Assessment methods

Observation

What is it?

  • An observation involves an independent assessor observing an apprentice undertaking a task or series of tasks in the workplace as part of their normal duties (‘on-the-job’/naturally occurring). This must be complemented by questioning from the independent assessor during or/and after the observation. Observational assessment is deemed the most appropriate assessment method for practical skills; by watching the apprentice complete a task, they can demonstrate their occupational competence.

What is this suitable for?

This assessment method is suitable for:

  • assessing knowledge, skills and behaviours holistically
  • assessing practical skills

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it is the assessment method most clearly aligned to the working environment and should give the most assurance to employers about an apprentice’s competence
  • it results in reliable, valid and authentic data
  • it takes place in the apprentice’s normal workplace which enables familiarity and is cost-effective for the employer
  • it allows for the assessment of skills and behaviours that relate to interaction with customers/members of the public which cannot be demonstrated in a skills test/simulated practical task

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable for:

  • assessing occupations where the skills are less directly observable for example accountancy
  • assessing occupations where work takes place over a longer cycle than can reasonably be observed
  • assessing occupations that work in dangerous or restricted environments

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • the experience, qualifications and occupational competence requirements of an independent assessor must be carefully considered, and the EPA plan should reflect what is valued by employers/industry
  • some workplaces may not be suitable for observation to be undertaken in, or may require additional controls to be put in place for example around safety, security, confidentiality or restricted access to the site
  • restricting the desired coverage of an observation could aid comparability but increase predictability, making ‘teaching to the test’ a significant risk
  • observations cannot easily assess aspects of an occupation that are difficult to observe or are rare occurrences
  • observations should not include elements of simulation, if this may be required consider a skills test/practical assessment instead
  • can accommodate easily those standards that are core and options

What detail should you include?

In order that all end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) can develop comparable assessment tools, your end-point assessment plan will need to include:

  • a rationale for selecting this assessment method
  • the ratio of apprentices to independent assessors and where this is not 1:1, a rationale should be provided to justify this and to also explain how in practice one independent assessor will be able to effectively assess multiple learners
  • the length of time the apprentice will have to undertake the activities (note that +10% time can be used to allow an apprentice to complete their actions)
  • the number and nature of activities that will need to be seen, listed as typical tasks and ones that must be observed (if any)
  • where the observation may or may not take place
  • ensuring that questioning is included within the method and whether this is before, during or after each task/activity or the entire time period allowed for the observation
  • a rationale which describes what the purpose of the questioning activity is (this could include the assessment of KSBs, clarifying underpinning knowledge, to fill gaps or to further prove competency at the highest level or to question any aspects of the observation
  • a minimum number of questions that the independent assessor should ask, allowing follow-up questions
  • guidance around any required invigilation that the EPAO should provide to ensure the integrity of the observation and questioning process as well as managing any breaks
  • the resources and equipment that the employer must provide on the day of the assessment

Practical assessment

What is it?

A practical assessment involves an independent assessor observing an apprentice undertaking a set task or a series of set tasks in a simulated environment for example at a training provider or specialist centre. It allows the apprentice to demonstrate their procedural knowledge and skills of ‘how to do something’. This can be complemented by questioning from the independent assessor during or after the test.

What is this suitable for?

This assessment method is suitable for:

  • collecting first-hand evidence of knowledge, skills and behaviours
  • testing knowledge, skills and behaviours holistically and objectively

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it is a valid assessment because it involves direct testing under controlled conditions
  • assessment instruments can be developed quickly
  • undertaking the practical assessment in a controlled environment could:
    • guarantee the required demand and challenges that appear during the end-point assessment
    • allow for pre-determined independent assessor training and assessment resources to be developed

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable for:

  • assessing skills and behaviours that involve interaction with customers/members of the public
  • assessing occupations where the skills are less directly observable
  • assessing occupations where work takes place over a longer cycle than can reasonably be observed

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • EPAOs are responsible for providing the required resources and equipment in a simulated test centre so affordability needs to be considered
  • setting a small number of activities that can be assessed or stipulating a single activity that all apprentices must be assessed undertaking could aid comparability, but increases predictability making ‘teaching to the test’ a significant risk
  • it can overcomplicate those apprenticeship standards that are core and options
  • undertaking an observation at a separate assessment centre may impact on the costs, although not in a straightforward way: it may mean that more apprentices can be assessed simultaneously, but will also mean additional time away from the workplace, travel costs for apprentices and potentially other costs

What details should you include?

