From education to employment

The Practical Assessment – Under the bonnet of end-point assessment

Colin Bentwood, Managing Director (and EPA programme manager), Strategic Development Network (SDN)

For many, the concept of end-point assessment is still new. 

The independent nature of the assessor’s role is new, the concept of grading is new, and the way many of the assessment components are delivered will be new too.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve published a series of articles looking at different assessment methods specified in the new assessment plans, and started to unpick what they look like in practice in the context of high-stakes end-point assessment.

(If you’ve missed our earlier posts, here’s our introduction on how end-point assessment is shaping up, and insights into the professional discussion and presentation/showcase. The Institute for Apprenticeships is also starting to release early guidance on assessment methods too.)

So, Welcome to Article #3, this week let’s tackle the Practical Assessment…

The basics

If you’ve been an assessor in the sector for a while, practical assessments will be nothing new. But let’s quickly cover off the basics…

For this assessment method, a practical activity is set up where the apprentice is required to complete a defined set of work tasks. The apprentice is observed, the assessor noting performance and recording achievement using a qualitative and quantitative pro forma.

Generally, practical assessments are used to assess skills and behaviours, and work best where the task is “live” and as close to the real world as possible. Well-designed assessments can assess a full range of skills.

The assessor observes the conduct of an apprentice, looking for a pre-defined set of performance criteria. With an observation-based assessment, the tasks are more defined – a practical assessment is still controlled, but the outcomes are usually more flexible.

Where conducted well, practical assessments are a solid and reliable form of assessment, producing tangible outputs that can be compared across a peer group.

Advantages of this assessment method

Practical assessments show clear evidence of skills and behaviour performance, as well as evidencing knowledge. It is also an assessment method that links well with professional discussions as part of a synoptic assessment to bring out the underpinning knowledge (“I see you do it – do you know why you do it?”).

Risks of this assessment method

If the assessment isn’t well managed, particularly where tasks are linked, earlier errors can compound or escalate, causing the apprentice to underperform throughout the entire assessment. As the assessor (and with your EPAO), you will need to plan carefully and decide how you might intervene/manage the process where this is required, in a way that is fair and consistent across all your assessments and in different settings.

Added to this, as noted in previous articles, the high-stakes nature of end-point assessment (where the assessor is an examiner with no previous relationship with the candidate) is often nerve-racking for the apprentice and can impact on performance. Assessors will need to take this into account when moderating their grade, but also be skilled at putting the apprentice at ease from the start.

Where assessments produce qualitative as well as quantitative data, judgements can sometimes be more subjective or opinion-based, making it difficult to grade. It is important that outputs are assessed against an agreed baseline or criteria, with clear evidence to justify grading decisions. Using video to record the assessment will help to achieve consistency, provide evidence/justification and feed into internal moderating systems.

What it means in practice…

  • Practical assessments can be resource intensive to manage, but can also allow for remote assessment by an independent agent
  • It is important the assessor is prepared for all eventualities and is able to effectively oversee the assessment, particularly where practical tasks are closely linked. Giving the apprentice performance checkpoints will help to ensure early errors are not unnecessarily compounded
  • Where it is planned and managed well, practical assessments are a great way to assess the apprentice’s full range of skills and form part of an effective synoptic assessment which clearly evidences the apprentice’s level of competence overall
  • As an example – to see what a practical assessment looks like in a particular industry – take a look at the AM2 assessment model which is used in several of the electrical standards (this is largely driven by practical assessments and gives a useful insight). Other websites/organisations provide an overview of AM2 as well

Colin Bentwood, Managing Director (and EPA programme manager), Strategic Development Network (SDN)

Places are now also available on our Level 3 Award in Undertaking End-Point Assessment. SDN are also producing a set of recorded presentations covering the main end-point assessment methods and critical areas of practice.

They will be available mid-March. Find out about our courses here:

More updates and practice can be accessed on our new End-Point Assessment LinkedIn Group and through our mailing list – feel free to join!

Related Articles