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BKSB Maths & English Tests

Updated May 24, 2022

Written by the WikiJob Team

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The Basic and Key Skills Builder (or BKSB) tests are designed to assess the competence level of a candidate in the areas of English, maths and information and communication technology (ICT) before they move on to taking Functional Skills tests.

The Department for Education and Skills has identified various key skills necessary for people to navigate life and succeed in the workplace, which they have called Functional Skills.

The BKSB is one type of test available to assess an individual’s functional skills level and to identify areas that need improvement to bring them up to the required level. Once the BKSB programme is completed, a candidate will be ready to sit the Functional Skills test.

What Are the BKSB Tests?

BKSB tests are administered to people who didn’t achieve higher-grade GCSEs but are intending to access college courses or apprenticeships.

If an individual applying for an apprenticeship has not achieved A* to C (or equivalent) in GCSE English and Maths, they can work towards their BKSB Level 2 qualification to fulfil apprenticeship entry requirements.

Some employers use BKSB tests to assess for entry-level jobs.

It is recognised that this group of skills are essential for success in any field and in everyday life. The BKSB tests are also commonly used during the rehabilitation of offenders to prepare them for life and work after being in prison.

The BKSB is made up of two key areas:

  • The initial assessment
  • The diagnostic assessment

The assessments are usually organised and managed by a tutor based in a college or learning environment, but learners (or their parents) can access BKSB themselves.

1. Initial Assessment

Step one of the process is an initial assessment used to determine a candidate’s current level of understanding and application of English and mathematics skills.

The system that provides the assessments is fully interactive, intuitive and self-marking. The learner makes their way through the questions, with one question per screen, clicking a button when they are ready to move on to the next screen.

At the end of the test, the candidate (and their tutor) is informed of their general working level.

This test takes on average 20 minutes to complete.

The results of the initial assessment are used to place the candidate into the correct level for the diagnostic assessment.

2. Diagnostic Assessment

The diagnostic assessment provides further questions in a similar style to the initial assessment via an easy-to-use, interactive tool. The assessment is available on any device, including mobile phones.

The level of difficulty of these questions will be determined by the results of the initial assessment carried out beforehand.

Once the diagnostic assessment is completed, the candidate is provided with a score and an individual learning plan that identifies strengths and weaknesses. It also suggests learning resources that can help the learner work on their skill gaps.

If you're looking for a practice test package tailored for the BKSB tests, we recommend this one from JobTestPrep.

What Do the BKSB Tests Assess?

The UK government believes that key Maths and English skills are crucial in the workplace. If you feel that your chosen career path doesn’t rely on good Maths or English skills, you may be overlooking important parts of the job.

For example, if you have chosen a career as a joiner because you enjoy practical work with your hands, you will still need an understanding of mathematical principles to work out angles, lengths and areas involved in your everyday work.

You may find that you already use these skills without realising it. Completing a BKSB test will help you formalise your knowledge and get a grasp on any English or Maths skills that you need to work on before taking the Functional Skills test.

What to Expect From Your BKSB Test

The BKSB tests are split into:

  • BKSB Entry Levels 1, 2 and 3 (below GCSE level)
  • BKSB Levels 1 and 2 (the equivalent level of GCSE grades 1 to 4)

The difficulty level of each paper depends on the level of assessment that applies. For example, the Level 2 paper, which is the equivalent to a standard pass at GCSE, will pose more complex questions than the Entry Level 3 paper.

For those who wish to study to a higher level, BKSB GCSE programmes are also available.

Whilst undertaking the BKSB assessments, marking will be immediate. For the actual Functional Skills tests, examiners will mark your paper either within the organisation you take the test in or via an external organisation.

BKSB Assessment – English

The BKSB English initial assessment tests competency in sentence structure, grammar, spelling and comprehension. Candidates will also be assessed on vocabulary range and reading ability.

The questions will often be in an English comprehension format, whereby a short piece of text is provided followed by questions. The answers to the questions will all be contained within the text and are often displayed as multiple-choice options. The candidate may also be expected to take inference or interpret meaning from the text.

Spellings are often assessed by providing sentences or a list of words and asking the candidate to identify any misspelt words.

A writing exercise will also allow assessors to evaluate general writing skills.

