This article is a reprint of my original article published on Linked In in June 2022.

Most apprenticeship standards, certainly at the higher levels, have a Professional Discussion (PD) as part of the assessment. As the level increases so the expectations of the professional discussion increases, for the standards we assesses at level 4 the discussion forms around 30% of the overall grade decision rising to 50%.

Many apprentices don’t know how to prepare for success at this part of the assessment – this short series or articles will highlight what we believe are the key elements.

According to the Institute for Apprenticeships, a professional discussion is a two-way discussion between an independent assessor and an apprentice to assess the apprentice’s in-depth understanding of their work.

It isn’t an interview – an interview consists of an independent assessor asking questions and the apprentice answering them. As an apprentice if it feels like your PD has turned into an interview then things are going wrong. When the professional discussion becomes an interview there is less scope for interaction and discussion.

In an interview, the assessor leads the conversation. In a professional discussion the assessor introduces the session but the apprentice then takes the lead. The assessor will be looking for apprentices to cover the KSBs in the assessment criteria so apprentices must come with sufficient evidence to do so. Assessors may steer the conversation towards these criteria and move it on when they have heard enough – but they won’t give feedback on whether your comments were sufficient or not.

Apprentice Top Tips for Success:

Make sure that you have practiced speaking about your learning journey and your work for the length of time that is stated on the assessment plan. It is a timed assessment, usually with a minimum and maximum time, at level 5 it is not uncommon for the PD element to be timed for 2 hours, if you have covered all your evidence in 20 mins you are likely to fail.

Make sure your evidence has sufficient depth – remember 2 hours! Read the assessment plan and make sure that your evidence meets the criteria. You might be surprised by how often apprentices come to EPA without having read the assessment criteria, these are (usually) clearly shown in the assessment plan. For instance in ST0555 KSB K6 requires the apprentice to demonstrate the application of improvement methodologies to improve processes in at least 2 different parts of the business. So we will be looking for evidence that the apprentice has applied improvement methodologies, any recognised approach, in 2 places … simples.

Assessors can only assess what the apprentice has done, not someone else, we need to be able to see that you have completed the work. A bit like in an interview situation use “I” not “We”, “My team” or other expression.

Reflect on the actions taken, performance or outcome. What would you do differently now? This shows the assessor that you have evaluated your performance and developed skills.

Focus your discussion on the portfolio that supports the PD, while you may also bring in evidence from other areas of your work, if it helps demonstrate how you have met the assessment criteria, it could show a lack of preparation if this happens a lot.

Your assessor will focus the discussion on the KSB criteria in the assessment plan, pay attention to exactly what the assessor is asking and answer the question accordingly.

Your assessor can’t give feedback so if the assessor tries to move the conversation on, this should indicate that you have sufficiently covered the criteria being discussed. Many assessors will move the conversation on with a “thank you for that” or simply move on to the next question.

Use the STAR-R format to answer the assessor’s questions:

  • Situation – what was the nature of the activity, project or challenge
  • Task – what was your specific responsibility in the activity
  • Action – what steps did you undertake to move towards an outcome
  • Result – what were the outcomes of your involvement
  • Reflection – what would you do differently having had that experience?

So, in short, read the assessment plan, make sure your evidence shows you have met the criteria and practice for the discussion.

Michael Akers is a Partner, Senior Assessor and IQA at Advanced Analytics Solutions LLP