In order that all EPAOs can develop comparable assessment tools, your EPA plan will need to include:

  • a rationale for selecting this assessment method and justify why an on-the-job observation (which is preferred) has not been selected
  • details of the activities that need to be assessed and any requirements that the testing location must have
  • the ratio of apprentices to independent assessors and where this is not 1:1, a rationale should be provided to justify this and to also explain how in practice one independent assessor will be able to effectively assess multiple apprentices
  • the length of time apprentices will have to undertake the activities
  • the number and nature of activities that will be observed
  • consideration of whether independent assessors ask the apprentice questions about the activities, and whether this should take place before, during or after the observation
  • a rationale which describes what the purpose of the questioning activity is (this could include the assessment of KSBs, clarifying underpinning knowledge, to fill gaps or to further prove competency at the highest level or to question any aspects of the practical assessment)
  • a minimum number of questions that the independent assessor should ask, allowing follow-up questions
  • guidance around any required invigilation that the EPAO should provide to ensure the integrity of the practical assessment and questioning process as well as managing any breaks (where multiple apprentices are involved)
  • the resources and equipment that the EPAO must provide for the practical assessment

Tests

What is it?

This method includes a variety of tests that are predominately used to assess apprentice knowledge. This can include multiple choice tests as well as written response tests. 

A multiple-choice test consists of a series of questions in which apprentices are asked to select the correct answer(s) from 4 options. Individual questions or groups of questions may include case studies, scenarios, sections of text, graphs or diagrams on which the questions are based. Well-designed multiple-choice tests provide an effective and valid assessment for occupations at all levels.

A written test consists of a series of questions which apprentices are required to answer. These could consist of one type, or a variety of types of question such as open questions and scenario-based questions. Short or long answer responses force the apprentice to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge and skills. Well-designed tests provide an effective and valid assessment.

What is this suitable for?

  • multiple choice tests are suitable for assessing knowledge
  • multiple choice questions can assess the ability to judge between different options
  • written tests can be effective at assessing skills relating to:
    • data and information handling skills
    • higher order reasoning skills or problem solving
    • written communication skills
    • critical thinking and reasoning

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it is easy to administer
  • multiple choice questions are straightforward to mark, and do not require any interpretation from the marker; for this reason, it can usually be done electronically
  • once designed and constructed, multiple choice and written questions are efficient and relatively low-cost to operate
  • it can be completed online/remotely, providing appropriate controls are put in place
  • it is an effective way of assessing those knowledge elements that are clearly correct/incorrect
  • it has potentially high reliability and validity
  • tests taken in examination conditions are considered more rigorous and reliable than other assessment methods
  • everyone taking the test has the same experience, which enables direct comparisons between apprentices across the country and over time
  • a question bank can be used which helps to ensure that the difficulty of tests remains stable over time
  • apprentices have opportunity to explain their thinking and articulate their responses through written tests
  • apprentices working above the level outlined in the occupational standard can demonstrate their understanding by meeting the grading criteria of that grade
  • EPAOs can produce detailed training, moderation and standardisation materials, and train markers well in advance
  • administration costs can be reduced because:
    • questions could be reused
    • the assessment method can be administered on a large scale
    • online tests remove the need to print and transport physical tests
    • marking can be done on-screen or by a computer (for certain types of question)

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable when:

  • assessing behaviours
  • assessing most skills
  • multiple choice questions are not well placed at assessing knowledge and skills pitched above that outlined in the occupational standard. Written responses would be better positioned here

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • multiple-choice questions and written response questions are both difficult to write and often need re-trialling before they are suitable for use in a live test, making them costly to develop
  • multiple-choice tests are only a cost-effective assessment method when volumes for the EPA are high
  • multiple-choice and written response questions need to be regularly reviewed to prevent predictability and to ensure suitability
  • multiple-choice questions are typically used to assess recall and may test only low-level understanding. Written response questions do have the ability to assess higher-order thinking
  • short and long questions take less time to develop than multiple-choice test but mark schemes take longer to develop and require marker training and ongoing moderation to ensure consistency
  • a raw score boundary alone introduces an element of compensation into grading whereby the achievement of some competencies will offset the lack of achievement in other competencies
  • extended responses in written tests require grading descriptors to outline criteria for a pass grade and any other grades above a pass if included; where grades above a pass are included, the grading must reflect understanding above the level outlined in the occupational standard
  • is this a familiar method of assessment in the sector?
  • the level of English the apprentice may be working at

What detail should you include?