Example Question:

Here is an example of the type of writing exercise question that could appear on the BKSB English initial assessment paper:

Write an email to a friend.

You are planning a surprise birthday party for a friend. You would like to explain your idea to another friend and ask them to be involved in planning and running the party. Write an email to your friend explaining why you’d like them to be involved, your ideas for the party and how they can help. Use excellent spelling, punctuation and grammar.

How You Will Be Assessed:

When marking a free writing piece such as this, an examiner will be assessing the overall structure of the piece of writing. The assessor will be looking at the following points:

  • The word count, if specified in the question
  • The length of the text will be assessed, to make sure it is appropriate for the type of writing requested
  • The text will need to fit the format asked for within the question. For example, a letter must be addressed to someone and signed off by the writer, or a set of instructions must be listed appropriately and in order.
  • Accurate use of punctuation
  • Appropriate use of paragraphs
  • Spelling and range of vocabulary

The candidate should be drawing upon their own experiences and ideas to put forward a reasonable argument as requested.

BKSB Assessment – Maths

The BKSB initial assessment maths section comprises a selection of questions based on basic maths principles such as addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.

Some of the questions will allow the use of a calculator and some will be labelled as ‘non-calculator’ questions.

The questions may also explore further mathematical principles such as sequences, decimals, ratios, percentages and fractions.

Example Question:

Here is an example of the type of question that could appear in an Entry Level 2 BKSB maths paper:

Nicola would like to buy some pens. They come in the following pack sizes:

Pack 112 pens
Pack 217 pens
Pack 315 pens
Pack 424 pens
Example Question

Q1. Which pack contains the least number of pens?

Example Question

Q2. Nicola buys one of Pack 2 and one of Pack 3. How many pens does she have in total? Show your working out.

What Happens After an Assessment

Once the initial assessment and diagnostic assessment have been completed, the candidate will have a clear idea of which areas they need to work on to fill any skill gaps.

As part of the BKSB process, a series of modules with lessons and associated resources will then be available for the learner to work through.

These lessons are broken down into manageable chunks with engaging content and exercises. The learner can carry out this work from their device in a self-led manner or can participate in a group environment if a workplace or college offers this option.

At the end of every learning module, the learner will undertake a progress check to measure their progress and evaluate their understanding of the material being taught. The questions will be tailored for the individual depending on the areas previously identified as needing work.

Results from these checks will be provided immediately and course tutors will also have access to this information, so they can provide the necessary support to learners.

Once the candidate feels ready, they can take practice tests to simulate the Functional Skills tests. These practice exams replicate actual questions featured in Functional Skills tests and include all types of questions. They are marked automatically and instantly, so the candidate receives immediate feedback.

Preparing for the BKSB Tests

The BKSB process assesses the current knowledge and skills base of the candidate. It aims to ascertain where the candidate has strengths and weaknesses in Maths and English, so that they can study appropriately for the Functional Skills tests.

Therefore, there is no particular revision needed for the test. A candidate can revisit basic maths and English principles in preparation if they choose to do so, but this is not compulsory. Should you wish to practise in-depth, try this BKSB practice course.

The BKSB system will provide a tailored learning programme based on the results achieved through the initial and diagnostic assessments. The outcome is that the candidate feels prepared and well equipped to face the Functional Skills tests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Basic and Key Skills Builder (BKSB) tests are used to assess functional workplace skills in English, Maths and ICT (information and communication technology).

BKSB tests are usually taken by people who did not achieve higher grade GCSEs but wish to enrol on a college course or apprenticeship with specific minimum entry requirements.

BKSB tests are split into the following levels:

  • Below GCSE level – BKSB Entry Levels 1, 2 and 3
  • Equivalent to GCSE grades 1 to 4 – BKSB Levels 1 and 2

If a candidate wishes to study at a higher level, BKSB GCSE programmes are available too.

In the BKSB Employability Skills Assessment (ESA), test results are used to profile the test-taker. Level 5 is attributed to the ‘Expert Performer’ learning profile.

A candidate who achieves an entry-level 3 BKSB qualification has demonstrated that their functional skills are currently sitting below GCSE level.

Entry Level 3 English is a functional skills qualification equivalent to GCSE English grade G (1).

