Functional Skills: The Ultimate Guide 2022

Functional Skills: The Ultimate Guide 2022

What Are Functional Skills?

Functional skills are the core skills you need to successfully navigate life.

They centre around:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Information and communication technology (ICT)

They are transferable skills that can be used across many professions and industries, such as accounting, engineering, business and teaching.

They are also useful for everyday activities such as sending emails, applying for jobs, setting budgets and paying bills.

Typically, these skills are assessed at the end of high school as part of the GCSE exams in the UK.

For those who miss out on their GCSEs or fail to grade, there is the option to take the Functional Skills Entry Level 1–3, Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications.

People without these qualifications may struggle later in life, as these skills and qualifications are required:

  • To progress to A-levels and university
  • For diplomas, apprenticeships and Foundation Learning programmes
  • As a minimum requirement for most job applications

Why Do Functional Skills Matter?

As a skill set, functional skills are essential for everyday life, which is why the exams only test for the core areas of English, maths and ICT.

Although you can take GCSEs in almost every topic, the three subjects covered by Functional Skills tests are what employers look for.

These three subjects can also act as a gateway to other academic learning schemes, such as apprenticeships and A-levels.

As we use English every day, employers want to know how competent you are. Beyond speaking, a qualification in English demonstrates that you also have communication skills and an adequate literacy level.

Without these, you will not be able to:

  • Fully understand job adverts and apply for them
  • Professionally reply to emails, letters and other business correspondence
  • Communicate effectively
  • Understand certain terminology, particularly in contracts and other official documents

A poor understanding of mathematics can hinder you from managing your bills and finances, which can lead to debt. Having a grasp of your finances shows maturity and responsibility – two skills employers look for when recruiting.

Understanding mathematics may also help you get promotions. Depending on where you work, handling money could be part of a managerial or supervisory role. If you can demonstrate the appropriate skill level, your manager may consider you for these promotions.

In a world led by technology, poor ICT skills greatly hinder everyday life. For example:

  • Booking an appointment is now through a website
  • Bills are paid online or through apps
  • Most people communicate either through email, text or messaging apps

So much of what we do involves technology. If you don't know how to use it, you are at a big disadvantage.

Why Sit Functional Skills Exams?

These qualifications provide adults with the knowledge to progress in education and employment, just like GCSEs.

However, unlike GCSEs, these qualifications are quicker to complete and come with several learning options:

  • Intensive in-person course
  • Online
  • Self-paced
  • One-to-one

Most employers require a GCSE C or Level 4 and above. The Functional Skills equivalent is Level 2.

Employers accept both qualifications, and there is no stigma attached to the Functional Skills qualifications.

Not every child receives the same education, and some situations are out of our control. A good employer knows this and will not discriminate.

Examples of Functional Skills


This qualification provides you with fundamental English skills for personal and professional environments.

Entry level teaches phonics and vocabulary, which assist in:

  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Correct grammar rules
  • Punctuation

After completing this course, you will have written communication skills that will help you apply the right grammar and punctuation without any additional aides.


This course covers four subject areas:

  • Data handling
  • Numbers
  • Measurement
  • Shapes

The goal of this qualification is to strengthen your knowledge, so you are confident without a calculator.

All questions are numerical reasoning tasks based on real-life situations.

Depending on the level you sit, you might be able to use a calculator.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

This course is centred around:

  • Using a computer
  • Sending and opening emails
  • Using the internet
  • Common software such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentations

The assessment itself asks you to use your skills to research, analyze results and solve problems.

All assessments require 45 hours of course learning.

Functional Skills Levels

Functional Skills have two scoring routes.

Entry Level 1–3 gives you the everyday skills you need but are classed as below GCSE level.

Level 1 is the equivalent of a GCSE F–D (1–3). Level 2 is the equivalent of a GCSE A*–C (4–9).

How to Improve Your Functional Skills

Whether you are sitting your Functional Skills exams or want to improve your functional skills, here are 10 ways to improve your knowledge:

1. Make Reading a Habit

It is scientifically proven that reading improves your skill set. Make it a habit to read all different types of literature, such as:

  • Novels
  • Trade publications – particularly for the industry you work in
  • Non-fiction
  • Newspapers/magazines
Functional Skills: Definition, Benefits and Examples
Functional Skills: Definition, Benefits and Examples

Begin by reading easier texts and gradually build to the more difficult reads.

Starting with a difficult book will only lead to frustration and may put you off reading altogether.

