How does the ForSkills SkillsBuilder assessment and diagnostic system work?

How does the ForSkills SkillsBuilder assessment and diagnostic system work?

SkillsBuilder is the initial assessment of choice for maths and English for 7 in 10 learners at private training providers plus 40% of FE Colleges. Each year, more than 250,000 learners will complete an initial assessment and get their results on-line.

The SkillsBuilder system is made up of three distinct technical elements, that all interact to ensure that every assessment test and result is unique and individual – they are the engine, the question bank and the data bank. The full assessment is done in two parts – the initial assessment followed by the diagnostic assessment.

The engine manages the learner process.
It starts with a handful of screener questions that have been deliberately chosen to assess an approximate level. We do this so we can make the initial assessment shorter and much more relevant to that learner, avoiding the need to give learners questions that are either far too easy or hard. The initial assessment questions are then drawn from a questions bank and adapt to how well a learner is doing. There is no time limit set as the purpose is to find out what the learner knows, overall time taken is reported back to learner and tutor for information. The typical learner will spend about 20-30 minutes in initial assessment mode.

The question bank is unique to SkillsBuilder.
It randomly draws questions from a large bank (5000+ questions) to provide to the learner an assessment that is always different for them and different to their peers so that no two tests are the same. This approach means that the assessment result is always based on the learner’s skill, rather than their ability to remember the answers to questions they have been asked previously. It also prevents copying/sharing between learners.

The data bank and associated algorithms complete the SkillsBuilder system.
Every learner’s answers and results are compared to the standardised data bank to validate the result.

The initial assessment is organised into groups of questions that test the broad skills area, rather than every function of the curriculum. This means that when we report back the initial assessment result, we report key topic outputs to the learner and their tutor, the overall result, spiky profile and time taken.

The time taken – a key indicator of learner engagement. The typical learner would expect to spend around 25 minutes on the initial assessment. Although there are reasons why a learner could be quick or slow so it’s always worth having a conversation with the learner if time taken is significantly longer or shorter and where a learner is taking longer than expected on a question, they do receive an on-screen prompt.

The overall result – always reported as “working towards” an overall level or grade.

The spiky profile differentiates the broad skills areas shown at the end of the initial assessment and is divided into the following areas and always reported as “working towards” a given level.

example 1

So at the end of the initial assessment, we should have a spiky profile of the learner using the table above and an overall level. At this point, the learner can proceed directly to the second stage – the diagnostic assessment – or come back later in the learning journey

The diagnostic assessment should take around 30 minutes to complete. Questions are selected based on the results of the learner’s spiky profile. The diagnostic assessment “completes the skills picture” and this forms the basis of a key output report – the ISP. Each learner gets an individual skills plan based on their own skills gaps with a bank of resources to work on. The ISP picture below is an example extract of an English result.

example 2

Progression measurement is a standard feature and report in SkillsBuilder and very useful for tutors to show both progression and engagement. To support a blended learning model, optional tutor input is also available which is recorded in the progression report.
Because of the way that the SkillsBuilder system works (question bank and data bank), when a learner does a second assessment, the test will be different and therefore, we get a more accurate measure of progression from the first to the second test.

Use of your own tests and associated intellectual property is also possible subject to economy of scale and additional development cost. This means that specific assessment tests and/or content can be developed and added to meet business needs as diverse as ESOL and mechanical competence for higher level apprenticeships.


  1. ISABEL BREWER says:

    Hi please can you tell me: 1) what the difference is between SKILLSPORTFOLIO and SKILLS BUILDER.
    2)Please can you send me a sample of a diagnostic test for English and for Maths and confirm if it is paper based and on-line.
    3)Please can you confirm if both English and Maths Initial Assessments and Diagnostic Assessments on-line format are computer marked.

    • James Walker says:

      Hi Isabel

      In a nutshell, SkillsPortfolio is our eportfolio system for tracking and managing vocational qualifications, and SkillsBuilder is the umbrella name for our suite of assessments and resources. Read more on SkillsBuilder and SkillsPortfolio.

      Our assessments are available in a paper-based format or fully self-marking online. You can request a free trial or contact our customer services team for more information.

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