In order that all EPAOs can develop comparable assessment tools, your EPA plan will need to include:

  • a rationale which describes what the purpose of the questioning activity is (this could include the assessment of knowledge elements where there are clear correct/incorrect responses)
  • the number and types of questions that will be included in the test, how many marks each question is worth and whether partial marks will be awarded for partially correct responses
  • how the test will be marked and how this determines the apprentice grade for the method
  • the length of time apprentices will have to complete the test
  • the resources that the EPAO must provide to apprentices (for example calculators)
  • the invigilation requirements
  • whether the test can be taken on paper, on a computer with the test preloaded onto it and/or remotely/online
  • whether the test is open or closed book
  • what equipment can be used or must be provided to apprentices (for example calculators)
  • the source of questions (EPAO designed question bank)
  • whether any mandatory hurdles (KSBs that must be demonstrated) will be included within a multiple choice test, and how comparability will be maintained if they are (these require a rationale and should be kept to an absolute minimum as they require software development expertise and can prove costly)
  • how the test will be marked and how this determines the apprentice grade for the assessment method
  • the number of marks each question is worth and whether partial marks will be awarded for partially correct responses

Professional discussion

What is it?

A professional discussion is a two-way discussion between an independent assessor and an apprentice to assess the apprentice’s in-depth understanding of their work. In this respect, it differs from an interview, which tends to consist of an independent assessor asking questions and the apprentice answering them, with less scope for interaction and discussion. Professional discussions should not be led by the independent assessor as it involves both the independent assessor and the apprentice actively listening and participating in a formal conversation, giving the apprentice the opportunity to make detailed and proactive contributions to confirm their competency across the KSBs mapped to this method. When determining whether a professional discussion or interview should be selected as an assessment method, consider how the KSBs are best assessed.

What is this suitable for?

This assessment method is suitable when:

  • assessing in-depth understanding of a subject
  • assessing occupations that cannot be directly observed in practice
  • assessing aspects of an occupation that are difficult to observe, are rare occurrences, or take place in restricted or confidential settings
  • a discrete set of KSBs are better assessed using a two-way conversation
  • when supporting pre-gateway evidence is submitted to underpin an assessment method, for example portfolio or project report
  • when the apprentice is likely to be intimidated by the idea of interview
  • when there are a small number of main questions and the follow-up questions may lead the direction of questioning

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it can be used to supplement another component of assessment, for example, building on an observation, following a project report or a presentation
  • it can be wide-ranging in scope and cover a large part of the role and the occupational standard.
  • it can draw upon other supporting evidence such as an on-programme portfolio or a project report and can effectively determine the authenticity of that supporting evidence
  • it can effectively assess those skills and behaviours that require probing questions to explore the reasons for the apprentice’s ideas or actions
  • it can be recorded to aid moderation and internal/external quality assurance
  • it can be conducted online/remotely, providing appropriate controls are in place
  • oral questions can be less daunting and are more accessible for some apprentices
  • it is an effective way of collecting qualitative data

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable when:

  • assessing skills and some behaviours in practical occupations which would be better assessed directly through workplace observation/practical assessment
  • assessing apprenticeships where professional discussion is not a regular activity within the occupational role

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • this assessment method will require careful preparation by the independent assessor
  • the independent assessor must be skilled in asking open, probing questions, in listening to obtain the required information and to identify the need for further follow-up questions

What detail should you include?

