Changes to the National Tests and what you need to know - Key Stage 2

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. In my last article, I focused on changes in Key Stage 1. Here is a quick ‘need to know’ guide for Key Stage 2.

Key Stage 2

National Curriculum Tests at Key Stage 2 seem to have changed repeatedly in the last few years, so the changes in 2016 will perhaps be not so much a shock as a feeling of ongoing change. Nevertheless, there are some significant areas that are worthy of teachers’ attention in KS2. 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 major change is the introduction of an arithmetic paper in lieu of the old mental mathematics test. The arithmetic paper will have 35–40 questions, most of which will be worth one mark, requiring use of discrete arithmetic skills ranging from basic addition and subtraction to calculations with fractions. The questions are all in the form of calculations – there are no words. At 40 marks, this paper will make up just over one-third of the total available marks, further emphasising the focus on number and calculations in the new curriculum. Importantly, for multiplication and division questions involving larger numbers, two marks are available. However, only the standard methods of long multiplication and division will be worthy of any credit if the final answer is incorrect; other methods will be ignored. Time is critical in this paper, with 30 minutes to answer the questions; less than one minute per mark. The second and third papers will be of the more familiar reasoning-type question, with 35 marks available in each test paper to cover the full range of abilities. The sample materials clearly demonstrate a rise in expectations, with even the earliest questions offering some challenge to pupils who might previously have been thought of as working at the “borderline” of level 4. Calculators cannot be used with any of the papers.

The reading test will be broadly familiar to experienced teachers. As recently, pupils will have an hour to read several texts on different themes and topics, and respond to the given questions in a separate booklet. The vast majority of marks are given over to information retrieval and inference/deduction questions, with just a handful available for elements of authorial craft. Tests will also require at least one question – and occasionally several – involving summarising text from more than one paragraph. There will be a handful of three-mark questions too, usually requiring supporting evidence drawn from the text – a skill that wasn’t much drawn upon in the old-style tests.

The new grammar, punctuation and spelling test reflects the significant shifts in expectation in the new National Curriculum. The structure of both papers is broadly similar to the 2015 materials, with a 20-word spelling test and a separate test of grammar, punctuation and vocabulary. Expect to see a much more challenging set of words in the spelling test – the sample test examples range from ‘discover’ to ‘drawer’ and ‘possessions’ (words that frequently appear on lists that trip up adults!). Similarly, the demands of the new curriculum are evident in the grammar, punctuation and vocabulary paper, including less-common prefixes, knowledge of terminology of all the main word classes, and being able to differentiate between different types of conjunction, or words used as conjunctions and prepositions.

Implications for KS2 teachers

  • Arithmetic is rewarded with a significant proportion of the marks available in the maths papers, so plenty of practice of standard written methods and arithmetic at a pace will be worthwhile.
  • Elements of authorial craft, such as purposeful word choice, are tested, so focusing on these specific elements when reading class texts is important.
  • Regular teaching of spelling patterns from the appendices of the new National Curriculum will be essential if children are to make the most of the 20 marks available on the spelling test.
  • 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 appendices of the new National Curriculum for English.
  • Teachers would do well to take a close look at the mark scheme provided with the sample materials. The commentary for each question offers useful guidance on what would and would not be accepted as an answer – including some surprisingly specific rules about, for example, the use of colons with lists and the structure of questions.



english, key stage 2, maths, national tests, reading

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