Updated 3 August 2020
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The BKSB tests are split into:
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.
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.
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.
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 candidate should be drawing upon their own experiences and ideas to put forward a reasonable argument as requested.
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.
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 1||12 pens|
|Pack 2||17 pens|
|Pack 3||15 pens|
|Pack 4||24 pens|
Q1. Which pack contains the least number of pens?
Q2. Nicola buys one of Pack 2 and one of Pack 3. How many pens does she have in total? Show your working out.
When marking this question, the assessor would award one point for a correct answer to Q1. The correct answer is: Pack 1
Q2 is asking for the answer and an explanation of how the answer was reached, so this question carries 2 marks, one for showing working out and one for the correct answer.
Pack 2 = 17
Pack 3 = 15
17 + 15 = 32
The correct answer is: 32
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.
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.
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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