In order that all EPAOs can develop comparable assessment tools, your EPA plan will need to include:

  • the format that the professional discussion will take (include here if this will be based around scenarios and provide guidance on the content of those)
  • whether it will be used in conjunction with any other assessment component or graded separately
  • a rationale which describes what the purpose of the questioning activity is (this could include the assessment of KSBs, clarifying underpinning knowledge, to fill gaps or to further prove competency at the highest level)
  • any supporting information/evidence that can inform the discussion, for example, will the apprentice need to prepare a portfolio of evidence during the on-programme part of the apprenticeship or if a project report is required
  • how long it will last; this should be reflective of the number of KSBs that are mapped to the assessment method (note that +10% time can be used to allow an apprentice to complete their responses)
  • who will conduct and assess the professional discussion
  • where it will take place and whether it must be conducted in person or remotely
  • how much notice the EPAO should provide to the apprentice of this professional discussion taking place and clarifying when any supporting documentation must be shared with the EPAO, including when the supporting documentation should be submitted
  • how long the independent assessor must have to review the supporting documentation in advance
  • a minimum number of questions that the independent assessor should ask
  • clarification around whether the selected questions will only be taken from an EPAO designed question bank or if the independent assessor can also ask their own generated questions (this can allow tailoring of questions towards any supporting documents they have reviewed such as the portfolio or project)

Interview

What is it?

An interview consists of an independent assessor asking an apprentice a series of questions to assess their competence against the KSBs. It differs from a professional discussion in that the independent assessor’s role is restricted to asking set questions, and there is no scope for two-way discussion. The independent assessor leads this process to obtain information from the apprentice to enable a structured assessment decision making process. When determining whether a professional discussion or interview should be selected as an assessment method, consider how the KSBs are best assessed.

What is this suitable for?

This assessment method is suitable when:

  • assessing knowledge and understanding of a subject
  • assessing skills and behaviours within an occupation that may not naturally occur if the apprentice is observed during the EPA period
  • when the independent assessor should steer the direction of questioning
  • when a discrete set of KSBs are better assessed using a one-sided conversation
  • when a portfolio has not been submitted to underpin the KSBs being assessed
  • when there is a limited number of follow-up questions required

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it can be used to supplement another form of assessment, for example building on an observation, following a project report or also a presentation
  • it can be recorded to aid moderation and internal/external quality assurance
  • it can be conducted online/remotely, providing appropriate controls are put in place
  • it is an effective way of collecting qualitative data for the independent assessor

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable when:

  • assessing skills and some behaviours in practical occupations which would be better assessed through workplace observation or practical assessment
  • the independent assessor would benefit from some flexibility to adapt questions depending on the apprentice’s responses e.g. when the independent assessor needs to explore in depth the reasons for the apprentice’s ideas or actions

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • some apprentices may be nervous or anxious in this type of assessment, which may impair their performance
  • the independent assessor usually sources the questions from the EPAO’s question bank and has little or no flexibility to adapt those questions

What detail should you include?

In order that all EPAOs can develop comparable assessment tools, the EPA plan will need to include:

  • a rationale which describes what the purpose of the questioning activity is (this could include the assessment of KSBs, clarifying underpinning knowledge, to further prove competency at the highest level)
  • who will conduct and assess the interview
  • where it will take place and whether it must be conducted in person or can be done via video conferencing
  • whether it will be used in conjunction with any other component for an assessment method
  • the notice period that the EPAO should provide to the apprentice for this interview
  • how long the interview will take (note that +10% time can be used to allow an apprentice to complete their last response)
  • a minimum number of main questions that the independent assessor will ask, allowing follow-up questions and the purpose of those follow up questions for example to gain clarification on the apprentice’s responses
  • if the questions will only be taken from an EPAO designed question bank or if the independent assessor can also ask their own generated questions (this can be valuable where a project, presentation or underpinning portfolio is involved)
  • the source of the questions (an EPAO designed question bank)

Presentation and questioning

What is it?

A presentation involves an apprentice presenting to an independent assessor on a particular topic. It will be followed by a questioning session from the independent assessor.    

What is this suitable for?

