Levi is our new Exams Officer who joined TQUK back in mid-July. She previously worked in the marking department at AQA, but years before that she completed a hairdressing apprenticeship on the old frameworks system.

So we thought we’d sit down with her to talk more about her experience and how it compares to the new End-Point Assessment system.

Here are the results!

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What apprenticeship did you take?

I completed an NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Hairdressing six years ago, in 2012.

What was your experience like during the apprenticeship?

It was really useful. I learned a lot of practical skills and knowledge vital for the hairdressing industry. For the majority of the 12-month apprenticeship, I’d work 5 days a week at a salon. Then, once every fortnight, I’d go to my college to study theory and do more training. I completed another hairdressing course prior to this, but the apprenticeship really honed all my hairdressing skills so by the end of it I was confident in colouring, cutting and styling hair, and also dealing with clients.

Did you feel like you were properly prepared for working in that sector?

Yes definitely! The invaluable thing about apprenticeships is that you’re employed and working while you train. This means that you’ve already learned all the skills you need for your job, so you know exactly what to do once you’re qualified. Also, if you’ve done well in your programme, your employer is likely to offer you a job at the end of it! So there’s a good chance you’ll secure a job after your training, which is different to pursuing a degree in higher education where you have to find a job after you’ve graduated.

Once you receive your qualification, you also have other options. My employer offered me a job at the end of my apprenticeship, but I chose to become a freelance hairdresser instead. I also knew people who became self-employed and rented a chair in a salon to use with their own clients.

What do you think of apprenticeships as a form of education?

I think apprenticeships suit people differently depending on their learning style. If you prefer to learn practically like I do, with only a little classroom studying involved, then apprenticeships are perfect. But if you want to go down a more academic route, then pursuing higher education is a better option.

I think apprenticeships have been stigmatised a lot in the past. They weren’t viewed as an equal form of education to programmes in higher education, such as A levels or Bachelor degrees. It’s quite unfair because thinking of higher education as a more ‘valid’ form of education doesn’t take into account that people learn differently.

However, I think the view around apprenticeships is changing. There’s now more people who view further education and higher education on an equal level. I think a large part of that is because there’s a much larger range of apprenticeships available now than there were before. There are still apprenticeships in sectors such as hairdressing and hospitality, but now you’ve got apprenticeships in business, science and engineering. That means that, if someone wants to go into business, they can choose between university or an apprenticeship depending on which they’d enjoy more, which is great!

How were you assessed on the Frameworks system?

I was assessed continually throughout my programme. I had different units that focused on different aspects of hairdressing, such as styling hair, basic cutting techniques and washing hair. I’d be trained in these units, then at the end I was assessed with a short online or paper test. I also needed to compile a portfolio for each unit I completed and submit it at the end of the apprenticeship.

What do you think of the new End-Point Assessment compared to the Frameworks style of continual assessment?

I think continual assessment has its strengths, as it helped my employer and training provider see that I had the correct hairdressing skills and knowledge from one month to the next. But I think the End-Point Assessment is a better way to assess an apprentice’s skills. First of all, employers effectively write the standard. Major employers in each industry are brought together to form groups called trailblazers. These trailblazers outline all the knowledge, skills and behaviours which are required and assessed within the EPA. This means that apprentices are learning the exact skills and knowledge needed to be fully competent in their jobs. It also means that there’s less disconnect between employers and training providers, as employers are more involved in writing the apprenticeship standard. They now know that apprentices are learning everything they’re meant to at their training providers.

I also think that having a major assessment at the end allows apprentices to purely focus on learning and training for the length of their programme. Instead of having to worry about constant assessments, they can now spend their time learning the necessary skills and knowledge for their role. I also think having the assessments at the end encourages apprentices to spend significant time preparing for their EPA, which will help them achieve a higher mark.

I’ve got a friend who recently completed her End-Point Assessment on the new standard. She said that she was nervous at first, but ultimately went into it confidently, and saw it as a chance to show her assessor everything she had learned. I think the EPA should give apprentices a sense of validation in this regard. If you prepare and work hard, just like my friend, you should come away thinking “oh, I’ve actually learned quite a bit!” and feel proud of themselves.

Thank you very much for your time!

No worries!

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We hope you enjoyed the interview! If you’re interested in learning more about the End-Point Assessments we provide, you can find them all here. To keep up to date with the latest news from TQUK EPA, return to our blog or follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

See you around The Hive!

You’ve taken a multiple choice test before, right?

Of course, you have!

They’re everywhere, from the multiple choice question tests we take in schools to the latest addictive Buzzfeed questionnaire.

As an End-Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO) assessing apprentices, TQUK is responsible for creating a variety of assessment materials, including the test papers that apprentices will encounter. Multiple choice questions will make up, or will included in,  many of these test papers.

Now, you’d think that creating an multiple choice questions test would be simple. After all, they’re everywhere; how hard can it be?

Well, as it turns out, it’s a complicated business.

It may be easy to create a Buzzfeed questionnaire — it’s a whole other order to create a quality multiple choice questions test for an apprentice’s end-point assessment (EPA).

Here are just a few factors that the EPA Team takes into account when creating one of our great test papers.

