UPDATED 2021

The Literacy Test Guide

The Literacy Test Summary
What: Literacy tests measure individuals' reading ability.
Who: Individuals who are being hired for a job may have to take a test as a part of the hiring process. Employers want to make sure their new hires have the literacy skills necessary for the job. The tests are administered by representatives of the Educational
Where: Educational Testing Service offers literacy tests that can be taken online, but there also are regional offices in California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Texas, Oregon and Puerto Rico.
When: Exams are offered at any time, but most often are administered as part of the employment process.
How: Most are offered via computer.
Type: Multiple choice.
Why: Employers looking to hire individuals want to make sure their new hires possess literacy skills needed for the job. The tests determine if these skills are present in the person taking the exam.
Time: The tests are not timed, but candidates should allow for at least one to two hours.
Language: English.
Preparation: Preparation will depend on the employer's instructions.
Cost: Varies.

By Missy Spangler, Tests.com Contributing Writer

In 2002, the National Center for Educational Statistics’ National Assessment of Adult Literacy revealed that 14.5 percent of Americans lacked basic reading skills. In 1993, that number was 14.7 percent. The improvement in adult literacy in nine years was marginal at best.

Literacy is a fundamental skill that is used in all areas of life, which is why many employers want to ensure their job candidates have basic literacy skills.

Educational Testing Service (ETS) offers two literacy exams used for employment purposes: the PDQ Profile Series of exams and the Health Activities Literacy Test. Both tests focus on activities that use both teaching and learning examples, and the results can be compared with state, national and international surveys. The tests can be taken online, or in an ETS regional office in California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Texas, Oregon or Puerto Rico.

PDQ Profile Series

The PDQ Profile Series has both a full-length test and a locator test. They both can be taken electronically, and both include realistic examples and open-ended questions scored automatically on the computer. The test is adaptive, meaning it presents questions of increasing difficulty based on the answers of the previous question.

The full-length exam includes background questions and also three sets of questions on each literacy scale: prose, document and quantitative literacy. The test takes about 90 minutes, but it is not timed. Test candidates are free to work at their own pace.

Tests are scored on a five-point increment system from 0 to 500 and are broken down into five levels of proficiency. Those scoring in the first and second levels are defined as having limited or restricted literacy proficiency. Not many of these test takers would be considered illiterate, but rather that they lack the skills needed to be successful in a technology-based economy. Level 3 scorers have minimum proficiency and can integrate data from complicated text or documents. Those in the fourth and fifth levels have high proficiency and able to complete challenging tasks.

The PDQ Locator test is a shorter version of the exam. The exam takes about 50 to 60 minutes but also is not timed. Scores are reported in three levels: prose, document and quantitative. Scores can be used for comparative purposes with information from the literacy surveys and also to obtain skill information about the particular test-taker.

ETS Health Activities Literacy Test

Every day, adults have to make decisions that affect their well being and also that of their own family and community members. These actions are not limited to doctor’s offices and hospitals, but also at home, work and across the country. The Health Activities Literacy Test examines the literacy skills that adults need to make these decisions. ETS has both a full-length and locator test in this area. The tests are available electronically and include tasks done in the real world, along with open-ended questions that will be scored automatically on the computer.

Literacy has been found to be an important link between health and education, and it is possible that it is a contributing factor to providing quality health care received by many across the nation. Some tasks include seeing how well individuals use package labels on goods, appliances, cleaning products or medicines. Some of the topics covered in the exam include health promotion and protection, disease prevention, health care and maintenance and systems navigation.

The full-length test incorporates the three literacy scales and is used to give a profile of the test-taker’s skill at health-related literacy tasks and also determines if these skills have changed over time. The test takes about an hour, though the exam is not timed so test takers can work at their own pace.

The test is scored in five-point increments from zero to 500. Levels of proficiency include limited, minimum and high. Level 1 and 2 scorers are considered limited or restricted and do not possess the skills necessary to be successful. Level 3 is minimum proficiency, meaning the test taker has the minimum skills necessary to be successful and Level 4 and 5 scorers are of high proficiency and will be able to succeed.

The locator test is a shorter version of the full-length exam. It gives a general evaluation of the person’s skills in terms of performing health-related literacy tasks. The test takes about 30 to 40 minutes but, like the longer version, is not timed.

Do you need to take a literacy test? Are you interested in learning more? Please visit our Literacy Test Directory.