Northstar Digital Literacy

Northstar is a program of Literacy Minnesota, whose mission is to share the power of learning through education, community building, and advocacy.

About Northstar

Northstar Digital Literacy defines basic skills needed to perform tasks on computers and online. Online, self-guided modules assess the ability of individuals to perform tasks based on these skills. Included are basic computer digital literacy standards and modules in three main areas:

  • Essential Computer Skills - Basic Computer Skills, Internet Basics, Using Email, Windows OS, Mac OS
  • Essential Software Skills – Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Google Docs
  • Using Technology in Daily Life - Social Media, Information Literacy, Career Search Skills, Accessing Telehealth Appointments, Supporting K-12 Distance Learning, Your Digital Footprint.

Northstar was developed in response to the needs of job seekers who may lack the digital literacy skills needed to seek, obtain, and retain employment, as well as to perform other tasks in daily life. Northstar allows end users to freely take the assessments from anywhere via our homepage, but individuals can instead go to an approved Northstar location and obtain the Northstar Digital Literacy Certificate when they pass assessments. Certificates provide an important credential for employment, as even entry-level jobs increasingly require basic computer skills. Certificates also certify end user ability to complete computer skills needed in higher education, and demonstrate their ability to use social media and online information thoughtfully. If individuals do not pass, personalized assessment results provide a roadmap to relevant instruction, allowing them to retake the assessment once they have mastered the necessary skills. Northstar also includes learning resources to support adult learners to master the standards outlined. Learning resources include classroom curriculum that can be used in person or remotely, and Northstar Online Learning, which provides self-directed instruction and practice for individuals.

Northstar is used by over 3220 Adult Basic Education programs, colleges, nonprofits, workforce centers, government agencies, and businesses. There is no cost to complete the assessments on the Northstar homepage.

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Timeline & History

Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

    • an internet connection; we do not offer an offline version
    • headphones for test takers to hear the audio in the modules
    • keyboard and preferably also a mouse or trackpad (currently not optimized for touchscreen-only mobile devices)
    • a modern browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge)
  • For more information on becoming a Northstar location, including the benefits and costs, please visit

  • Anyone who needs to assess and/or improve their basic digital literacy skills. Northstar is designed primarily for adults 18 and older.

  • Absolutely. The assessments, Northstar Online Learning (NSOL,) and the Northstar curricula were designed with English language learners in mind. A mid-level/intermediate English reading comprehension ability is needed to complete the assessments. All questions are offered in both written and audio forms with the chance to replay the audio questions as needed.

    Please be advised some of the assessments aligned to the Standards for Using Technology in Daily Life, such as Career Search Skills and Information Literacy, may need a higher level of English reading comprehension and digital skill background knowledge established through instruction and mastery of other Northstar standards. In particular, we recommend that learners have completed the Basic Computer Skills, Internet Basics, Using Email, and Microsoft Word.

  • Yes! All of the Northstar assessments are now available in Spanish. We also have Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) modules available in Spanish, except for Telehealth and Supporting K-12 Distance Learning (English version modules for those two units are still in development).

  • Northstar can be used in K-12 contexts with students 13 and older, if desired. We do not recommending using it with students younger than 13 due to the level of language and concepts required.

  • Closed captioning is available in all assessment modules, and modules were developed to be screen-reader compliant. Each Northstar location will be responsible for providing other accommodations as requested. Northstar locations will provide readers as needed for individuals with documented dyslexia or related conditions when they complete the assessments.

    If questions arise regarding specific accommodations, or if you discover a problem while using a screen reader that we missed in our testing, please contact us at and we will work to address the issue.

  • We strongly discourage the use of Northstar assessments to screen job applicants. The Northstar assessments are designed to support training and instruction. Many employers have found success using Northstar to identify training needs of current employees, and some job applicants choose to use Northstar assessment certificates to demonstrate proficiency in digital literacy skills.

  • There is not a Northstar keyboarding module. Individuals can complete a typing test at

    There are also keyboarding instruction and practice resources available at these sites:

  • Yes! Northstar offers several resources for remote teaching and proctoring. Please see our guide for more information on this topic.

  • We strive to keep our modules current with the most commonly used software versions among our users. Currently our modules emulate Windows 7 and 10, Mac OS X, Word 2010 and 2016, Excel 2010 and 2016, and PowerPoint 2013 and 2016.

