Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Who developed the assessments?

The standards informing the Assessments were developed through a collaborative, community-based process in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. The process was suggested by the St. Paul Public Library, and hosted by the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium.

Who funded the creation of the initial assessments?

The Otto Bremer Foundation and the Library Services and Technology Act.

What are the system requirements for Northstar?

Hardware: there's no hard and fast rules about what's needed other than headphones for people to hear the audio in the modules. Generally, though, the computer's RAM and CPU should be powerful enough to run Flash files that are 10-15 MB in size. Software - Browser: We recommend Chrome if at all possible. Firefox is second best with bugs once in a while, and Internet Explorer not recommended due to numerous bugs that are not within our control to fix. Software - Flash player installed and enabled. We're in the early stages of converting our modules to HTML5 which will mitigate the need for Flash, but in the meantime Flash player is required. An internet connection is required. We do not offer an offline version.

Who is the target audience for the Northstar Assessments?

Anyone who needs to assess and improve their basic digital literacy skills. This may include ABE students, displaced workers, and others.

Are the assessments designed for non-English speaking refugees and immigrants?

A mid-level English speaking ability is needed to complete the assessments.

Are the assessment modules intended to directly instruct participants?

No, the assessments are a tool for individuals to identify areas of strength and areas needing work. Teachers may also use the assessments as pre- and post-tests, as well as a means for guiding instruction.

Can participants go back and correct answers if they realize they have made a mistake while still completing an assessment module?

No, software limitations do not allow this.

Will participants who complete the assessments be given the correct answers to questions they answer incorrectly?

No, this would invalidate the result of future assessments. Participants receive a printed report identifying areas of strengths and areas needing work.

Are the assessments ADA compliant?

Closed captioning is available.  Each sponsor site will work to provide other accommodations as requested. Sponsor agencies will provide readers as needed for individuals with documented dyslexia or related conditions when they complete the assessments.

If questions arise regarding specific accommodations, please contact us and we will work to address these issues.

Is it possible to download assessment modules, burn them onto a DVD or CD Rom., and complete them offline?

No, the assessments utilize a web-based application, and it isn't technically possible to download them.

What data and resources are available to sponsor sites?

A wide variety of proctor tools, resources for learners, a comprehensive database for each organization, and marketing materials. Click here for a sample of the resources that will be available on your administrative page.

Are there any curricula which incorporate the benchmarks in the Assessments?

The St. Paul Public Library created a Learning Guide that includes online resources for most benchmarks.

The Library also created four curricula to teach five of the Northstar modules (Apple OS is not available). Go to Organization column will say St. Paul Public Library. Or go directly to: is based on the same resources used in the Library guides, but laid out to be user friendly for students.

Another curricula resource is available at Intel Learn.

GCF LearnFree (technology) is quite comprehensive.

There are also Learner Web learning plans that correspond to the assessment modules. Information is available here (Learner Web is a proprietary program and requires a fee).

For Sponsoring Agencies

How do I proctor the exam?

There is a separate website to use when providing proctored versions of the exam:

Navigate to this site on computers used for testing and use your designated PIN to set the computers up for the assessment.

The PIN can be found once you login to the administrative interface. It is a pop-up when you click on "View Computer Authorization PIN."

Where can I find my proctor training?

If you are a registered, sponsoring site you will see a link to the proctor training the first time you log in to your administrative site.

Training to Become Approved Proctor button

Why does my agency have an Admin Page? How do I access it?

The Admin Page is used to access site activity, reports, certificate generation, proctor training, etc. The welcome email sent to your agency's primary contact includes a URL, screenname and password. Watch this short video for more information.

What type of support is available to current and potential sponsor sites?

In order to keep the assessments widely available at low cost, most processes are automated. Limited staff resources prevent us from providing individualized training. There is a wealth of training, reporting, marketing, and other resources available on the Admin Page which sponsor agencies can access. We do appreciate bug reports, submitted through the "Open a Support Ticket" icon on your Admin Page. We will respond to other questions and needs as resources allow.

Can individuals stop in the middle of an assessment, and return later to finish?

There is no cache of data during an assessment, nor do we have learner log-ins. This means that if a learner navigates away from the assessment or if the internet connection is lost, then the assessment must be restarted.

What versions of Windows, Mac OS, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are the focus of these modules?

Windows 7 and 10, Mac OS X, Word 2010 and 2016, Excel 2010 and 2016, and PowerPoint 2013 and 2016.

