What can we learn from the 2016 KS2 reading test?

Thanks to Shareen for sharing the following five tips for teachers.

Many schools have reported that the KS2 reading paper this year was more difficult than expected, so we asked Shareen Mayers to share her thoughts on what we can learn for next year.

  1. Ditch the old SATs papers!

After visiting many year 6 classrooms this year, I noticed that teachers were still using old reading papers which have a different focus and style to the new test. For example, the new test has an increased emphasis on understanding vocabulary in context. The beginning of the 2016 reading paper was much harder than before, with questions that seemed reminiscent of the old level 4 right from the start of the paper. Though few, there are some practice papers available that are fully in-line with the new-style tests, so it is worth utilising these so that the complexity of the test is not such a surprise next year.

  1. Explicitly teach new vocabulary

One of the starkest changes this year was the emphasis and focus on pupils understanding vocabulary in context. A huge percentage of the questions were focused on this new content domain. This can be achieved through exposing pupils to a wide range of texts, especially texts from our literary heritage. A free download that can support teachers with teaching strategies is the old National Strategies booklet: Teaching Vocabulary EffectivelyPage 9 has some great tips to support teachers with ideas and strategies.

  1. Explicitly teach reading skills (reading speed, skimming and scanning)

Although some of the questions were tricky to decipher, there was some merit in teaching test techniques to pupils. A simple strategy like ‘Tick two’ (as per instructions) could have made the difference between a score of 99 and 100 (the expected standard). Many teachers have told me that pupils completely forgot to read the questions carefully. Pupils will also benefit from being explicitly taught skimming and scanning skills under timed conditions as most of the test was about finding answers at speed.

Here is an article that I’ve written to support teachers with teaching skimming and scanning in creative ways, using picture books: Look and Learn: Use Picture Books to Sharpen Your Pupils Textual Analysis Skills

  1. Answer questions from the text

One obvious difference between the old and new papers, was the complexity of the questions. Words such as ‘How can you tell?’ and ‘What impression…?’ are all just other ways of asking what is in the text. Some pupils wrote their own thoughts but they needed to have said or interpreted what was in the text. This understanding is worth teaching to pupils explicitly.

  1. Explicitly teach how to answer the 3-mark questions

Speed and fluency of reading is particularly important in the new-style tests.

Time to explicitly teach how to answer the 3-mark questions is also very beneficial for pupils. I have written an article on how to teach this skill in a fun and engaging way.

Using Adele to Teach Reading Comprehension Skills (using pop songs to teach the 3-mark questions).

Please look out for my detailed analysis of the KS2 reading and grammar tests and future implications for schools, which will be shared on this site and via social media before the autumn term.

Resources to support schools

Shareen is an experienced primary teacher who is currently the Lead Primary English Adviser for Sutton Education Services. She still regularly teaches in the classroom, especially in Years 5 and 6. Shareen is also a part of the Rising Stars Assessment Advisory Team and will be presenting at the Rising Stars National Test Conferences, focused on preparing pupils for the new reading and grammar tests. Many of her schools achieved over 80% + for the expected standard in reading, grammar and writing in 2016.


english, grammar, key stage 2, reading, spelling

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