  • Northstar is not optimized for use on tablets or smartphones, so some functions might not work as intended. For example, some actions might be difficult to perform, such as dragging and dropping, and on smaller screens, some items will not display correctly. While we do not have immediate plans to implement mobile usability, we are seeking funding sources that would allow us to do so. That said, some of our locations have had success using smartphones and tablets. Here are a few tips for using Northstar on mobile devices:

    • Northstar is more likely to display appropriately on larger screens, so tablets are preferred.
    • On most mobile devices, you can perform a right click by holding down on a link for several seconds.
    • Similarly, some of the assessments will correctly interpret a double tap as a double click.
    • Many units of the curriculum can easily be adapted for tablet/smartphone use. For example, most of the skills covered in Using Email and Internet Basics apply to mobile email and internet use.
  • Please download our W-9 from


  • Public assessments are assessments taken directly from our homepage. Public assessment results are not saved with any identifying information.

    An unproctored assessment is an assessment taken on the assessment launch page of one of our subscribing locations. Each subscribing location is given a unique launch page. The results of assessments taken on this page are stored, so proctors (teachers) at that location can review results. However, certificates for passing results cannot be printed for unproctored assessments.

    A proctored assessment is an assessment taken on the assessment launch page under proctor supervision at one of our subscribing locations. If a test taker passes a proctored assessment, the proctor can print a Northstar certificate for the test taker. Proctoring can be done in person or remotely.

  • Yes, test takers can go back and change their answers to questions, as long as they have not exited the assessment. The orientation video available at the start of each assessment shows how to do this.

  • No, this would invalidate the result of future assessments. However, participants do receive a printed report identifying areas of strength and areas needing work. The results report lists which Northstar standards they have mastered, and which standards they need to improve. If a learner takes an assessment while logged into a Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) account, links to NSOL content specific to each standard are provided where available.

  • We agree that there are different ways to accomplish any given task on a computer. We tried to include as many alternatives as possible, and provide more specific instructions where response options are limited.

  • Digital badges are a form of digital credential that Northstar test takers can use to record and keep track of assessments they have passed. Badgr, the organization that Northstar uses for badging, has a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying badges earned on multiple instructional websites, including Northstar. Learners can create accounts with Badgr to save badges earned in many different learning contexts, which learners can later share with employers or other stakeholders who need to know their skills and experience. Learners can claim badges for unproctored or proctored assessments, and this will be indicated on the badge. Please visit Badgr's website for more information on badging.

    Learners are not required to keep badges or make an account with Badgr to keep track of assessment results. All assessments taken through Northstar locations are saved automatically to the location’s Admin Portal, and Northstar locations can award certificates to learners who pass proctored assessments. Additionally, learners with Northstar Online Learning accounts can keep track of their results on the learning dashboard.

  • The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment is a resource intended to support instruction. We view it as a way to see what people already know and to identify areas in which additional skills are needed. A secondary purpose of the assessment is to provide a means by which learners can demonstrate those skills to others, like future employers.

    When a learner takes the test multiple times as a way of improving their results, their test results do not represent demonstrable skills; rather, their test results only show their ability to guess at/remember the correct answer. In the long run, this testing strategy will undermine both the efficacy of the certificates awarded and the skill development of the learner.

    As a result, learners at Northstar locations are limited to taking each assessment twice per day. It's advised that Northstar locations offer instruction between attempts. Per the Proctor Code of Conduct, instructors may not answer content-related assessment questions as that would jeopardize the validity of the assessment. For example, instructors should not review the assessment test questions and give correct answers.

    Instead, Northstar provides instructional resources to help learners master Northstar standards missed, including in-class curricula and interactive Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) practice modules. It is recommended that sites use the teaching resources to support learners’ mastery of standards. The instructional time needed depends on the learner’s skill level, specific standards missed, and number of standards missed. Providing thoughtful instruction will help maintain the integrity and credibility of the certificate while meeting learners’ instructional needs.

    Individuals completing assessments on our public website are limited to taking each assessment once per day.

  • Unfortunately, assessments taken on our public website are not saved with users’ identifying information, so we are unable to look them up with a person’s name. Make sure to save or print assessment results.

    Another option is taking the assessment at one of our locations. All assessments taken at any Northstar location are automatically saved and can be accessed by a proctor (teacher) at the location. You can find a Northstar location here.

  • There are a couple of reasons this can happen.

    1. A firewall may be limiting what content you can download. Please see the following question about firewalls for information on how to enable Northstar through a firewall.
    2. A pop-up blocker or ad-blocker extension installed in your browser can sometimes block our content. Disabling the extension has helped. Trying another browser also sometimes helps.

    If neither of these work, please contact us at for more assistance.

  • In order to have users' experience of Northstar be successful, certain domain names need to be allowed. For many Northstar locations, there are no problems with these, and all domains work. For some Northstar locations that have a firewall, though, admins may need to direct their IT dept to "whitelist" the following domain names so their content can be seen/used:

  • No, the assessment must be completed in one sitting. If a learner navigates away from the assessment or if the internet connection is lost, then the assessment must be restarted.