This assessment method is suitable when:

  • assessing understanding of a subject
  • assessing knowledge and skills in an occupation that cannot be directly observed in practice
  • assessing certain skills and behaviours within the standard directly, for example ability to present publicly, interact with others and the ability to structure information; measures of ability to respond to questions and manage discussion could also be included 

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it can be supported by other evidence, for example a portfolio of work completed during the apprenticeship, or a project used to consolidate another assessment component within the same assessment method
  • the EPA plan can provide an outline around the purpose of the presentation together with suggested topics and titles to guide the EPAO without preventing flexibility
  • it provides the opportunity to use authentic workplace contexts which increases assessment validity in relation to the occupational role
  • it can be recorded to aid moderation and internal/external quality assurance 

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable when:

  • testing skills and some behaviours in practical occupations where presentation is not a regular activity; in such occupations then observation would be a better assessment method
  • testing detailed knowledge requirements, unless these are covered through specific questioning after the presentation

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • some apprentices may be nervous or anxious in this type of assessment, which may impair their performance
  • ensuring that the right things are being assessed and that, for example, apprentices are not given credit for presentation skills or using high-tech options, if these are not required by the occupational standard

What detail should you include?

In order that all EPAOs can develop comparable assessment tools, your EPA plan will need to include:

  • a process for the EPAO agreeing the scope/topic for the presentation
  • assurance that the presentation will be only be delivered to the independent assessor
  • how long the overall assessment method (presentation and questioning) should last and include a typical length for the presentation activity and questioning activity (note that +10% time can be used to allow an apprentice to answer their last question)
  • where the presentation can be conducted, ensuring suitable facilities and privacy
  • how the apprentice will deliver the presentation and what resources they can use
  • a rationale which describes what the purpose of the presentation and questioning activity is (this could include the assessment of KSBs, clarifying underpinning knowledge, to fill gaps, to further prove competency at the highest level or to ask specific questions around the presentation content)
  • how the questioning section will be undertaken
  • a minimum number of questions that an independent assessor should ask allowing follow-up questions
  • clarification around whether the selected questions will only be taken from an EPAO designed question bank or if the independent assessor can also ask their own generated questions (this can allow tailoring of questions towards any supporting documents they have reviewed such as an underpinning portfolio or project or the presentation content)
  • the length of notice that the apprentice receives from the EPAO allowing them to prepare for the presentation
  • any supporting information/evidence that can inform the presentation. For example, will the apprentice need to prepare a portfolio of evidence during their apprenticeship

Project

What is it?

Using a project as an assessment method involves the apprentice completing a significant and defined piece of work after the gateway. This could involve a written essay, or in practical occupations, producing an item (an ‘apprentice piece/artefact’) which an independent assessor can review and assess. The project should be designed to ensure that the apprentice’s work meets the needs of the business, is relevant to their role and allows the relevant KSBs to be demonstrated for the EPA. Therefore, the project’s subject and scope will be agreed between the employer and the EPAO. The employer will ensure it has a real business application and value and that the EPAO will ensure it meets the requirements of the EPA (including suitable coverage of the KSBs assigned to this assessment method).

What is this suitable for?

This assessment method is suitable when:

  • assessing KSBs in occupations where the work cycle is too long to be reasonably observed
  • allowing for a broad set of KSBs to be evidenced during the post-gateway period

Advantages of this assessment method include the following:

  • it can produce something that is of genuine business benefit to the apprentice’s employer
  • testing knowledge, skills and behaviour holistically, including the potential to assess a wide range of practical, analytical and interpretive skills, as well as the wider application of KSBs to real situations 

What is this not suitable for?

This assessment method may be less suitable when:

  • assessing all the skills and behaviours that the apprentice demonstrates in producing the project which could be better assessed through observation (in practical occupations) or be explored through presentation or discussion in other occupations
  • it could inadvertently test the wrong thing, for example, a project report might become a test of writing ability which may not be directly relevant to occupational competence

Other factors to consider include the following:

  • ensuring that the work can be verified as the apprentice’s own is a key consideration in a project
  • ensuring that the project is representative of the occupation, for example is writing a 5,000-word essay actually something that you would expect someone in that occupation to do/be able to do and have value to the employer?
  • variations in the topics/titles of a project can affect reliability and comparability; this can be overcome with clear guidance on scope from the EPAO

What detail should you include?

