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10 Changes to the KS2 Reading Test that you Need to Know About

Shareen Mayers outlines 10 key ways in which the new KS2 reading test is changing...

  • 10 Changes to the KS2 Reading Test that you Need to Know About

Just when we thought we had mastered the old national curriculum and that levels were firmly embedded in most teachers’ minds, we have now reached the era of assessment without levels and the swarm of fresh tests that go with it.

The new KS2 reading test, due to take place for the first time in May 2016, will focus on the English Programmes of Study that schools have been following since 2014. There will be no level 6 extension paper; instead, the more challenging questions will be towards the end of the test.

For many teachers, the sample 2016 reading papers are largely familiar. They have three texts – not linked by theme – which pupils must read through before answering the questions, all in 60 minutes. However, there are subtle differences between the old and the new tests, so let’s have a closer look at what you will need to know.

1 | Assessment Focuses have gone

Over the years, Assessment Focuses (AFs) have been the bread and butter of reading or guided reading in many primary schools. However, these have now been replaced with a simplified focus on eight content domains (2a-h) that are primarily taken from the English Programmes of Study.

The new content domains contain areas such as: ‘2b – retrieving and recording information’ and ‘2d – making inferences from the text’. Both of these areas (which are similar to the old AF2 and AF3) will carry the most weighting on the tests.

2 | There are new areas of assessment

Some of the new domains will be familiar to teachers, but others will not have been a separate focus under the previous AFs. These include areas such as ‘giving/explaining vocabulary in context’ (2a); ‘making predictions’ (2e); and ‘making comparisons within the text’ (2h).

The latter requires pupils to identify the difference between events, and so you should encourage pupils to use key words such as ‘but’ or ‘however’ – eg ‘At the start of the text he is excited, but at the end of the text he is scared.’ There is also an increased focus on understanding fictional texts.

3 | Say goodbye to guessing games

For many years, I have heard teachers and writers talk about how the reading test asks children to ‘Guess what’s in the writer’s head’, rather than provide a focus on true comprehension. Previous AFs concentrated on ‘Explaining and commenting on the writer’s use of language’ (AF5) and ‘identifying and commenting on the writer’s purposes and viewpoints’ (AF6).

In the past, questions did seem to concentrate on the writer, eg ‘What impression of wolves does the writer give?’ (2013, KS2 reading paper), but now questions appear to be focused on the text – eg ‘Explain how the descriptions….support the idea that they were inoffensive brutes…’ (2016 sample reading paper). I’m sure teachers will be pleased with this renewed emphasis.

4 | Not everything will be tested

In an ideal world, pupils would be assessed on all aspects of reading (although some would argue that reading should not really be tested at all). However, as with previous tests, certain aspects are difficult to measure.

Within the confines of a written paper, can you really discover if a child has learnt a wide range of poetry by heart, or participated in discussions about books?

Both of these activities, however, will deepen children’s comprehension skills – especially if they involve plenty of debate – and so should not be ignored. Similarly, even though the tests place less emphasis on text structure (eg identify ‘sub-headings’, ‘glossary’ etc.), teachers should continue to teach these areas because they support pupils with their writing skills.

5 | Teaching new vocabulary is important

With a greater focus on understanding vocabulary in context, pupils would benefit from word games that extend their vocabulary, such as creating synonyms. They should be encouraged to look up the meanings of unfamiliar words and use these in their own writing. Having taught in Year 6 this year, some pupils really struggle with definitions, so there is much to gain from explicitly teaching new vocabulary to pupils.

6 | A variety of question types will still be used

The following question types will be included, some of which are illustrated in the sample 2016 reading paper:

  • Multiple choice (eg 2c What is the main message in the story? Tick one Q24)
  • Ordering
  • Matching (eg 2b Match the events to the year in which they happened, Q10)
  • Labelling
  • ‘Find and copy’ questions (eg 2a Find and copy two more words from the poem that show that the frog was frightened, Q23)

7 | Challenge is not just about level 6

With a big focus on the mastery curriculum and Ofsted’s spotlight on challenging the most able, I continue to receive requests for level 6 training, even though this test has been taken away.

There may be questions towards the end of the paper reminiscent of the old level 6 test, but there are differences.

It is important to note that challenging the most able is about pupils doing work that ‘deepens’ their knowledge, understanding and skills – rather than extending them too quickly before they have fully understood the curriculum content.

The more challenging questions will require extended answers, and it’s up to pupils to structure and organise their responses (these are normally 3-mark questions).

Questions might also ask children to explain vocabulary that is unfamiliar to them, but they can use the context to aid understanding. ‘Find and copy’ questions may require pupils to discover answers from within the whole page rather than being given a specific section to explore.

For example, ‘Find and copy one word on page 9 that suggests Malone feels part of the team of explorers’.

The test is focused on an in-depth understanding of the more challenging KS2 curriculum; not the KS3 curriculum, like the previous level 6 test. However, with the absence of levels, a clear definition of what it means to be within the standard is still needed.

8 | You should teach skimming and scanning skills

Pupils can benefit from skimming and scanning activities under timed conditions as this will support them with finding key points. Books such as Where’s Wally? are ideal for this – learning to skim and scan for Wally is never dull!

Once these skills are secure, they can be applied to test questions, especially those that ask children to retrieve and record information (eg ‘Skim over and scan for key words’).

9 | Scaffold children’s responses

Participating in oral discussions is a crucial aspect of developing pupils’ understanding, especially if you give them a scaffold for their responses (eg ‘I think that…because…’).

This type of reminder will support them when it comes to giving extended responses, encouraging them to really think about using the text to answer questions – ‘I think that she is unhappy because the text says that she is grumpy.

10 | Many questions will be familiar

Having a new KS2 test without any clear levels can be a daunting prospect. One comfort is that we are all doing this together and we’re by no means starting from scratch – much of the test will be recognisable from previous years.

Get more insight on the 2016 national tests by downloading a free SATs guide from the ‘free stuff’ section of the Rising Stars website.


Shareen Mayers is an experienced primary school teacher and is currently the Lead Primary English Adviser for Sutton Improvement and Support Services. Follow her at @ShareenMayers.

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