Free Assessment Tools for Essential Skills

Ellen Rodgers, Community Learning Network

1 2 13 April 2016

Once you’ve had a chance to look at the various essential skills resources online, you may be wondering how to measure the essential skills levels of your learners. While there are some essential skills-specific assessment tools online, many of the assessment tools you currently use may be more helpful for your learners’ purposes.

The list at the end of this blog includes free online essential skills assessment tools, but others I found listed online are not free. Many organizations need to charge for their essential skills assessments because they don’t receive grant funding to perform the assessments for individual learners. Below are the top 3 that are free for anyone to use.

Wondering whether an essential skills assessment is best for your learner? Here’s some advice:

If your learner is interested in assessing their skills for a workplace goal, then they may want to know their essential skills level. The links below will help with that. The learner will get a skill level that is recognized across Canada because it is aligned with the essential skills framework. Many employers also understand the essential skills complexity levels, but not all. And some learners are very keen to know “where they’re at” in terms of their skill. Then the links below are for them!

However, not every learner is motivated by workplace goals and may not need to know their skill level in relation to essential skills. They may be looking for more general information about their skills and abilities. So, you may already be using the perfect assessment tools for that purpose and don’t need the essential skills assessments per se.

In CALPs, we are learner-focused. It’s important to know what the learners’ goals are before we assume that any assessment tool will suit their needs. In fact, some learners don’t need or want to be assessed at all! They want to hear what you have to offer them so that they can choose their next steps within your CALP.

I feel that getting to know the learner and her goals is more important than any assessment. Learners want to feel accepted and listened to – that’s our primary responsibility. Then assessment can flow, if it needs to be addressed at all, when we have already been mindful of our learners’ contexts and motivations.

So, back to the essential skills assessment tools – if they’re right for the learners in your programs. Below is the list, with links, to help you and your learners get started.


SkillPlan BC: Measure Up

Tests the following three skills at complexity levels 1 - 3:

  • Reading text
  • Document Use
  • Numeracy

You can also print off the assessment tools and have learners fill them out that way. I appreciate this because then you can accommodate the most immediate needs of learners. If they aren’t good at computer use skills, then using the online version of the tests may feel intimidating. You can print off the test and have them do paper and pen rather.

But be warned – I had some difficulty getting the PDFs of the tests to download using Microsoft Edge as my browser (it is automatically installed as the default browser if you have Windows 10). You may need to download a free browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome in order to get the PDFs to download properly.


Government of Canada: Essential Skills Indicators

Tests the following three skills at complexity levels 1 - 3:

  • Numeracy
  • Document Use
  • Reading

These are online assessment tools, so learners will need some computer skills in order to use them well. Below are the links to the pen and paper tests to print off.

Print the Numeracy Indicator

Print the Document Use Indicator

Print the Reading Indicator


Skills Canada: Essential Skills Mobile App

Tests all nine essential skills, but goes beyond complexity level 3. So, may be difficult for a more foundational learner to use.

Plus, this is an app, so requires some more sophisticated computer skills to download and use properly. You can download it through the App Store onto an iPhone, or Mac computer or iPad. You can download it from Google Play for PCs or an Android phone.

The app also has other features besides the assessment tools:

What are the Essential Skills:

  • Describes each of the 9 essential skills according to the national definitions, with links to the assessment tools

Browse Essential Skills Information:

  • Lists Schools and Colleges across Canada where you can receive more skills training
  • Resources list – links to other prominent essential skills providers and organizations across Canada

Essential Skills at Work:

  • Has essential skills profiles for specific jobs within the following career sectors. Each job profile also lists the complexity level a person must function at for each essential skill within the job.
    • Construction
    • Employment
    • Information Technology
    • Manufacturing & Engineering
    • Services
    • Transportation

If you know of other good free resources, please share your favourites in the comments below.

Terri Peters
CLN Regional Support Staff
Southern Alberta




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