Despite what you’ll often read about apprenticeships and their differences to traditional learning routes such as university—there’s no debt, you earn while you learn—they do have one thing in common: exams.
Or to use their official name: the end point assessment, or EPA.
An EPA comes at the end of your apprenticeship, to evaluate your knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) against those proscribed in the occupational standard (that’s the framework underpinning your apprenticeship, overseen by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, created by employers and faithfully summarised by yours truly).
The KSBs are the level you need to reach over the course of your apprenticeship and are covered by your training.
Like any good old-fashioned assessment/test, you’ll have to demonstrate to an independent assessor how well you can carry out the job you’ve trained for.
These assessors are independent of your employer, supplied by an end-point assessment organisation (EPAO), so a bit like the exam boards that oversaw your GCSEs.
There are four parties participating in your EPA: your employer, for which you work; your training provider, which has prepared you for this moment; the EPAO, tasked with overseeing your assessment; and, of course, you.
Your employer and training provider will prepare you for the EPA, too. It’s in their interests for you to pass, so expect anything from meetings to full-on revision programmes and mock assessments.
If you’re not getting this sort of support from your employer and training provider, then speak up at the earliest available opportunity. You’ve worked too long and hard not to pass your EPA.
The primary difference between an EPA and school or university exams is the assessment period. For an apprenticeship, this will be a months-long process. For example, an apprenticeship that lasts 30 months will typically include a four-month EPA period.
Before your EPA commences, the EPAO will check whether you’ve met the minimum requirements of the apprenticeship (known as Gateway), namely:
- Occupational competency (can you do the job)
- English and maths qualifications;
- Completion of mandatory training;
- Additional necessary qualifications (such as a BA degree); and
- Completion of the minimum duration for the apprenticeship training.
At this point, your EPA can begin.
Now, EPAs are unique to each apprenticeship. They can take on different forms and be conducted over a range of time periods, as mentioned above.
An EPA can consist of:
- An observation with questions: Your independent assessor will watch you carry out your job, over a period of at least six hours. They will then ask you five questions.
- An interview and a portfolio of evidence: Before the Gateway, you’ll submit a portfolio of evidence demonstrating your work. This can be used to inform your responses during a 90-minute interview with an independent assessor, who will ask you at least 10 questions about certain aspects of your job.
- A multiple-choice test: As indicated, you’ll undertake a test of 50 multiple-choice question in 90 minutes. You won’t have access to any books or reference materials.
It’s also worth noting that apprenticeships that partially or fully align with a professional qualification, such as a chartered profession, may have additional experience, examination or other requirements to become certified.
When you pass your EPA, you’ll be awarded your apprenticeship certificate. The overall grades available are distinction, merit, pass and fail.
Should the worst happen, resists and retakes are an option. Your training provider and employer will receive feedback from the EPAO and can determine the best course of action, either a straight resit or a retake after a period of re-training to bring you up to the required standard.
The government offers a handy outline of your role and responsibilities in the run-up to and during this process. The advice ranges from the obvious (take ownership of the EPA) to the useful (see the EPA as an opportunity to showcase your knowledge, skills and behaviour).