The Beginner’s Guide to the Essential Skills Wales Qualifications

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All apprenticeships in Wales are made up of vocational and transferable qualifications called Essential Skills Wales qualifications. They’re pitched at different ability levels, and are a mandatory part of your apprenticeship. They’re challenging, so you need to prepare for them as you would any other exam.

Key points:

  • The Essential Skills Wales qualifications are a mandatory part of your apprenticeship
  • They’re core subjects, strengthening your numeracy, literacy and digital skills
  • If you can do the tests early in your apprenticeship, it gives you transferable skills to help you tackle the vocational content

The Essential Skills Wales qualifications are evidence of your abilities in English, Welsh, Maths, IT and digital. They’re a mandatory element of your apprenticeship and you must pass the tests to gain the full apprenticeship.

Essential Skills Wales qualifications are acclaimed, delivered by national awarding bodies, including WJEC, City and Guilds, and Agored Cymru.

They’re great for your CV, showing employers you’ve got the foundation knowledge and understanding. Plus, they give you access to accomplishments you would otherwise only complete in school.

What are the Essential Skills Wales qualifications?

The Essential Skills qualifications have slightly different names depending on the awarding body, but they are always in the following categories:

  • Numeracy
  • Communication (either in English or Welsh)
  • Digital literacy

Not every apprenticeship will include all Essential Skills qualifications.

Which level of Essential Skills Wales qualification you take will be relevant to the apprenticeship.

For example, if you take the Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG Level 4), you’ll take the Communication Skills Level 3, Application of Number Level 2 and Digital Literacy, Level 1.

To find out which levels of Essential Skills Wales qualifications you need to take for each apprenticeship, get in touch.

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Who are they for?

The Essential Skills Wales qualifications are for learners who are over 16, in every work setting.

Can you do the Essential Skills Wales qualifications in Welsh?

“The qualifications can be completed in Welsh,” explains TSW’s Route Manager for Essential Skills, Debra Davies.

“There are a small bank of tasks produced in Welsh. Learners can, if they want, do some parts of their task in Welsh and some in English. For example, you could do the speaking and listening part of the Communication in English but the written part in Welsh.”

If you feel more comfortable completing the tasks and sitting the exams in Welsh, just tell your TA who will organise the bilingual learning and support from a wider team.

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What does each qualification involve?


The application of number qualifications will focus on calculations, evaluating, analysing and interpreting data and presenting information.

For example, you could be asked to:

  • Put dates, times or numbers in order
  • Review data and answer a true or false question
  • Complete a calculation based on presented data


The literacy qualification will ask you to complete listening, speaking, reading and writing tasks. For instance:

  • Put a collection of words in the right order
  • Match up words and their abbreviations
  • Pick a phrase which most clearly communicates a desired message

Digital literacy

The digital literacy qualification targets your awareness, productivity, collaboration and creativity. You might be asked to:

  • Describe the ways you would research and save information online
  • About your understanding of phrases like, ‘digital footprint’
  • The relevant digital tools that would help you to complete a task

But the questions will depend on the Level of qualification you take, so they could be easier or harder than this.

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What exams will you take?

All Essential Skills qualifications feature a two-part end-assessment:

Part 1: Controlled task

It’s a set task you must complete to demonstrate your understanding of the course content.

Part 2: External test 

This test is designed to test your knowledge and is set externally. There is an online test for each Essential Skill.

You must pass Part 1, to take Part 2.

How will TSW support you through the ESW qualifications?

When Essential Skills Tutor, Betsan James, visited two learners training with our Training Advisor, Lindsay Sandall, in May 2021, there was nothing but glowing feedback:

“Both Hannah and Helen were hugely complimentary about the support and the encouragement Lindsay has given them. Helen thought that at her age, she wouldn’t be able to complete a qualification, but now her confidence has grown and she feels inspired.

“Hannah, who has dyslexia, and thought that this would be a barrier to her learning, has felt she has come on leaps and bounds and is proud of what she has achieved. This is all down to the way Lindsay has been working with them.”

Are the Essential Skills qualifications difficult?

If you find English, Welsh, Maths or IT challenging, it won’t be a barrier to your learning.

At the start of every apprenticeship, we’ll work with you to diagnose any areas you’re worried about. Then we’ll support you in the right way – whether it’s extra tuition, 1-2-1s, or workshops, we’ll help you feel more comfortable and confident with the material.

Your apprenticeship provider and training advisor will make sure you’re thoroughly prepared for the Essential Skills Wales tests.

We’ll support you in areas where you lack confidence and coach you through the qualification.

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How can employers support learners?

Debra advises that workers could find the qualifications challenging, and they’ll need support from their employer to complete them.

“Help your learners by giving them time to practice and a quiet area in which to ‘study’,” she advises.

“The tests, especially, can be really tricky if a learner does not prepare. Encourage them to spend time practising their written and mental calculation as calculators and dictionaries are not allowed for the tests.

“For Communication, the test is a comprehension exercise and preparation should involve reading articles and synthesising their meaning, practising spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG), and trying to think why a document was written rather than your reaction to it.

“Time and a calm space to practise plus an interest in what the learner is doing and feeling are the best things employers can offer their employees.”

Top revision tips for the Essential Skills Wales qualifications

  • Take time to prepare yourself by sitting at least one of the sample tests in a time-controlled manner, within the time limit of the test.
  • The best site for revision is BBC Skillswise (always an excellent choice for learners).
  • Revise for an hour per night in the week before the test so that everything is fresh in the in your mind.
  • Be confident. A ‘can do’ attitude when you arrive for the test as this helps to get confidence building.

How to pass the Essential Skills Wales qualifications first time

Debra says “staying calm and focused throughout is your best chance of passing first time.” Take time to breathe before you take the test, especially if you rush to the exam straight from work.

The second-best tactic is knowing the structure of the test, inside and out. You will have just over two minutes per question on your tests,” explains Debra.

“If a question takes you longer than two minutes, move onto the next question as it may be easier. And if you have time left at the end of the test, you can go back to any questions you struggled with.

“Make sure that you answer every question on the paper. Each question is a multiple-choice question, even if you don’t know the answer, you have a one in four chance of choosing the correct answer.

“Make sure you prepare carefully and sit as many of the sample tests as you can.”

When will you take the Essential Skills Wales qualifications?

You can take them at any time during your apprenticeship, however, we recommend that you take them as soon as you can. When you reach the end of your apprenticeship, you can’t qualify without the Essential Skills Wales qualifications.

How to book the Essential Skills Wales tests

If your training provider is TSW Training Apprenticeships, you can book your Essential Skills Wales test online. Visit our booking portal and pick a day and time when you can come to Fairwood House to sit the Essential Skills Wales qualification.

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Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Amanda is TSW's Head of Marketing. Her articles are largely about the benefits of professional development investment.
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