Primary teacher and literacy expert Rita Pike runs through the basics of a stress free QTS literacy skills test
Your first step should be to book a date as soon as you are eligible to apply. Otherwise, the tests will become another task to squeeze in among the super stresses of final teaching practice, exams, completing dissertations and applying for jobs.
Test centres are located throughout the country, and the computer skills needed are basic – so the logistics of taking the test itself, are pretty straight forward.
Before the test
Visit the DFE's practice interactive tests. This is the best starting point as it has lots of information about all the skills tests, including a useful list of resources to help with revision. You can also take sample tests complete with commentaries.
Practise, practise, practise! Do the online tests in the literacy section of the skills test website, analyse your answers, read through the commentaries, make notes, familiarise yourself with the test format. There are also several books which have practise tests too – club together with friends to buy them.
This will also help you get to grips with the format of the tests, and the marks allocated to each section. The literacy test is 45 minutes long and divided into four sections: spelling (10 points), punctuation (15 points), grammar (8-12 points), and comprehension (8-12 points).
Time is of the essence. Pace yourself in practice tests to work out how long you should spend on each test section. It's surprising how quickly 45 minutes passes, so make sure it is not spent deliberating over which spelling of necessary you should choose.
Use mnemonics, your own memory joggers or ‘look, say, cover, write and check’ to help remember those spellings you should know, but become hazy when you are put on the spot.
The spelling test is multiple choice. Read all the options and, if you are still unsure, eliminate obviously wrong answers – this will increase your chances of selecting the correct one, although you won’t be able to phone a friend.
Once you have completed the spelling section, you cannot go back and change answers, so there’s no point in stressing over possible errors. It is better to have an educated guess than miss a question completely.
For this section, a passage containing 15 punctuation errors has to be corrected. Any corrections you make are highlighted in colour, which makes it easier to keep track.
Brush up on correct usage of less commonly used punctuation marks, such as the colon and semi colon.
Many of us get into bad habits punctuating our own writing, so the errors may not be obvious. Check out the BBC skillswise website for user-friendly explanations, examples and practical activities. It also has a useful grammar section.
Again, this is multiple choice. Sentences and phrases have to be inserted into a text extract. Read the text and the options thoroughly to get a feel for the context and make sure you pick the answer that is completely appropriate for the text.
When finished, read over the passage as a whole to make sure the grammar used ensures coherence and clarity of meaning overall. In other words, if it doesn’t sound right, pinpoint the problem and try another option.
Read the text through carefully. Identify the skill the questions are asking you to apply (retrieval, inference, deduction). Scan the text, questions and answer choices to locate key words and responses.
It helps me scan accurately if I run my finger, line by line, down the centre of the onscreen text.
Beware of the pitfalls
- Lack of preparation and practise. Ten minutes revision a day for two weeks is far more effective than an hour just before the test
- Stay calm – don't panic! Take a deep breath and go for it!
- Don't rush – read the questions properly
- Check answers are entered accurately. A misplaced mouse click could cost valuable marks
After the tests
These tests, like them or loathe them, are an essential element in the journey towards Qualified Teacher Status, so turn them into a positive force in your teaching.
Greater confidence in literacy skills can enhance presentations, displays, marking children’s work, speaking and listening, presenting staff inset. No matter what subject taught, correct use of English is the trademark of a true professional.