  • Our Microsoft Office assessments and resources are based on features that are common throughout many iterations of Office Software. We do not aim to replicate a specific edition of Microsoft Office. We do periodically evaluate our assessments to see if there are any questions that need to be updated, but if you notice a specific issue with an assessment question, NSOL module, or curriculum lesson please let us know with specific details (such as the question number) and we will review them. Additionally, we highly encourage sites to teach digital resiliency, or the ability to engage in similar tasks across different platforms. Finally, please be advised our resources are not geared toward the online versions of Microsoft Products.

Northstar Curriculum

  • The curriculum is aligned with Northstar Digital Literacy standards and supports adult learners in meeting the requirements of the Northstar Digital Literacy assessments. Each unit of curriculum contains 7-9 two-hour lesson plans (Career Search Skills includes 15 lesson plans to address the extensive standards for that topic). Lesson plans are learner-centered, interactive, and easy to use. Each lesson includes helpful teacher tips and detailed instructions to prepare for the lesson. The curriculum is accessible as a resource to subscribing Northstar locations. Most assessments have corresponding curricula, and we are working on the remainder.

  • No, lesson plans are independent of one another. They can be taught in order, or teachers may choose lessons for their class based on needed instruction for specific Northstar Digital Literacy standards. We recommend teachers use the Northstar assessments as pre-tests to guide instruction.

  • The curriculum supports adult English language learners at an Intermediate Level, as defined by the NRS (National Reporting System) as a CASAS reading level 211, or higher, or a TABE (11-12) Reading Score of 501 or higher; this is equivalent to a 4th grade reading level. Because of the predictable structure of the curriculum and because we explicitly identify and give guidance to teach digital literacy vocabulary to support learners reading at an intermediate ESL level, teachers/programs have successfully adapted the lessons on their own for lower level-English learners.

  • The lessons were written to support classroom teachers, as well as volunteer tutors working with small groups. Lessons may be adapted by teachers for one-on-one instruction or to teach remotely. Access to computers, a projector, and internet are necessary to facilitate the curriculum in person. Northstar provides tips for teachers to facilitate remote instruction of the lessons (see the following question for more information on remote instruction).

  • Northstar Digital Literacy offers paper-based screeners as an aid in determining whether individuals have the level of computer skills needed to take the Northstar assessments in a meaningful manner. The screeners are PDFs meant to be administered by a teacher or tutor, and each has about 10 questions. The use of screeners is optional. You can find the screeners in your site’s Admin Portal in the Resources Folder. They are listed in Other Resources.

    If individuals have very beginning level computer skills, it is best to provide some instruction prior to having them take the assessments so they do not become overly frustrated by attempting to complete assessments far above their skill level.

  • Yes! We have created several resources to help support remote teaching. For each lesson plan, we have created a Remote Learning Page. The Remote Learning Page includes all of the projectable references and handouts featured in that lesson. Teachers can share remote learning pages with their learners. Additionally, we have also created documents detailing Northstar Tips for Remote Teaching, as well as a Sample Agenda for First Virtual Class Meeting. All of these resources can be accessed in the Admin Portal in the curriculum section.

  • Each unit of curriculum has around 7-10 lessons, except Career Search Skills, which includes 15 lesson plans to address the extensive standards for that topic. We project that each curriculum lesson should take around 2 hours, although this can vary depending on the size of the classroom and the ability level of the learners.

Northstar Online Learning

  • Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) is an online learning platform that features original content learners can access independently. Each topic includes explanations, demonstration videos, and interactive practice. NSOL can be used either by learners working independently, or as a resource to support in-class instruction or one-on-one tutoring. Northstar locations can make learner accounts which track NSOL work and assessments completed by the learners. When learners complete an assessment while logged into their accounts, they are automatically directed to the NSOL content corresponding to what they need to learn.

  • We currently have NSOL practice and instruction available for all of our units, except for Accessing Telehealth Appointments and Supporting K-12 Distance Learning. Our plan is to develop self-directed online learning practice lessons for all of the assessment topics we provide.

  • On average, it takes around 90 minutes to finish a topic, although this can vary widely, depending on the experience and ability of the learner.

  • Northstar locations can make NSOL accounts. Click here to find a Northstar location near you.

  • To add new learners to NSOL, log into the Admin Portal. Click the Learners tab at the top and then click Invite New Learner, where you can add a learner’s name and email address to send them an email invitation. Watch our video which shows how.

  • To link assessment results to learner accounts, log into the Admin Portal, click Assessments at the top, and then find and click on the learner's assessment result. On the assessment result page, click "Edit" next to their name, then click on the check box for "Associate with an existing learner account", and then search for their name.

  • Northstar Online Learning does not include the time that learners spend taking assessments. For proctored assessments, these assessments are meant to be monitored by staff members and class time recorded in that fashion. Even if students are taking proctored assessments virtually via video conferencing, a teacher should be monitoring the students and taking attendance as if it were in person.

