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10 tips for a more realistic ‘practice assessment’

April 8, 2009

This is part two to a post I made earlier in the week. In part one I discussed the reasoning behind preparing your student for evaluation by having them complete a practice the assessment before conducting the real thing. I also made a post on assessment preparation around 12 months ago, but only glanced over the concept of running a practice session.

Remember, the purpose is to have the student experience assessment conditions. At this stage of the training they should have demonstrated that they can do the job competently and all we are trying to do is avoid under-performance or ‘choking’ during the actual assessment.

Here are ten tips to make your practice assessments more valuable

  • Lead up to it: Stimulate the build up and anticipation for the student by giving them a few days notice. Use any training time to prepare for the assessment and refer to it regularly. Test theory regularly, focusing particularly on any weak areas.
  • Meet with the assessor: What are their pet hates, favourite question to ask, what style do they use and what constitutes an instant fail? Do they have any ‘patter’ that they use during the pre-brief? Do the sit back or scrutinise every action with an audible “hmmmm”.
  • Practice all components: Don’t just start at in the middles of the action scene – simulate the entire event. Start at the pre-brief, continue through to the debrief, with a question and answer session (for those areas not observed), and finally, give a report, using the actual assessment form or template. If the assessment contains a theory exam, give them one.
  • Make it as real as possible: The effectiveness of this technique will hinge on how much the student believes that these are the assessment conditions. Warn other staff to treat this like one. Invariably they will act a little different (more forgiving, less critical etc.) when one of their team mates is being assessed.
  • Be early or be late: Don’t just turn up on time. This will add to the apprehension, making their feelings closer to what they can expect on the day.
  • Consider an actor: If possible, have someone else conduct the assessment. Even if that person is only a trainer and not a workplace assessor, a new face can help simulate what it is like have someone different evaluate the student.
  • Don’t trainer, assess: Use the actual assessment form, stop the assessment if something goes wrong and don’t explain the best way to do things unless it constitutes a breach. Unless it is something that could cause harm to any participants or the organisation, let them dig themselves out of any trouble they encounter.
  • Give them a result: I know I said this in the third point, but give them a list of their shortcomings if unsuccessful. Brutal honesty is the key, but tactfully delivered of course because we don’t want to reinforce any unfounded fears.
  • Throw in an exam: If they have to do one, disregard this point (see point three), but if there is no associated theory exam, throw one in anyway, Keep them thinking about theory and make them continue to ‘hit the books’.
  • Induce pressure: If all is going smoothly, make something go wrong to increase the workload, just to show them what might happen during the assessment. This is an exercise in preparing for the assessment conditions. Once again, judge your timing and severity, we don’t want to be scaring them into a state of despair.


The purpose of practising for the assessment is to simulate the conditions that the student will be facing on the assessment day. You may feel that some of these techniques are deliberately making it tough for the student or sabotaging their chance of success.

The point is, this isn’t actually about performance (although as a secondary objective, this can be a useful tool for identifying student shortcomings). It is about having them practice what they have learned, under assessment conditions, so that it won’t come as a shock to them when they have to do it when it really counts.

Download my free e-book THE WORKPLACE TRAINERS TOOL KIT Eight models for effective on the job training.

New e-book coming soon: “IMPROVE YOUR TRAINING FROM WITHIN” Using the ‘hot wash’ to refine your training program.

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