Workplace Documents Study Guide for the WorkKeys

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General Information

The Workplace Documents test included in the basic WorkKeys exam is one of the three tests you’ll need to pass to earn the National Career Readiness Certificate. The other two required tests are Applied Mathematics and Graphic Literacy.

There are 35 questions on this test and you’ll have 55 minutes in which to answer them. For each question, there will be typical workplace-type reading material from which you’ll need to find an answer. There is no penalty for guessing, so it’s to your advantage to try to answer all of them.

The difficulty of the questions varies from level 3 through 7. These levels can best be described like this:

Level 3: Reading passages on this level are brief and uncomplicated, including things like memos and short lists using simple language. The answer is easily found in the text.

Level 4: You’ll need to find details in slightly longer passages that contain more information.

Level 5: These passages may include a limited amount of unfamiliar vocabulary (jargon), and the questions might ask you to draw conclusions from the reading material.

Level 6: At this level, the passages are more formal and may include things like contracts and government regulations. There is an increased use of topic-specific terms, and you may be asked to make judgments based on the information given.

Level 7: Similar documents to those in level 6 questions are used, but the questions are at a higher difficulty level.

The questions at each level assume you have the skills necessary to correctly answer questions at all previous levels.

Answering Level 3 Questions

As you know from reading the above, Level 3 questions are the least complex, both in terms of reading level and question complexity. Here’s what else you should know about the Level 3 questions.

Reading Material

The reading material for Level 3 questions can best be described as simple and basic. Here is some more information about it:


The reading materials for Level 3 are short memos or bulleted lists about company policies, procedures, or general announcements; things that can be easily listed or only contain minimal information.


Because they supply minimal, direct information, Level 3 reading materials will be short and relatively simple in structure.


The level of detail in Level 3 reading material is minimal. Only the basic information needed in the workplace is provided—no extra information. The material is written in a direct tone and tells the reader what he or she should do without extra details or “fluff”.


The brief, simple nature of Level 3 readings means that the vocabulary and word choice will be basic and easily understandable. There are no technical terms or challenging vocabulary words.

Skills You Need

The skills you need to apply to Level 3 questions are relatively basic. You should be able to identify the main idea in the passage, identify specific details, determine when a particular step should be performed in a multi-step series of directions, and apply information or instructions to a situation that is the same as the one described in the passage. The questions are generally straightforward, detail-oriented questions whose answers can be found directly in the passage. The wording in the Level 3 questions will use similar wording to that in the reading passage, so it is important to know the basic vocabulary that is likely to be used.

Find the Main Idea

The main idea of any text is why it was written or the message it intends to get across to an audience. In other words, what’s the passage about? For example, the reading selection may be a note about a new discount being offered to customers for a limited time with bulleted directions as to how to process those transactions, how to apply the discount when a customer buys a product, and how to handle returns on discounted products. The main idea is how to apply and process the discount.

Find Details

The details support the main idea of the reading passage. They are the specific steps or instructions. In our example of the limited-time discount, the details would be the steps included that walk the employee through how to apply the discount for the customer. Questions about the reading material tend to ask that you be able to identify details about the information provided, not to draw conclusions or make inferences about material that’s not presented directly in the text.

Work with a List of Steps

Following directions, including being able to work with a list of steps, is an important skill in any workplace. Not following a list of steps in the right order can have disastrous consequences. Think about a recipe, for example. If you don’t follow the steps of the recipe in the right order, your food may not turn out very well. Being able to identify when to perform a particular step in a series is important. This can be challenging when the list of steps is presented in bullet points and not numbered. Be sure to refer back to the reading material to check the list and order of steps before determining your answer.

Apply Information to a Scenario

Some of the Level 3 questions you are likely to see will ask you to apply the information or instructions given in the reading to another situation. Using our limited-time discount scenario, the question might ask about how to apply the instructions for how to give a discount to an employee who is purchasing a product from the store and should be given an employee discount.

Answering Level 4 Questions

Level 4 questions are slightly more complex than Level 3 questions. They build on the skills tested in the Level 3 questions and add some new skills.

Reading Material

The reading material associated with Level 4 questions is slightly more challenging than that of Level 3. Longer sentences, longer overall length, and more details make the reading a little more complex.


As this is a test of your ability to read and understand commonly used workplace documents, the Level 4 reading material is similar to the reading material of Level 3, but a little harder because of vocabulary, length, and number of details. You should expect to see notices, memos, policies, and procedures when reading passage samples.


The number of details in Level 4 texts will be greater than in Level 3. While the text is still relatively direct, there are more details included, which can make the overall length of the text longer, and the structure tends to be a little more challenging because of the longer sentences.


Whereas Level 3 reading materials may have multi-step directions, Level 4 reading materials may include directions or procedures that include more steps than those found in Level 3, or those steps may be more involved or complicated.


The vocabulary present in Level 4 reading materials will be similar to that in Level 3, but will also include some tougher words.

Skills You Need

As mentioned earlier, the skills in each of these levels builds on the levels that come before. So in addition to the skills from Level 3, like finding the main idea and specific details and determining when to perform a specific step in a series, you may also have to apply information to a situation that is somewhat different from the one in the reading passage. You must consider how a change in condition, environment or situation might affect how you should react or respond in a situation.

Use Context Clues

Because the vocabulary in a Level 4 reading selection is a little more challenging, you must be able to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words. One way to do this is by using context clues. Context clues are hints the author gives within the selection to help the reader define words they may not know or recognize. The author may provide a definition of an unfamiliar word or give context clues where the opposite is given so the reader can see the contrast or difference from the unfamiliar word. One important thing to remember about context clues is that sometimes you just have to keep reading to find them. So, if you come across an unfamiliar or unknown word and you don’t recognize it, try not to let it stop you from reading. Keep going, kind of skipping over that unknown word for a minute, and see if context clues appear later in the reading.

Consider Change

Effective workers know how to adapt and change depending on the need at the moment in any given situation. Level 4 questions may ask you to consider what action would be best to take if the conditions change somehow. If you are following a procedure, but something happens at Step 3 that affects Step 4, how would you handle that? What should you do to achieve a similar outcome? Being able to adapt to changing conditions and anticipating your response is a Level 4 skill.

Translate Material Paraphrased in Questions

In addition to longer sentences and longer reading passages with more difficult vocabulary, the questions change slightly at Level 4, too. Instead of the questions using many of the same words and terms as the reading selection, as was the case in Level 3, in Level 4 questions, information from the reading materials is often paraphrased in the questions and answer options. Paraphrasing means restating in different words. So, unlike in Level 3 questions where you can look for the common words, in Level 4 you will have to identify the same ideas presented in different words between the reading passage and the questions and answers.


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