    For unproctored assessments, we are not counting that as learning time since the goal of the assessments is to assess and not to teach. Generally speaking, we discourage sites from asking their learners to take unproctored assessments repeatedly, since that encourages memorization of the test, rather than learning. Additionally, the NSOL modules already provide learners with plenty of questions in both the 'Try It' and 'Learning Check' sections of the modules.

    However, it is possible to view the amount of time a learner spent on an assessment in the admin portal. Along with the test taker's missed questions, the assessments results page includes the duration of time.

Proctor and Admin Tasks

  • Please watch this YouTube video which demonstrates how to proctor the Northstar assessment.

  • Please see our manual, which includes instructions on how to change the proctoring status of an assessment. Prior to doing so, ensure that you and your test taker followed the Proctor and Test Taker Codes of Conduct.

  • Yes, our Quick Start Guide has many videos showing how to use various aspects of Northstar and the Admin Portal, such as how to proctor an assessment, print a certificate, or add learners to Northstar Online Learning.

  • Admins for Northstar locations can add and remove staff members. To manage staff, log in to the Admin Portal, click Location Info at the top, then click Manage Staff. Click Add New Staff Member and fill in the fields with their first name, last name, and their email address. They will receive an email invitation to set up the password for their account.

    All new staff members will automatically receive Admin Portal Access and NSOL Access. Admin Portal Access allows staff members to access basic parts of the admin portal, including assessment data, Northstar Online Learning (NSOL) accounts, and the curriculum. NSOL Access allows access to NSOL to view content as a learner.

    You can use the toggles to give staff members additional privileges. Proctors can proctor assessments in order to issue certificates. Proctors will need to complete proctor training before proctoring assessments. The toggle will indicate if they still need to complete training.

    Admins can manage staff, location info, and billing. Note: each site is limited to 3 admins to limit the number of people who can make major changes to the account. We encourage sites to have at least two admins, though, in case of staffing changes. If you need more than 3 admins, please email us

    To deactivate a staff member, turn off the toggle under Admin Portal Access. This will deactivate their other privileges. Staff account information is not deleted, so you can always reactivate a staff member’s account or privileges later with no changes to their account information. If staff members use their account at multiple locations, deactivating their account at one location does not affect their access at their other locations.

  • Proctors have the ability to proctor assessments, check on assessment results, generate and print certificates, access the curriculum, and add learners to Northstar Online Learning (NSOL), and view learner progress on NSOL. Each Northstar location can have as many proctors as needed.

    Admins have the ability to add/remove staff and edit location info. Each Northstar location is limited to three admins by default, although if your location needs more, please send us an email at We encourage locations to have at least two admins, to ensure account continuity in case of staffing changes. If admins also need proctoring abilities, they can add themselves as a proctor using the same email address as their admin account.

  • If one of your staff members did not receive the email notification, encourage them to check their junk or spam folders since the email will occasionally end up there.

    If they cannot find the email there, make sure you entered their email address correctly when adding them. To check their email address:

    1. log into your Admin Portal at
    2. click Location Info and
    3. click Manage Staff. You can check if their email address is accurate on that page. If it is inaccurate, you can remove access to the erroneous account by turning off the toggle under the column Admin Portal Access. This will remove all other privileges the account may have. Then you can add a new account with the correct proctor information on that same page.

    If neither of these work, please reach out to us and let us know the contact information for the staff member. We can investigate further and reach out to you and the proctor with next steps.

  • In your admin portal, add them as a proctor to your testing location using the same email address that they are registered under with the other location.

  • Northstar does not have an answer key for several reasons:

    1. Sharing an answer key to any assessment lessens the validity of assessment results over time. An answer key could give away the answers to many people, including test takers.
    2. Northstar encourages instructors to use the standards as they plan instruction, and to avoid "teaching to the test." We believe test takers and learners will benefit from integrated instruction, and the ability to apply an array of skills in real life situations, rather than memorizing how to answer a test.

    If a proctor or admin does not know how to answer a question, you may email us at:

  • No, we do not carry over testing locations' unused assessments. The quota of 3500/year applies each billing year; any overage of the allotted 3500 assessments will be charged a small, additional fee of $30 per 1000 assessments. For example, a testing location that has 5000 total assessments in 1 billing year will accrue $45 in additional fees.

  • No, allowing individuals to change the assessment would invalidate the results and certification.

  • Sites are limited to 500 active learner accounts, but more capacity can be purchased. Please contact us for more information.

    Sites are limited to 30 active staff accounts. This includes accounts with proctoring and/or admin privileges.

These days, every employee needs basic computer skills to perform even most entry-level jobs. Northstar Digital Literacy helps job seekers demonstrate to employers that they have mastered basic skills.