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10 Steps to SATs Success

The KS2 tests might seem a long way off, but planning for the best possible results starts here, says Shareen Mayers...

  • 10 Steps to SATs Success

Every year, there seems to be a sudden panic just before the KS2 reading and grammar tests. I often hear the same words each time I complete my training for Y6 teachers – “I wish I had known this earlier”.

It doesn’t have to be a last-minute dash, however. If you keep the following points in mind at the start of the year and then follow these 10 key steps, it will be a much smoother process – particularly if you’re new to Y6.

What to do in the autumn term

Step 1 – Be aware of the NC expectations for Y6

It can be tempting to enter revision mode right from the start of Y6, but don’t forget there are some topics that won’t yet have been taught. There are, of course, key areas that will need to be revised through the year, but the following list picks out the parts of grammar that are unique to your pupils’ final year at primary school:

  • Semi-colon and colon
  • Bullet points
  • Subject and object
  • Synonym and antonym
  • Ellipsis
  • Hyphen
  • Active and passive
Step 2 – Review previous year groups

Notably, in the 2018 grammar test, approximately 90 per cent of the questions were not first taught in Y6. Similarly, the 2018 reading paper tests skills and curriculum areas from across KS2.

It’s been interesting talking to Y3 and Y4 teachers who openly admit to avoiding grammar areas they are not confident about teaching; I often say it’s not fair to leave it all to Y6, but we all know this sometimes happens!

Revision of previous year groups should take place throughout the year with more explicit teaching of test technique coming later on in the Spring term. For example, when teaching semi colons and colons, teachers could also revise what makes a sentence – as knowledge of an independent clause is needed to understand when and how to use a semi colon.

Step 3 – Drip in test-style questions

This strategy is often missed, but repetition is vital. The more pupils encounter test-style questions in a practical and fun context, the less fazed they will be when it comes to the actual test.

In practice, this simply means that when completing a reading lesson, you might adjust your questioning. For example, instead of saying, ‘Why does the character…’ this could be tweaked to ‘According to the text, what impression do you get of the character…’

Step 4 – Keep reading for pleasure and information

This step is often ignored when there is a plethora of things to do. But the way to develop vocabulary (which carried 20 per cent of the reading paper this year) and be exposed to grammar in context, is to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction texts. This broadens pupils’ experiences and ensures they have a rich vocabulary and knowledge to prepare for the demands of the tests.

What to do in the spring term

Step 5 – Explicitly teach test techniques

Teaching test techniques is sometimes addressed by giving pupils endless past papers to complete, but this is nearly always (in my experience) a useless and boring activity. There is a place for the pupils to experience what a whole paper looks like (explored in Step 9) but there is a benefit to explicitly teaching skills.

For example, pupils need to be clear about the question stems used in the reading paper and have an in-depth understanding of the vocabulary. An ‘impression’ is normally an inference question, so pupils need to find clues in the text to support their answer. When answering fact and opinion questions, pupils need to think about whether a statement is true or false. In addition, is it what someone thinks or feels and is it stated or implied?

This level of explicit teaching will support pupils’ understanding of reading test vocabulary.

Reading vocabulary to teach

  • According to…
  • How can you tell…
  • Find and copy…
  • Give two impressions…
  • Fact and opinion
  • Give the best summary…
  • What does this suggest…
  • Using evidence from the text to support your answer…
Step 6 – Avoid errors in the grammar test

One important factor concerning the grammar test is that there are very definite rules about how to answer the questions. Answers need to be clear and unambiguous; prefixes and suffixes, verbs, contractions and plurals need to be spelt accurately and the correct number of boxes should to be ticked – it is so frustrating when pupils miss a standard because of small errors, but we’ve all seen it.

Step 7 – Use fun and interactive revision strategies

Who says that revision has to be dull? I often hear this and it doesn’t reflect my experience at all. Teaching inference skills can easily be covered by exploring the thoughts and feelings of characters in pop songs. Grammar should be explored in context, for instance creating wanted posters for word classes where pupils need to describe their function.

The best way to consolidate learning is to get pupils to teach other pupils in the class. Give them an area of focus and let them create a poster or worksheet that they will present to the rest of the class.

Being able to fully explain a concept to someone else shows you have really internalised the knowledge.

Step 8 – Involve families where possible

Significantly, I always hear that some families are reluctant to attend information sessions. One of the key ways to get parents and families involved is through – you’ve guessed it – food! In the Spring term, entice your families with a SATs information event that includes the important stuff – like when the tests are, what they include and how parents can help at home. Just don’t forget the biscuits and cake!

What to do in the summer term

Step 9 – Give pupils experience of the test papers

Whilst it’s important to continue to teach and to drip test-style questions throughout Y6, pupils still need to be aware of the timings, especially for the reading paper where they have 60 minutes to read through and answer questions for three or four texts. Rapid retrieval is needed for this. Just try to keep test experience to a minimum.

Step 10 – Work on whole-school strategies

Having taught my own Y6 classes for 10 years and been a booster group teacher, I have seen the benefits of involving and training the whole school. The more all teachers see the test papers, have CPD opportunities to increase their subject knowledge, and the more senior leaders promote a whole-school responsibility for SATs, the higher the likelihood of success – especially in the more challenging schools.

Shareen Mayers (@ShareenMayers) is a primary assessment and English consultant, author and editor.

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