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Top tips: preparing apprentices for assessments


Are your apprentices assessment-ready? Paul Kelly, Qualifications Director at Professional Assessment Ltd (PAL), shares his top five tips on how to ensure your apprentices have the support they need to pass with flying colours …

“Financial and business services were among the hardest hit when the pandemic struck, with the majority of firms still struggling to retain staff and plug skills gaps among their teams. Offering apprenticeships to people in roles at all seniority levels at organisations can solve these problems and upskill existing employees. This training has never been so important, as it also fosters loyalty among workers by showing their employer is prepared to invest money and effort in boosting the skills and qualifications of its workforce.

If you’re considering introducing an apprenticeship programme, or are thinking about how you might best support an existing apprentice when it comes to their assessments, there are steps you can take to provide the learning and development opportunities that will help them perform to the best of their abilities.

National apprenticeship standards have come a long way in recent years, helping apprentices acquire a broader understanding of their industry and ensuring they have developed the skills, knowledge and behaviours to be job-ready on completion. 

In line with these new standards, a combination of methods are currently used to assess apprenticeships, helping to produce highly skilled workers who meet a national standard.

But there is much you can do as an employer to help your apprentices to do the best they can at assessment time. Here are my five top tips:

  • Familiarise yourself with assessment plans

The first step in supporting your apprentice on their assessment journey is to ask your training provider for their assessment plan. This will give a clear outline of each assessment method that will be used to grade your apprentice, which gives you the opportunity to support them in preparing for their end-point assessment from early on in their apprenticeship. 

For example, if a portfolio of work is required, encourage them to think about the aspects of their day-to-day work that would be worth reflecting on and including in their evidence of what they’ve learned.

Assessment plans also include useful practical details, such as how long any formal assessment will take. Arming an apprentice with this information earlier in their training will go a long way to helping them feel prepared and in control.

  • Get to grips with Professional Discussion

Professional Discussion (PD) has become an increasingly popular means of assessing apprenticeships at all levels. Essentially a two-way conversation between an assessor and an apprentice, PDs centre around a list of set questions aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the level of knowledge an apprentice has about their role.

This is an ideal opportunity for apprentices to show their skills and expertise in a less formal setting, but it’s natural they may feel nervous at the prospect of taking part in an interview. To help ease their nerves, give them a chance to practice through mock PDs where you ask them questions.

If possible – and if they feel comfortable – film those so they can watch them back and review their performance. 

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Above all, remind apprentices that PDs aren’t an interrogation, but instead a great opportunity to show how much they’ve learned. Giving them plenty of chances to practice will help them feel more confident in presenting their ideas, giving evidence and communicating clearly.

  • Hold mock observations

Being observed by an assessor in their workplace gives an apprentice the opportunity to show their practical ‘real-world’ skills and behaviours. However, as with PD assessments, they might feel nervous about this, so it’s a good idea to give them the chance to practice an observation scenario.

But don’t necessarily pick a quiet day in the office to hold a practice observation, as there’s every chance a formal assessment will take place in a busy or stressful period. Your apprentice is likely to feel far more overwhelmed if they haven’t had a chance to practice an observation at busy times.

  • Preparing for a written exam

Some apprenticeships include a formal written test, which is also a common source of nerves. 

Exams are held on a closed book basis and usually centre on multiple choice or short answer questions, so it’s important for apprentices to have a good factual understanding of skills and issues relating to their role.

To help ease any pre-exam nerves, remind apprentices to give themselves time and read the questions carefully. There are no trick questions and it’s simply a case of achieving a pass.

  • Create opportunities for success

It may sound obvious, but some apprentices will naturally perform better in certain assessment scenarios than others. For example, some will thrive in the context of a professional discussion, while for others, missing out on the chance to gather their thoughts and revisit their answers as they would in a written assessment could hinder their performance.

Once you have an idea of which assessment methods will best suit your apprentice, play to their strengths and give them the chance to practice those first. This will help build their confidence as they progress to prepare for the assessment styles they’re less comfortable with.

Following these top tips will help both employers and their apprentices to better prepare for the assessment, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. End-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) are on hand to support employers through the process and there are a number of useful resources available. For instance, The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has published a video with a simple overview of some of the most common assessment methods used for apprenticeships:

It’s natural for some employees to find any assessment potentially daunting, no matter their seniority level within a company. That’s why it’s important to remind apprentices that the process is an opportunity to showcase the skills and knowledge they’ve gained. With thorough preparation, they’ll be sure to shine.”

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