I have a potential proctor at my site who already completed the proctor training at another site. How do I add that proctor's name to my agency's list?

You cannot do this yourself. Please send an email to  Tell us the name of your site, the name of the proctor, and the name of the site where that proctor did his or her training. This will create a help ticket, which we will use to add the proctor to your list.

There are various ways that one can accomplish the benchmarks included in the assessments. Do you allow for multiple correct answers?

We agree that there are different ways to accomplish any given task on a computer. We tried to include as many alternatives as possible, but sometimes limitations in the software used to create the assessments limits answers to one particular correct response. In instances when only one particular correct response is correct, we provide specific instructions.

Can I let participants take the assessments multiple times?

The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment is a resource intended to support instruction. We consider it to be a way to see what people already know and to identify areas in which additional skills are needed. Another secondary purpose of the assessment is to provide a means by which learners can 'prove' those skills to others, like future employers. In either case, the assessments are tools intended to support instruction. When a learner takes the test multiple times in order to remember the correct answer, 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. We highly recommend that sponsor sites refrain from serial testing without instruction in between the test events. Please encourage, provide, facilitate an hour or so of learning per skill area identified as 'needs improvement,' before re-testing. This will insure the instructional needs of those assessed are met, while helping to maintain the integrity and credibility of the Certificate.

How do I know if a participant is ready to take an assessment?

We discourage use of the assessments with participants who have no previous experience using computers. We recommend instead that you use a paper-based screener. These screeners are provided as a quick and easy way to determine whether low-literacy individuals have a level of computer skills needed to take the Northstar assessments in a meaningful manner. If individuals have very low 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. There are two versions of the screener for each module, one for large group screening and one for one-to-one screening. The use of these screeners is not required, but recommended for use with low skills. You can find these screeners on your Admin Page.

Why are there different URLs for the open site and my organization's customized website? When should I use each of them?

1. Main public page  (  This is the public Northstar page, where anyone can assess their computer skills or learn more about the Northstar assessments. You cannot gain a certificate by taking an assessment on this page.

2. Admin page (  This is your administrative page, or agency portal, where you can generate codes for proctored assessments, view proctored results, take the proctor training, print certificates, submit bug requests, and access data and resources related to the assessment. Tip! Be sure that you do not allow the computer to save your login info for the Northstar admin page, especially if you are using computers in a public lab. Your admin page contains confidential learner data.

3. Authorization page ( This is the computer authorization page. When a learner is ready to take a proctored assessment, navigate his/her computer to this page.

4. Site-Specific Northstar Page( This is a page specific to your agency. Learners may take the assessment on this site, and you may view their results, but the assessments on this site are not proctored, and thus not used for certification.

Review the proctoring steps anytime by using this link:

Go here for an expanded version of this FAQ with screenshots.

Are there any keyboarding resources we can use?

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

There are a variety of keyboarding education resources available at these sites:

Is it possible for a sponsor site to change the order of questions in an assessment, or to delete certain questions?

No, the software used to create the assessment modules does not allow editing.

About Badging

What is Badging?

Digital Badges (or Open Badges) is a new movement in credentialing. Badges are a way to display and document skills learned both in and out of the classroom. They are often used to demonstrate independent learning and skills mastered in service and volunteering, online learning and computer skills, and job skills or work experience. The Mozilla Foundation has created a powerful new way to coordinate and standardize badges, Open Badges. It is a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying badges earned on multiple instructional websites. Badge issuers, like Northstar, register a learning opportunity, linking it to the online badging system. Once a task is completed, a test-taker is awarded a badge, which is then stored in his or her secure Badge Backpack, a webpage that serves as a transportable portfolio to be shared with employers or other stakeholders who need to know that person's skills and experience.

Why Badging in Northstar?

“Open Badges” is an ideal means by which NSDL assessment test takers can keep a permanent, accessible record of assessments they have passed. The process is simple - test-takers just need an email address to open a backpack account. After that, they can access the record of their Northstar success through their own Badge Backpack webpage. Instructions for issuing a badge are available through the Sponsor administrative interface.

See this video from PBS for an example of how badging is being used at Georgetown University.

Known Issues

Screen Freezes

a) Pausing on a screen for more than 1000 seconds may cause the screen to freeze. This is an issue with Adobe Flash, not the assessment.

b) We recommend avoiding the use of Internet Explorer with Northstar, due to caompatability issues. Firefox or Chrome are recommended browsers.


If you have questions that are not covered here, please email us at

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