2. Start a Budget and Keep a Financial Record

To begin, make a simple budget on a notepad. List your income and bills, then decide where to dedicate the remainder of your money.

You might decide to save, invest or spend.

At the end of the day, update your budget to include your expenditure. If you have any receipts, file them away somewhere safe.

As this method becomes second nature, upgrade your system and use a spreadsheet. This will test and improve your ICT skills.

Start with a basic spreadsheet, and as you become more comfortable, try using the formula function or adding tickboxes in the columns next to your bills.

3. Take Classes at a Local College

Just as GCSEs are part of the high school curriculum, Functional Skills college courses are often government-funded.

If you have the time, enrol on a course.

Being in a learning environment will help you focus, and you can get additional support from your tutor.

You can sit all three classes, or just the ones you want to improve.

Studying for these qualifications also improves other skills, such as:

4. Take Online Classes

If you don't have the time to attend class or access a college, enrol in an online course. These courses are either:

  • Taught live via a video call like Zoom or Microsoft Teams
  • Self-paced and self-taught

Your learning preference and availability will help you decide which route is best for you.

5. Ask For Help

This might sound like an unappealing option, but our friends and family are there to help. Depending on what you prefer, you might want them to:

  • Help you with a specific problem
  • Explain how they do things
  • Sit with you regularly to work through some scenarios and practice exams

If you don't like the idea of asking someone for help directly, the next time you see them solve a maths problem or write a letter, ask them how they did it.

They might give you some good tips.

6. Choose A Higher Level

Choosing a higher level will force you to step outside your comfort zone and push your knowledge.

It will be more of a challenge, but you will pass if you are willing to do the work.

7. Play Brain Games

There are lots of games on app stores or in shops that will allow you to develop your fundamental skills.

Start with games at, or just below, your level and build up to the more advanced games.

Playing games is the easiest way to improve your skills as you don't have to get into 'study mode' to finish them.

You can play them on your commute, during your breaks, while you're cooking dinner or whenever you have a spare five minutes.

You don't need to dedicate a block of time each day to this learning, just a few minutes when you want to play a round or two.

8. Believe in Yourself

The fact that you can't do it yet is not an indicator that you never will.

Trust yourself to do the work and learn new skills. If you don't have faith in yourself, how can you expect employers to?

9. Take Every Opportunity to Use Your Skills

Using your skills every day is the easiest way to improve them.

Instead of using a calculator, try working it out on paper or in your head first. If you normally ask a friend or family member to do something for you, try doing it yourself first.

10. Set Goals

Goal setting is a great way to motivate yourself into doing something.

Decide your long-term goals first, then break them down into smaller short-term goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Functional Skills are skill-based and use everyday situations. GCSEs are academic qualifications that use a more theoretical knowledge base.

You can take a Functional Skills course online and in your own time. GCSEs are generally classroom-based and therefore run on a schedule.

It is also much quicker to get your Functional Skills qualification than your GCSEs. The course length for Functional Skills is 45 hours.

Yes, you can fail Functional Skills. The assessments are scored as either a pass or fail.

The pass mark is not the same for every paper. Results are given by senior examiners for every cycle and take into consideration the Functional Skills standards and overall performance of that peer group.

You can resit your Functional Skills as many times as you need.

For Entry Level, there are three assessments per level. However, you only need to resit the assessments you failed and can do so 14 days after taking the test.

For Levels 1 and 2, you will need to make a new entry each time you resit.

You can enter for the onscreen tests up to two hours before sitting the test. For the paper-based test, you need to book at least three weeks before the test date if you wish to avoid a late fee.

Yes, employers accept Functional Skills.

The skills and knowledge you gain from studying for these qualifications are useful for everyday personal and professional situations.

Employers are aware that Functional Skills teach these skills and are part of the educational framework.

Functional Skills qualifications have a compulsory 45-hour course, plus the assessment duration.

How long they take to complete depends on the learning programme you choose. If you want, you can complete them within three days or three years.

No, Functional Skills, just like GCSEs, do not expire.

Final Thoughts

Functional Skills are a practical answer to a surprisingly common problem – how to prove certain key skills to an employer. They are widely accessible with several study routes and can help you feel more confident in the workplace.

They are accepted by employers and most universities.

Having Functional Skills qualifications will help you feel more confident when applying for new jobs. They will also open up more educational routes, such as diplomas and universities.

If you are considering taking these courses, remember that you can improve and learn new skills regardless of your age, background and education.

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