The Role of Multiple Choice Question Writers and Subject Experts

An intrepid EPAO beginning their journey towards creating an amazing multiple choice question test must gather some friends along the way.

After all, you can’t just pick up a pen and decide, willy-nilly, to write the 33rd question on an multiple choice question test for a Commis Chef EPA. Hold your horses!

In order to write appropriate questions for an assessment activity, you need expert help. You need professionals on your side who know what skills an apprentice should know, and when they need to know them, during their course of learning.

TQUK consistently commissions questions from our huge bank of question writers — subject experts, all, from healthcare and hospitality to management and retail — to ensure we are creating rich, high quality questions that populate our real and mock multiple choice question tests.

Language

Certainly, language is a key consideration when composing a test question. Clear phrasing and appropriate difficulty are paramount.

Seems straightforward, right?

Guess again!

Appropriate language levels are the subject of a tremendous amount of debate. What kind of language is appropriate for particular apprenticeships?

Let’s explain.

Say you’re in a level 2 apprenticeship in customer service. Most likely, you and most of your peers will between ages 16-19.

Any test you or they take must be reasonably written to the reading level of someone that age and, by extension, the level of that apprenticeship. You wouldn’t expect to find command verbs like “collate” and “tabulate” in those test questions — such complex words would be more appropriate for a higher level apprenticeship.

The questions we have to ask are, Which words and phrases belong at each level? What kind of sentence structure is too complex? Which words are appropriate for a level 4 but inappropriate for a level 3?

The natural place to start, we thought, was the Ofqual guidance on qualification and component levels. It is helpful at first, but perhaps can’t quite provide the level of detail required. After all,  detailing alignment of language within new apprenticeships was not the aim  of this document from Ofqual.

But there are models that could provide guidance.

For instance, Bloom’s Taxonomy offers a template on what type of questions and language can be used to assess low and high level thinking skills. These frameworks can be applied to lower and higher level apprenticeships.

In Bloom’s Taxonomy, lower level thinking skills can include knowledge recall, the demonstration of the basic understanding of facts and the application of those facts to particular situations. (ie “What are the different types of chicken meat?”, “Compare the taste profiles of white and dark meat”, or “Could eating undercooked chicken be a risk for contracting salmonella?”)

Higher level thinking skills could include knowledge dissection, synthesising compiled information in a different manner and the ability to evaluate and defend positions and judgments. (“List four ways free range chicken imparts more health benefits. Provide references.” “Take a sweet chicken recipe and convert it to a savoury chicken recipe. Explain how your recipe substitutions will work towards your goal.” “Would dark meat be better paired with red or white wine? Why?”)

As a general rule of thumb, TQUK uses the following criteria in creating level-appropriate test questions:

  • Level 1 questions should be one simple sentence with no conjunctions;
  • Level 2 and 3 questions should include only 12 words per sentence, and one conjunction per question. Language should be kept as simple as possible;
  • Level 4 and 5 questions can be made up of several sentences but should not extend past a reading time of 20 seconds.

This is only one model, however. TQUK relishes the chance to work with our training providers to produce the best possible EPA questions.

Stems

The “stem” is the questions or problem presented at the beginning of the multiple choice question.

EPAOs and their question writers have the benefit of consulting the apprenticeship standards. These lay out all the knowledge, skills and abilities that apprentices need to learn over the course of the apprenticeship.

Stems should be

  • Self-contained and meaningful on their own;
  • Free of irrelevant material.

A great stem must focus on relevant subject material, should prompt the apprentice to complex thought processes and use scenarios that apprentices could likely encounter.

This is where the experience of our question writers comes in. They will be able to draw on their industry knowledge to create plausible and challenging “what if” scenarios.

Distractors

How difficult should a question be?

Creating the ideal test question requires a certain amount of empathy. You need to make sure the question is appropriately difficult for that apprenticeship while keeping in mind what the apprentice should know at that stage.

For instance, take the following stem question: What are the ingredients used in a white sauce?

The correct answer is: flour, butter and milk.

Distractors are the main source of difficulty with a multiple choice question.

When the other distractors are a) black pudding, milk and mint b) red wine, shallots and calvados or c) gravy granules, water and black food colouring, the correct answer should not be overly difficult to guess. This would be a bad test question.

However, when the distractors are a) flour, olive oil and milk b) rice flour, butter and cream c) flour, butter and cream, the correct answer would be more difficult to choose. This would be a better test question.

Choosing the best possible distractors is always a big consideration when writing test questions. All effective distractors should be:

  • Plausible;
  • Stated clearly and concisely;
  • Mutually exclusive;
  • Homogenous in content;
  • Free from clues about which response is correct;
  • Presented in a logical order.

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It’s always fascinating how seemingly simple things can demand so much attention!

We’ll continue to do the little things well to ensure apprentices get the best possible assessment service in England today.

To keep up to date with the latest news from TQUK EPA, return to our blog or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

See you around The Hive!

How TQUK Can Help You

The new apprenticeship standards are designed to improve upon what’s gone before and help with the apprentice’s initial journey into their chosen career, before you know it, they’ll be on the road to success.

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