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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Key Skills qualifications

Key Skills qualifications can help you to learn skills to get on at college, work or home. They can also show what you already know.

Key Skills: what they are

'Key Skills' refer to a particular set of skills that are commonly needed in a range of activities in education and training, work and life in general. They are transferable skills that can be used in different situations. Key Skills qualifications are now only open to new learners on Apprenticeship programmes, Adult Basic Skills and certain ESOL courses.

Key Skills qualifications can:

  • give you more confidence in your own abilities
  • boost your CV and show employers what you can do
  • help you move on to other qualifications such as an HND or degree
  • show what you have achieved in your learning programme

Who can take them

You can take Key Skills qualifications if:

  • you're on an Apprenticeship programme and enrolled on a main Key Skills qualification before 30 September 2023 (you have until 30th September 2013 to complete your Key Skills qualification)
  • you’re on an Adult Basic Skills course and enrolled on a main Key Skills qualification before 30 September 2023 (you have until 30 September 2023 to complete your Key Skills qualification)
  • you’re on an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Skills for Life Level 1 or Level 2 course and enrolled on a Key Skills Communications qualification before 31 August 2023 (you have until August 2014 to complete your Key Skills qualification)

Subjects available

There are two types of Key Skills available:

  • Main Key Skills
  • Wider Key Skills

Main Key Skills

Main Key Skills are:

  • communication
  • application of number
  • ICT (Information and Communications Technology)

They are only available if you're:

  • a continuing learner who enrolled on an Apprenticeship programme before 30 September 2023

Wider Key Skills

Wider Key Skills include:

  • working with others
  • improving own learning and performance
  • problem solving

Wider Key Skills are only available if you're a continuing learner. Similar qualifications are available as part of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

Study at a level to suit you

Key Skills are at levels 1-4 of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The NQF shows how different types of qualifications compare, in terms of the demands they place on learners.

How you are assessed

Each Key Skill is assessed separately. Your assessment is based on a portfolio you produce, which is assessed internally by your school, college or trainer. This will be a folder of evidence that shows you have the necessary skills to pass.

Key Skills tests

For the three main Key Skills, you also take a test, which is marked externally by an awarding body.

At levels 1 and 2, the test consists of 40 multiple choice questions, each with four possible answers. The test lasts for an hour, or one hour 15 minutes for Application of Number.

At level 3, the test lasts for 90 minutes; you have to write your answers to the questions, or complete a practical task for the ICT test.

The test at level 4 lasts for two and a half hours.


If you don't pass the test, generally you can retake it as many times as you want. This applies up until 30 September 2023 if you are on either an Apprenticeship Programme or Adult Basic Skills course, or until 31 August 2023 if your are on an ESOL Skills for Life Course. However, it's a good idea to check this with your particular learning provider.

If you started an Apprenticeship programme or Adult Basic Skills course and enrolled on a Key Skills qualification before 30 September 2023 you must complete your qualification by 30 September 2013.

Take a practice test online

You can take a practice test online for the three main Key Skills qualifications at the 'keyskills4u' website.

Where they can lead

Getting a Key Skills qualification at one level can lead to further Key Skills qualifications at higher levels. They can also help you move on to other qualifications, such as an HND or degree.

UCAS points

Key Skills attract points on the 'UCAS Tariff' for entry into higher education. The points you get for each Key Skill depend on the level of qualification you pass.

UCAS points will only be allocated for Level 2 qualifications if both the following criteria are met:

  • they are broad skills qualifications – Core Skills, Essential Skills, Essential Skills Wales, Functional Skills, Key Skills
  • they are being studied as part of a wider composite qualification, such as 14-19 Diplomas or the Welsh Baccalaureate

Key Skills level UCAS points
2 10
3 20
4 30

Help and advice

Advice for young people

For advice on learning and qualifications for 13 to 19 year olds, you can contact a careers adviser a the National Careers Service.

Advice for adult learners

Get advice about qualifications for adult learners from the National Careers Service.

Additional links

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