Is the new written arithmetic paper in the National Tests on your radar?

Child taking written arithmetic testA good deal of focus on the new curriculum and its assessment arrangements over the past months has been on the higher expectations in maths and grammar, and on the complex problems that appear in the two problem solving and reasoning papers in the new KS2 tests for maths. Understandably teachers have focussed on how they can adapt their curriculum to meet those new higher standards, but one change seems still to be just off the radar of many schools.

May 2015 will see the final statutory mental arithmetic test undertaken by Year 6 pupils leaving KS2. Since 1998, around 10 million Year 6 students have probably taken the tests and thousands of teachers have doubtless been responsible for teaching those students the skills they need to meet the requirements of the test. The change, from next summer, to a written arithmetic test is not an unsubstantial one.

Up and down the lands schools can still often be found carrying out a weekly mental arithmetic practice test – indeed my own school still makes good use of the Rising Stars New Curriculum Mental Maths Tests because the skills are still essential for good mathematics. But our focus now needs to turn as well to the important element of the arithmetic test.

From next summer, children in both Year 2 and Year 6 will face a written arithmetic test as part of the end-of-key-stage statutory assessments, so alongside good practice in mental maths, schools need to start putting preparations in place to support our children in tackling this new test.

What’s involved at Key Stage One?

We’ll get an example paper in July, but this is likely to be a single paper that requires some mental recall of facts as well as some calculations appropriate to the national curriculum expectations. It is likely to take about 15 minutes to complete, although the test frameworks state that it won’t be strictly timed.

Children will likely be asked to answer a series of one-mark questions that are “context-free”. Examples included in the sample test material ranged from 15 + 11 to finding ¾ of 20.

The focus of the arithmetic test will, naturally, be solely on the Number elements of the new curriculum, but that’s a huge chunk of the KS1 programme of study now, so there’s plenty to cover. Some of the things that might be included:

  • Addition and subtraction of 2 two-digit numbers
  • Addition of three one-digit numbers
  • Knowledge of 2x, 5x and 10x tables – and their related division facts
  • Using inverse relationships, e.g. to solve missing number problems
  • Finding a fraction of a small quantity

Many of these skills are things that teachers are already aware that they need to teach, although they often represent a significant change from the old Year 2 curriculum. However, the way in which questions will be presented in the tests will probably be unfamiliar to children and so ensuring that children are familiar with the written representations of such problems will be important.

What’s involved at Key Stage Two?

The new arithmetic paper is essentially a direct replacement for the old mental arithmetic test, being taken before the two problem-solving papers. The test itself will take 30 minutes, containing questions worth 30 marks. This will lead to slightly fewer than 30 questions, as some questions on long multiplication and long division will be worth 2 marks to reflect the available marks for using an ‘approved’ method.

Again, the focus will be on the Number strands of the curriculum which includes work on fractions, decimals and percentages. Examples in the sample questions released last year range from a fairly straightforward addition with carrying (555 + 656), to a long division calculation (1652 ÷ 28).

As with Key Stage 1, there is a significant increase in the volume of Number work included in the new curriculum. Content that may be included on the new arithmetic test might include:

  • Addition and subtraction of numbers with 4 or more digits, including decimals
  • Use multiplication facts to find answers to multiplication problems (e.g. 60 x 70)
  • Multiplication using the standard short and long methods
  • Division using the standard short and long methods
  • Use of order of operations to solve two step calculations (e.g. 120 – 5 x 15)
  • Finding fractions or percentages of whole number quantities (e.g. 30% of £140)
  • Addition & subtraction of fractions with related denominators (e.g. 1/6 + 3/12)
  • Multiplication of a single-digit number by a one-digit decimal (e.g. 0.6 x 8)

Implications for Schools

Obviously all schools will need to pay close regard to the new expectations of the curriculum, but also to the opportunities they give to children to meet questions in the context-free form that will become the norm in the new arithmetic tests.

Schools that have historically ensured that every lesson begins with a mental/oral starter might want to consider ways of incorporating written arithmetic practice into these slots. Those who are currently using a weekly mental maths test across KS2 might like to alter the balance of that plan to alternate between mental arithmetic and written arithmetic practice. Rising Stars have released New Curriculum Arithmetic Practice Tests for Years 1 to 6, which offer regular arithmetic practice to build number fluency and prepare children for the new paper, which could be just what your school needs.

As the demands of the curriculum are ever greater, many schools will want to incorporate discrete practice sessions – perhaps of just ten minutes per day – outside of the daily maths lesson in which time children can practice their use of arithmetic both in mental and written circumstances.

Perhaps most importantly in the immediate future, teachers, particularly of Y2 and Y6 children, should look out for the publication of sample test papers in July. These may shed light on what is needed.


Arithmetic Practice Tests, Assessment, English and Literacy, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Intervention and SEN, Mathematics, More able, New Curriculum Mental Maths Tests, Reading and Ebooks, Revision and Practice

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