In order that all EPAOs can develop comparable assessment tools, your EPA plan will need to include:

  • a rationale for using this assessment method and the purpose of each component part
  • the scope of the project and how/when this would be agreed between the EPAO and employer, i.e. whether the EPAO must sign off each project individually or provide employers with guidance around the scope of the project
  • guidance on suitable project titles or activities that could be undertaken.
  • how long apprentices will have to complete the project and when they must submit this to the EPAO
  • the format in which the completed evidence will be required to be submitted; in the case of a project report, this should detail the sections that it should include as a minimum (for example summary, background, research, implementation, outcomes)
  • a defined word limit and tolerance for a written project report or essay; this should be reflective of the occupation as well as specifying whether appendices and references are included in this word count or if they are additional
  • supervision and verification arrangements that need to be in place during the project and how the independent assessor will gain assurance that the work has been completed by the apprentice
  • how much time the employer should allow the apprentice to focus on this project during the EPA period (for example one day per week) to ensure comparability and the typical duration of the project
  • whether it will be used in conjunction with any other assessment components (for example presentation and/or professional discussion/interview) and if so how each of the stages are linked with timescales

Underpinning assessment methods: portfolios and logbooks

What is it?

A portfolio is a collection of pieces of evidence, gathered together on-programme, that is used as the underpinning basis of an end-point assessment method.

A logbook is a record of achievement created over the course of the on-programme element of the apprenticeship and can be used as the underpinning basis of an end-point assessment method.

What can it be used for?

  • A portfolio and a logbook or their equivalents are collected pre-gateway and therefore cannot be used as an EPA assessment method in their own right. They can however be used to underpin an assessment method (such as an interview or professional discussion).
  • Where the portfolio/logbook underpins an assessment method, it must be clear that the supporting evidence itself is not directly assessed and any questioning should be assessing current competence. The apprentice may use their portfolio/logbook to support their responses to questions and the focus of that questioning should be the KSBs.

What is this suitable for?

  • Logbooks and particularly portfolios are a suitable way of collecting evidence from a range of sources over a long period of time.  

Advantages of this way of collecting evidence include the following:

  • they can collect supporting evidence from a number of sources
  • they can collect supporting evidence over a period longer than is possible after the gateway

What is this not suitable for?

  • As the portfolio and logbook are typically collated before the gateway and may include judgements of people other than the independent assessor, they do not fit the model of independent assessment conducted after all training has been completed. Portfolios and logbooks are therefore not suitable as end-point assessment (EPA) methods in their own right.

What detail should you include?

Your EPA plan will need to include:

  • a rationale describing the purpose of the logbook/portfolio, why it is mandatory and how it should be used
  • which assessment method the portfolio or logbook is going to be used to support and this should wherever possible be limited to only one method so as to ensure the validity of the EPA
  • specify when the portfolio or logbook must be submitted to the EPAO
  • that the portfolio or logbook evidence items are mapped to the knowledge, skills and behaviours attached to this method
  • what types of evidence are expected, are permissible and are not permissible (for example self-reflective accounts)
  • an indication of the typical number of evidence items that is expected within the portfolio or logbook
  • stipulating that the employer must confirm to the EPAO that the portfolio or logbook is authentic and the apprentice’s own work

 

GRADING DESCRIPTOR GUIDANCE

It is recognised that one of the most challenging aspects for a trailblazer group when producing an EPA Plan is the formulation of appropriate grading descriptors. This guidance has been developed to both simplify and to support you in this process. The guidance contains the following sections:

  • Purpose of grading descriptors
  • Key principles of grading descriptors
  • Use of active verbs and appropriate language
  • Merit and distinction descriptors

Purpose of grading descriptors

Grading descriptors are statements that identify clear features which enable an independent assessor to measure the level of achievement. In simple terms, the statements tell the apprentice what they need to do or say to meet the required gradehey also guide the EPAO to produce marking criteria, question banks, assessment specifications and to provide the necessary support and training for independent assessors around what they should be looking for in an assessment method. Grading descriptors break KSBs down into actual actions and specific requirements which can be more easily assessed by making them measurable.

All assessment methods (other than multiple choice questionnaires) require  pass grading descriptors. In addition, at least one assessment method must include grading descriptors which allow an apprentice to achieve a grade higher than a pass (for example merit and/or distinction). Ideally, it is the synoptic method (one that assesses knowledge, skills and behaviours) that has higher level grading descriptors.

