user name and password by e-mail. You'll need these to book the actual tests, choosing from a range of dates, times and venues.
When you take the test, you must have photographic proof of identity. The only equipment you'll need is a pen or pencil. Paper for rough working out and an on-screen calculator will be provided. You will get your results at the end of the test.
How do you prepare? The tests supposedly cover everyday things you might be expected to do as a teacher. In the numeracy test, there are lots of percentage questions. The literacy test requires you to correctly spell and punctuate when writing technical education materials, as well as for general purposes. You must also show you can understand the various professional texts which you will encounter.
Finally, you have to recognise where writing isn't standard English, doesn't make sense or has an inappropriate style. For instance, one sample question asks which phrase best completes "Abdul's successes this half-term include: a) completes homework and hands it in promptly; b) completing and handing in promptly his homework; c) completing homework and handing it in promptly."
Support materials on CD-Roms help you practise sample questions, test yourself, check your answers and consult the commentary provided on the questions. There are also books on the market. Of vital importance is that you get used to working quickly, since the tests have a time limit. If you have a disability or English is not your mother tongue, you can apply for a 25 per cent time extension.
Sara Bubb gives advice to students and NQTs in TES Friday and on the web at www.tes.co.uknqtask_the_expert. Her book, A Newly Qualified Teacher's Manual, is published by David Fulton, pound;15. More information is available from the TTA website at www.canteach.gov.ukinfoskillstests