Changes to the National Tests and what you need to know - Key Stage 1

Thanks to Deputy Head Michael Tidd for researching and writing this article, which we hope will be a great time-saver for our readers!

From September, we will once again have all children in our primary schools working on a single National Curriculum. We’ll also be just months away from the first of the new style of National Curriculum Tests for Key Stages 1 and 2. Now the final frameworks and sample tests have been published, there are some minor changes. However, other changes are much more notable, so here is a quick reference guide to the new tests. We’ll start with Key Stage 1 in this first article but ensure you return to the Rising Stars blog for the Key Stage 2 instalment next week.

Key Stage 1

The big shift for all the tests at KS1 is the return of annually updated tests. Although teachers will still mark the tests internally, they will no longer have the choice of old papers to use; new tests will be produced each year, meaning unfamiliar content for every cohort. Of course, the tests also see the final removal of levels, with scores being given as a scaled score for each subject instead; 100 will represent ‘the expected standard’.

In maths, the first major change is the introduction of an arithmetic paper. The first paper will have 25 questions, each worth one mark, requiring use of discrete arithmetic skills ranging from knowledge of number bonds to simple fraction work. This paper will make up almost half of the total available marks, further emphasising the focus on number and calculations in the new curriculum. The second paper (called ‘reasoning’) will be of the more familiar reasoning-type question, with 35 marks available in just one paper to cover the full range of abilities. It’s worth noting that timing is not completely fixed for either paper, but the expectation is that the arithmetic paper will take around 20 minutes, with the reasoning paper taking approximately 35 minutes.

The reading test will be broadly familiar to teachers – a first paper with questions on each page based on the text from that page, and then a second paper with questions drawn from longer texts. (Note that these are no longer directly related to one another by a common theme.) Rather than selecting children to take the second paper, it is expected that many children will begin it but teachers can choose when to stop a child if the tasks become too challenging for them. Given the change in emphasis in the curriculum, expect to see poetry appear as a reading text more frequently than in the past.

The new addition to KS1 is the grammar, punctuation and spelling test. While the 20-word spelling paper is not new, the structure is now one of 20 separate sentences; the words are likely to be more challenging, in line with the expectations of the new curriculum (the sample paper includes ‘rainbow’ and ‘peaceful’). The grammar and punctuation paper is a wholly new venture. Worth 20 marks, most of the questions are short-answer or tick-box types, but there is a clear increase in the expectations relating to grammar, including changing the tense of verbs and identifying word classes in various contexts.

Implications for KS1 teachers

  • Arithmetic is rewarded with a significant proportion of the marks available in the maths test, so plenty of practice of number facts, including the 2×, 5× and 10× tables, will be worthwhile.
  • Almost all children will be expected at least to start both reading papers; this may have practical implications for the organisation of the test as much as anything else.
  • Rather than an overall mark for writing, the test will only focus on the tested elements of spelling, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, so considerable emphasis will be needed on these areas.
  • The grammar paper sets clear expectations of knowledge of grammatical terminology. Teachers should make sure that both they and their pupils are familiar with the terms used in the grammar appendix (Appendix 2) of the new National Curriculum for English.
  • Teachers may want to use the words-in-sentence type dictation questions for spelling tests in KS1 so that these are familiar to children when they sit the test. Spelling will account for half the marks awarded in the grammar, punctuation and spelling test, with approximately one-third awarded for aspects of grammar.
  • Watch out for the definition of an exclamation: the test will only credit answers that begin with either “How …” or “What …” (e.g. “How exciting!”).


english, grammar, key stage 1, maths, national tests, reading

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