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Accreditation of Prior Learning(APL)

Accreditation of Prior Achievement (APA)


This term refers to any achievement or learning that has happened in the past. By using this method of accreditation we are recognising what candidates already know and can do.

APL is based on the principal that individuals learn throughout their lives and the skills and knowledge they develop, both in and away from the workplace, can be just as valuable as those obtained following traditional education routes. APL makes it possible to take account of the 'track record' of relevant learning and achievement and award credits towards NVQ units.

Candidates often have evidence which relates to previous learning experiences but it is the achievement gained as a result of these rather than the learning experience themselves, which need to be assessed. Evidence relating to courses attended or qualifications achieved must therefore be distinguishable from the evidence which demonstrates how that learning was actually applied in a workplace setting.

During the APL process, it is not learning which is being accredited but the product of such learning, i.e. the achievements, the attainments, the outputs of the learning process.

As a method of evidence collection and assessment for NVQs, APL has a number of advantages. It can provide:

However, if candidates intend to achieve the majority of their NVQ through APL, the following points should be considered:

APL requires significant commitment from candidates: they obviously require support through the process but the ultimate success of this approach relies very much on candidates' willingness and ability to gather sufficient evidence of their past experiences to prove their competence against the standards.

APL is not therefore always an 'easy' option. However, experience has shown that it can be extremely useful when used as an integral part of the whole assessment process i.e. where candidates use evidence of prior learning to support or fill gaps in their current evidence.

Centres wishing to offer APL to their candidates as a route of achieving their NVQs are advised to nominate at least one APL advisor who will be able to work with those candidates who choose to take the APL route, to advise and support them in collecting and presenting their portfolios of evidence.

The Assessors Role in guiding through the APL Process

There are several points you will need to do in order to guide the candidate through an APL process these are:

  1. Conduct a thorough briefing with the candidate to explain the APL process
  2. Help the candidate to identify relevant experience and achievement
  3. Assess the appropriateness of the candidates' experience and judging whether or not the candidate is likely to benefit from APL
  4. Agree with the candidate the target NVQ/units
  5. Provide guidance to the candidate on the nature of acceptable evidence and how to present this in a portfolio
  6. Provide support to the candidate to meet any particular assessment requirements he/she may have

Main steps in the Process

The Initial Advisory Interview

This is a meeting between the candidate and the assessor to determine if and how APL may be used to help the candidate achieve and NVQ or NVQ units. It will be followed by other regular meetings throughout the APL process to provide ongoing support to the candidate.

This interview will give the candidate the opportunity to:

By the end of this discussion the assessor should have a good idea as to whether or not the candidate will be able to collect sufficient relevant evidence to benefit from the APL process. The interview should also highlight any development needs the candidate may have and possible gaps in the evidence to put forward.

For example, the candidate's experience may:

In these instances, the assessor and the candidate need to agree how these gaps in the evidence can be filled.

Identifying Sources of Evidence

Identifying suitable sources of evidence for the candidate to present to the assessor may form part of the initial advisory session or may take place at a later stage one the candidate has had time to consider what kind of evidence is required and can be gathered.

The assessor should be open to suggestions from the candidate about possible sources of evidence and provide guidance as to what will be acceptable to the assessor. There are generally three types of evidence used in the APL process:

Direct evidence

This is any evidence which has been produced by the candidate e.g. a menu, a customer questionnaire, reports or artefacts

Indirect Evidence

This is any evidence which provides information about the candidate

There is a great variety of possible sources of indirect evidence, including awards, competition prizes, certificates, newspaper or magazine articles, references and endorsements, authenticated photographs.

Current Evidence

Some proof of current competence is usually required to validate prior learning and achievement.

Current evidence should be collected using the assessment methods specified in the evidence requirements in the relevant elements, e.g. observation, questions, role-plays etc.

Preparing and Submitting the Portfolio

A portfolio is a convenient way of recording, collecting and presenting evidence for assessment. The portfolio may take the form of a ring binder or document case with different sections for different pieces of evidence.

The following guidelines should be observed when preparing a portfolio of evidence for assessment:

Each item of evidence should be given an appendix number and filed in a logical order.
The portfolio should contain a system for clearly cross-referencing items of evidence to individual units, elements, performance criter4ia, range items and underpinning knowledge statements.
It should be clear to the assessor exactly how each item in the portfolio provides evidence of the candidate's competence - in some instances this may be obvious but for some items a short explanation may be required.
Details and, where appropriate, authenticated photographs of products which cannot be included in the portfolio should be provided and the products made be available to the assessor, where possible.
Letters of testimony from previous employers, managers, work colleagues and customers should be accompanied by a list of these people, where they can be contacted, their qualifications, experience and job role.


APL is one of a number of different assessment routes used for the achievement of NVQs. Whichever method is used, the outcome of successful assessment remains the same, i.e. the assessor must be confident that the candidate can carry out the specified activities in the workplace, under normal pressures of work, in line with all performance criteria, across the range and covering all aspects of the underpinning knowledge.

Assessors should be able to make reliable assessment decisions about a candidate's competence within the context of APL with the same level of confidence as they would when carrying our current assessment. However, assessing evidence provided by a candidate through APL can be a complex process and the type of evidence contained within candidates' portfolios may vary considerably.

Four key criteria must be satisfied for the evidence presented:


Evidence of prior experience may not seem so immediately relevant as current evidence, as it is unlikely to have been produced with the NVQ standards in mind.

It is important for the candidate and the assessor to carefully match all evidence to the individual performance criteria, range items and underpinning knowledge statements and record this, cross-referencing clearly in the portfolio.


If the evidence presented by the candidate comes from past experience and from a time before the assessor knew the individual, the assessor may need to carry out more checks to ensure the evidence is authentic.

Methods used to authenticate evidence include contacting previous employers who have provided testimonies to validate the information they contain, by questioning the candidate and requesting further supporting evidence if required.


With APL, there is an emphasis on things people have achieved in the past - however, assessors need to make sure candidates are able to meet the national standards today.

Wherever possible, past evidence should be backed up by current assessment using the methods specified in the elements.


Before signing off any elements, the assessor must be satisfied that sufficient evidence has been provided to infer competence.

Current assessment may be useful to fill any gaps in the evidence provided.

It is unlikely that an assessor could reach an assessment decision based on a candidate's portfolio of past evidence alone. The assessor will usually need to have one or more meetings with the candidate to ask questions to check underpinning knowledge and to provide supplementary and supporting evidence.

In addition, the assessor will usually need to carry out some further assessment of the candidate using the assessment methods specified in the elements concerned, e.g. by observation.


All assessment carried out via APL must be internally verified in the normal way.

Your external verifier will monitor the operation of APL within your centre during regular verification visits and will sample APL portfolios and speak to candidates and assessors involved in the process.


Once a candidate has achieved their unit or required NVQ units, you may apply for certification in the normal way.


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