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ACT WorkKeys Tests Explained

Updated May 24, 2022

Written by the WikiJob Team

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The ACT (American College Tests) WorkKeys Test measures specific aptitudes relevant to the workplace, and allows employers and educators to evaluate competence in several key areas.

The test is based on job profiles that identify the competencies needed to be successful in certain industries. You will be tested on eight key aptitudes that include a combination of soft skills and foundational skills.

Should you pass the tests, you'll be awarded the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). This is a key qualification for students and job-hunters, and is recognized by many employers.

The ACT WorkKeys test comprises three areas:

  • Assessment tests
  • Skill training
  • Job profiling

Each of these areas is covered in greater detail below.

Who Uses Workkeys and Why?

Many high schools use the WorkKeys tests and a growing number of businesses, colleges and government departments are following suit.

In education, the assessments are used to monitor student attainment of particular skills. If you are still in school, you may be asked to complete a WorkKeys test in the ninth grade and then for a second time in either the eleventh or twelfth grade. Certain States have adopted these tests as standard in their schools. Currently, 14 States participate in the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate scheme.

The results from these tests can help a student navigate their career path and ensure that they are developing the right skills to pursue their career goals. They can also be used to assess whether the school or college is meeting the needs of the students, and if the curriculum needs to be changed.

Employers use the tests to determine whether potential employees have the right skills to succeed. WorkKeys are also used to test existing employees, with the results then used for tailored training and development programs.

Some key employers that require the WorkKeys test are:

  • CME Automotive
  • Northrop Grumman Ship Systems
  • Dow Corning
  • Eastman Chemical
  • WestRock Company Paper and Packaging Solutions
  • Hemlock Semiconductor

The Eight Skill Assessments

The WorkKeys test is based on eight skill assessments focusing on three key areas – career readiness, foundational skills and soft skills.

Of the eight, there are three core assessments which candidates can take independently to qualify for their National Career Readiness Certificate. These are:

  • Applied Math – The test will evaluate your math ability in a variety of ways, going much further than simply working out simple sums or measurements. You will be tested on mathematical reasoning, problem-solving and critical thinking. The applied math assessment will evaluate your ability to think things through to a logical conclusion. A calculator is permitted in this test and you will be given a formula sheet.

  • Graphic Literacy – Tests how well a candidate can use or summarize information found in graphics. This could be a storyboard for a video, a wireframe for a website design or a plan for the design of a building. The graphic literacy test will evaluate how well you can read, evaluate and apply graphical information to achieve a goal or deliverable.

  • Workplace Documents – Workplace documents include emails, policies, handbooks, regulations, codes of practice, training manuals and briefing documents. The test will assess your ability to read a document, highlight the most relevant pieces of information and then take the necessary action.

The other five assessments offered by WorkKeys are:

  • Applied Technology – In some roles you will need to work with equipment and machinery to solve a range of problems. Within the applied technology assessment, you will be tested in four key areas – electricity, fluid dynamics, mechanics and thermodynamics. You will be expected to evaluate a problem by breaking it down into segments, deciding which elements of the problem are important, deciding the order in which to tackle the problem, and choosing the right systems, tools and methods to explore possible solutions.

  • Business Writing – When you create a business document it needs to be professionally written and free from grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. The reputation of a business is at stake when written communications are distributed. As part of the recruitment and selection process, employers want to test whether you can communicate effectively in writing.

  • Workplace Observation – More employers are recognizing the importance of observation in the workplace. This test will evaluate a candidate’s ability to see, follow and analyze systems, processes and operations, and identify any gaps in procedures.

  • Fit – Employers are looking for candidates that are a good fit for their business. The fit assessment will explore your attitudes, values and interests, and then cross-reference these with those held by the company.

  • Talent – Four areas are measured here: teamwork, discipline, customer service and potential for a managerial position. Unlike the other tests that assess cognitive abilities, the talent assessment measures attitudes and behaviors. The results will present an overall picture of the individual’s personality and whether they are suitable for the business.

Skill Training

Skill training is also available in each of the eight areas. This training includes a combination of classroom and e-learning-based lessons for candidates, which complements the content of the WorkKeys assessments. Students who study these courses will gain the skills they need to achieve the required standard in their tests.

Job Profiling

WorkKeys job profiling aims to match up assessment scores with industry-specific requirements. This will help a candidate work out if they are hitting the right benchmark for a particular job. Employers will use this information to identify whether the candidate is at the required standard and if any training might be required.

Job profiling is quite a complex process. Someone licensed by ACT will visit an employer and collect detailed information on the job and how it fits in with the wider organizational structure. This information will be used to assess the minimum level of skill required for the job and, thus, what needs to be tested in the WorkKeys assessment.

The Test Format and Scores

There are two versions of the WorkKeys test: a paper-based version and an online version. Today, the majority of WorkKeys tests are completed online.

Each section of the test will contain a series of multiple-choice questions that you will need to complete under timed conditions. Candidates should try to provide a response to every question in the assessment.

Once the test is complete you will be presented with two scores – a Level Score and a Scale Score.

  • The Level Score is closely related to the job profile and will be used to assess how closely your skills fit with those identified during the job-profiling process. The score will also assess the level to which you have progressed. Scores usually range from level 3 to level 7.

  • The Scale Score is often used by educational establishments to check skill progression over a period of time. The scale score is usually in the range of 65 to 90.

Your scores will never be compared with other candidates who take the test at the same time; the scores will only be compared with scales that have been determined before the job was advertised.

Various reports are available to download once you have received your score. If you take a paper-based test there will be slightly fewer reports available than if you took the test online. Reports include summaries of your scores for each part of the test, the level you obtained overall, and a comparison of your results with the level required by the employer.

How to Prepare for the Tests

The WorkKeys tests are challenging and they do require a certain amount of preparation. The best way to prepare for these tests is to practice. Practice tests are available from the ACT website, where you can also buy specific training courses to help hone your skills. See also JobTestPrep for info on preparation.

As you practice you will learn how to:

  • Use your time effectivelyWorkKeys tests are timed but candidates should attempt to answer all the questions asked. The questions get increasingly harder, so make sure you move quickly through the easier questions and have enough time for the ones at the end. If you do not know the answer, leave it and come back to it later.

  • Read the question – As with any test, it is important to understand what you are being asked to do. Read every word of the question carefully and break it down into steps.

  • Think logically – Some of the questions in the assessments will be particularly challenging. In these questions use your logic to eliminate those responses that are less likely to apply.

  • Check your work – If you have successfully completed every question in the test and you have time to spare, don’t waste this valuable time. Return to the beginning of the test and review your answers carefully. There may be something that you overlooked, or perhaps you made an obvious mistake.

The WorkKeys tests do require practice, and the nature of the tests means that they are designed to make you think. The more preparation you undertake, the more confident you will be in providing strong answers when you complete the official WorkKeys assessment.

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