To retake a BKSB assessment, you will need to log in to your BKSB learning portal account. On the learning dashboard page, choose the ‘Courses’ option, click on the assessment you wish to retake, then select 'Retake an Initial Assessment'.

The BKSB is split into different gradings, from Entry Level 1 (which is about Key Stage 1 in terms of attainment) to Level 1 and 2, which are the equivalent of GCSE Grades 1 to 4.

The score that you will need to get into the college course or onto the apprenticeship will depend entirely on the organization.

The highest usual grade is 2.9, which is roughly equivalent to a GCSE Grade 4 (or a C grade), for students who are working towards Grade 5.

When you are taking the BKSB test, you will need to attain a certain level to be considered for the course or apprenticeship that you have applied for. The actual grade you will need will depend on each specific college or business.

The benefit for the student taking the assessment is that any gaps in the functional skill set can be built on during further study, thanks to the skills-building setup of the assessment.

Usually, the highest grade achieved on the BKSB test is 2.9, which is equivalent to a GCSE Grade 4 working towards grade 5 (a grade C working towards a grade B).

There are several different ways that the student can prepare for the BKSB test.

  • Practice – One of the difficulties of any testing situation is unfamiliarity, and although the BKSB test is untimed it can still be nerve-wracking. With practice tests, you can get to know the structure of the test, what the questions look like and how to answer them, and you can also get an idea of where you might need to focus your revision for the best skills.

  • Revise maths – As this assessment is based on basic functional maths skills, one of the best ways you can prepare is to revisit them. The maths skills include things like operations (multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction) as well as rations, percentages and fractions. Looking at practicing word problems and sequencing is also a good idea.

  • Revise English skills – Language usage, paragraph and sentence structures are part of the test, but you will also need to be confident in recognizing correct grammar and punctuation as well as being able to use extensive vocabulary. Synonyms, antonyms, commas, full stops and capital letters – in fact, there are about 14 different punctuation marks that you will probably need to know, understand and be comfortable in using.

  • On the day – Make sure that you have a good night’s sleep the night before you are meant to be taking the test so you can give your brain the best chance to work at full capacity. It is also important to eat a healthy meal and stay hydrated.

There are free tests available on the BKSB platform, which are an excellent resource for practice. These tests are self-marking with the answers provided so you can immediately see where you might need extra practice – and where your knowledge and skills already shine.

There are other online resources that you can use to practice the BKSB tests – some of these can be found for free, while other places provide prep packs that include in-depth revision guides as well as several practice tests.

The BKSB website has several tests available online that can be used for practice. These are self-marking with answers available so you can see immediately whether you are needing any specific revision – and they show you the way the actual test will be structured so you can get familiar and feel more confident.

You can find other practice BKSB tests online which will help when you are looking to widen your knowledge and try different questions, too.

Although there are paid revision and practice materials available online for the BKSB tests, you can prepare for free.

Firstly, finding online practice tests and completing them will give you an idea of what you might need to practice before the test day itself. You can use this information to create a study plan, helping you revise the right maths and English knowledge to plug up any gaps in your understanding.

You can also give yourself the best chance in the test by revising all the basic principles of maths, like multiplication and division as well as ratios and percentages, for example.

For the English test, you will want to be confident in using grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary – all this is based on what you have already learned at school.

The BKSB tests are untimed, so you have all the time you need to answer each question – it is a good idea to make the most of this opportunity.

Most people tend to take around 45 minutes to answer the questions.

When you are taking the BKSB test, there is no time limit, which is a bit different from most psychometric or aptitude tests. Without a time limit, you have enough time to answer each question thoroughly and think about the answers you are giving to ensure they are correct.

Most test-takers usually finish the test in about 45 minutes, so it isn’t too long.

Final Thoughts

Since the UK government made changes to the way Maths and English are assessed, admission to apprenticeships and many college courses are now dependent on successful completion of the Functional Skills test for candidates who did not achieve higher-grade GCSEs.

As a way of preparing for the Functional Skills test, individuals can follow a programme of assessment and study to equip them with the skills needed. This ensures that learners are getting good guidance in preparing for their Functional Skills tests, to enable them to progress into further study or a career of their choice.


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