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

The new arithmetic paper in the 2016 national tests

A 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 focused 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 saw the final statutory mental maths test undertaken by Year 6 pupils leaving KS2. Since 1998, around 10 million Year 6 children have taken the tests and thousands of teachers have doubtless been responsible for teaching those children 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?

There will be a single arithmetic paper that requires some mental recall of facts as well as some calculations appropriate to the national curriculum expectations. It is worth 25 marks, should take approximately 20 minutes to complete, although the sample test documentation states 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 areas 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 are skills 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 340 marks (out of the 110 marks for mathematics overall). Most questions will be worth one mark, but those involving long multiplication and long division will be worth 2 marks to reflect the available marks for using a ‘formal’ 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 paper 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 papers.

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, teachers, particularly of Y2 and Y6 children, should look at the sample test papers on the DfE website. These may shed light on what is needed.

Sample key stage 1 arithmetic paper:

Sample key stage 2 arithmetic paper:


arithmetic, english, key stage 1, key stage 2, maths, national tests, new curriculum, reading

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