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Tests of competence

This guidance is for people who’ve applied to join the register and been asked to take a test of competence.

Tests of competence

Last updated: 26 November 2019


About this guidance

This guidance is for people who’ve applied to join the register and been asked to take a test of competence.


What is a test of competence?

A test of competence is an interview designed to examine whether or not you meet the standards required for registration. All social workers who apply to join our register are required to demonstrate that they meet our professional standards and are capable of safe and effective practice.

If our registration advisers find that there are significant shortfalls in your education, knowledge or skills, you’ll be asked to attend a test of competence. Your test of competence will address the specific standards that were not sufficiently demonstrated in your application.

The test of competence gives you the opportunity to show that you do, in fact, meet the standards required to join our register. If you pass the test of competence, you’ll be eligible for registration.


How do you decide if I need a test of competence?

When you apply to join our register with a qualification from the EEA or overseas, you’ll need to give us details about your education, training and experience. 

It’s your responsibility to provide as much information as possible so we can make an informed decision about your application. Your application is then reviewed individually by two registration advisers. These are registered social workers who work with us as partners.

When assessing your application, our registration advisers will consider how your education and training meets our education and training standards. These set out what we expect from social work course providers for qualifications and training. 

Our registration advisers will also look at how your application meets our professional standards. These are set at the minimum level we feel is necessary for safe and effective practice. 

We’ll also verify any evidence that you submit with your application with the relevant body. This might be your course provider or the regulatory body you were previously registered with, if applicable. 

Once your application has been assessed, and following advice from our registration advisers, we may take one of the following actions:

  • We may inform you that your application meets our requirements for registration. You’ll then be able to pay your registration fee and join the register.
  • We may ask for further verification. This is specific additional information to help us make a decision about your application, such as further information about your qualifications or experience.
  • We may ask you to take a test of competence.

This will be the case if our registration advisers have identified significant shortfalls in your application, meaning you’ll need to demonstrate that you meet our professional standards before you can join the register.

We’ll let you know our decision within 60 working days of you submitting your application. 

If you’re asked to take a test of competence but you believe a period of adaptation is more appropriate in your circumstances, you can request to undertake a period of adaptation instead. This is a period of supervised practise and/or academic training designed to make up for any significant shortfalls in your application. For more information about periods of adaption, you can read our periods of adaptation guidance.

For more information on how we decide if you need a test of competence see:

When will my test of competence be?

Once we’ve made the decision that a test of competence is needed, our registration and advice officers will inform you of the available dates for your test of competence to take place. You’ll then be able to request your preferred date.

We aim to have at least one day per month for our registration advisers to conduct tests of competence. You should arrange your test of competence within six months of our letter informing you that a test is required.

If you do not arrange a test within six months, your application will be closed. You would then need to make a new application if you still wished to join the register.


Where will my test of competence take place?

Your test of competence will take place at our offices in Sheffield and you’ll need to attend the test in person.

You’ll be asked to bring one form of photo ID, such as your passport or driving licence, and one form of proof of address, such as a utility bill dated within the last three months. These should be original documents. We’re unable to provide assistance with the funding of any travel or accommodation for you to attend a test of competence.


What does a test of competence involve?

A test of competence is designed to give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you do, in fact, meet our standards for registration. Each test of competence is written by one of our registration advisers. The test will involve a series of questions about a case study. You’ll usually be given the case study in advance of the test to allow you time to familiarise yourself with the details.

When writing your test of competence, the registration adviser will make sure questions relate only to the areas where your application failed to demonstrate that you meet our standards. A registration and advice officer will review the questions before your test to confirm they only cover the required standards.

If, during your test, you feel that you’re asked questions relating to a standard that was sufficiently demonstrated in your application, you should raise this as soon as possible. At the latest, you must tell us before you receive the outcome of your test.

The questions included in your test are designed to be clear and not to trick you in any way. The registration adviser who wrote your test of competence will also produce model answers. These will be used to assess whether the answers you give meet the relevant standards.

Your test of competence will usually be delivered by two registration advisers. If two registration advisers are not available, your test may be led by one registration adviser and one registration and advice officer. The registration adviser who wrote your test does not need to be present.

The length of your test will depend on the number of standards you need to demonstrate but will usually be between 90 and 120 minutes.


How should I prepare for my test of competence?

To prepare for your test of competence, we advise that you read through the case study before your test and familiarise yourself with our professional standards. It’s also useful to look over the assessment of your application for registration. This will show the standards that were not met in your application and that will, therefore, be covered in your test of competence.


What will happen after my test of competence?

The registration advisers who conducted your test will assess the answers you give by referring to the model answers. You’ll be informed of the outcome of your test of competence within five working days of the date of your test. If our registration advisers find that your answers demonstrate that you meet the necessary standards, you’ll pass the test of competence. This means that you’ll be eligible to join our register.

If our registration advisers find that your answers do not demonstrate that you meet the necessary standards, you will not pass the test of competence. The registration advisers will recommend that you undertake a period of adaptation if you wish to join the register.

This is a period of supervised practice and/or academic training designed to make up for any significant shortfalls in your application. You can read more about periods of adaptation.

The registration advisers will write a short justification of their decision. This will include brief feedback informing you of any areas where you did not show that you meet the professional standards.


Are there any alternatives to a test of competence?

A test of competence is designed to give you the opportunity to demonstrate to us that you meet the standards required for registration.

If you feel that your education, training and experience have not provided you with the skills and knowledge our standards require, a period of adaptation may be more suitable. This is a period of supervised practice and/or academic training designed to make up for any significant shortfalls in your application. You can read more about periods of adaptation.

You can request to undertake a period of adaptation, rather than a test of competence, in writing by emailing [email protected] or sending your request to: Registration and Advice Team, Social Work England, 1 North Bank, Blonk Street, Sheffield, S3 8JY.


Further information

For more information about tests of competence, please call us on 0808 196 2274 or email us on [email protected].

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