Key principles of grading descriptors

  1. Consider the assessment methods that have been selected and identify which KSBs align most appropriately to each method.
  2. Group all of the KSBs into logical topics/themes.
  3. Minimise the amount of double or multiple KSB assessment across methods. There should be a clear rationale for any proposed double assessment, such as it being a safety critical area.
  4. Identify the method(s) that will include higher order descriptors (merit/distinction). Clearly consider which KSBs warrant higher order descriptors to be compiled. If achievement above a pass cannot be demonstrated for a KSB or theme/topic or if the differentiation is not clear, then a merit or distinction criteria is not required.
  5. Ensure that descriptors are written in a sequential and logical order which follows the occupational standard and that they directly relate to their underpinning KSBs.
  6. All pass descriptors need to explicitly state what a pass looks like in practice. This enable the apprentice to understand what their practice should look like if they are working at the level of the occupational standard.
  7. All merit and distinction grading descriptors must be explicit and clearly demonstrate progression from the pass descriptor but without introducing additionality. This enables the apprentice to understand what their practice should look like when they are working at a level above that of the occupational standard.
  8. All grading descriptors must solely focus on testing the KSBs and not the method itself. For example, a presentation method should not be used to test presentation expertise unless there is a KSB within that occupational standard related to presentation skills.
  9. The most effective grading descriptors are clear, explicit and unambiguous and they should not be more complicated than the original KSBs.
  10. Start each grading descriptor with an appropriate active (or command) verb to ensure they are measurable. Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a useful range of verbs that can be selected according to the assessment level required and can be used to ensure that the grading descriptor is pitched appropriately. The verb and language should align to the assessment method. For example – observation would likely be “demonstrate” whereas in a professional discussion then verbs such as “explain, describe, discuss” are effective as these imply that a question can be asked.
  11. Decide on which tense that all descriptors are going to be written in (past, present, future) and apply this consistently throughout.
  12. Read through each formulated grading descriptor to check that it is clear and that it sufficiently covers all of the elements within the KSBs assigned to it.
  13. Avoid repetition of referencing KSBs to grading descriptors within a method. Once a KSB has been covered sufficiently within a grading descriptor, it does not need to be covered again through an additional grading descriptor, unless this naturally occurs.

Use of active verbs and appropriate language

The most effective grading descriptors start with appropriate active verbs. The following is a list of useful active verbs that could be used within grading descriptors to help assess knowledge requirements:

Define, describe, identify, list, outline, explain, write, report, evaluate, critically evaluate, differentiate, compare, summarise, justify, analyse.

The following is a list of useful active verbs that could be used within grading descriptors to help assess skill requirements:

Demonstrate, apply, assemble, install, perform, prepare, create, plan, select, estimate, make, locate, record, review, coordinate, extrapolate

The following is a list of useful active verbs that could be used to help assess behaviour requirements:

Communicate, lead, instruct, monitor, act independently, establish, interact, respond to, reflect, collaborate

Merit and distinction descriptors

Higher level grading descriptors should focus on the key areas of the occupational role where outstanding performance is best demonstrated.  Avoid the temptation to create a higher-level grading descriptor for every KSB that has a pass descriptor. Consider which KSBs in your occupational standard are simply pass/fail and do not create higher order descriptors there.

Higher level descriptors need to have clear progression (and difference) from the equivalent pass descriptor. It should be made clear here what this is in practice and what the distinction apprentice does that clearly exceeds the requirements of a pass grade. It should be recognised here that simply exceeding the pass grade may not mean merit/distinction, there may need to be a much higher attainment. Higher level grades must not be based on volume unless it demonstrates a greater depth or breadth of understanding or skill (ie. the apprentice cannot achieve a higher grade by undertaking the same activity more times or providing more examples of the same issue). The descriptor should not repeat the pass requirement by simply changing a few words. The wording of the grading descriptor should be pitched at an appropriate level to mirror this higher performance too.

Carefully consider the number of higher order descriptors that you have formulated against each method and whether it is essential for all of these to be achieved. Where a significant number of higher order descriptors has been created, recognise that there is a clear risk that no more than a small proportion of apprentices will reach the distinction level, if all descriptors need to be met. The consequence here is that only the most outstanding apprentices will gain the higher grade, whereas others that performed strongly will potentially be penalised through not meeting all the distinction criteria and simply gaining a pass grade.