Thoughts on the 2018 SATs - Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

We asked Shareen Mayers to share her thoughts and initial reactions to the 2018 KS2 grammar, punctuation and spelling test…

The 2018 KS2 grammar, punctuation and spelling test has mostly received positive feedback from teachers and year 6 pupils. Many have said that the test was fair, with just a few tricky questions.  For example, explaining the use of the apostrophe, and surprisingly, circling 4 verbs in a sentence. Spelling was also sound but had some complicated spellings at the end which is ‘inconceivable.’  

1. The KS2 grammar, punctuation and spelling test is a whole school responsibility.

This table focusses on when a particular area is first introduced in the English programmes of study.
Unsurprisingly, the 2018 grammar, punctuation and spelling test covered key learning from both KS1 and KS2. Notably, 30% of the questions were from KS1 and 90% of the questions were not from year 6 – that’s 90%! This stresses the vital focus for every year group to continually review previous learning.

2. Huge focus on Standard English and formality.

Interestingly, there were quite a few questions this year that were focussed on Standard English. Although there were only 3 questions covering Standard English and formality, there were other questions that also covered an understanding of Standard English, e.g. Q8 Which sentence is grammatically correct? Q32 Which sentence is the most formal? Pupils commented that they felt that there were quite a few questions concentrated on this.

3. Pupils needed to know about how to use and explain apostrophes. 

There were two questions that required an in-depth knowledge of using the apostrophe. Question 30 made me smile when I saw it. In the national curriculum, it explicitly states (as non-statutory) that, ‘Singular proper nouns ending in ‘s’ use the suffix ‘s e.g. Cyprus’s population.’ (Taken from the year 3 and 4 English programmes of study spelling appendix). For the past 5 years, I have asked teachers across the country whether St. James’ Park or St. James’s Park is correct according to the national curriculum. Of course, grammar changes but when I saw ‘princess’s’ it did confirm the viewpoint from a national curriculum perspective. 

The most challenging questions are those that require pupils to explain how they know. In the question above (Q35), knowledge of singular and plural is essential. In the first sentence, you have one brother and in the next sentence you have two or more brothers. A teacher once told me that it’s easier to teach this by circling the word without the apostrophe or putting your finger over the word without the apostrophe (highlighted in blue), e.g. brother’s (one brother) and brothers’ (more than one brother). This might not be conventional but it does work here.

4. There were some tricky words within the spelling test.

Based on when the spellings are first introduced in the curriculum, 70% of the questions were from years 3 and 4 and 30% of the questions were from years 5 and 6. Three questions covered KS2, but I have put them into years 3 and 4 because this is when they were first taught. Crucially, the teaching of spelling in years 3 and 4 is vital so that pupils are able to comfortably access the year 5 and 6 curriculum. The trickiest spelling was ‘inconceivable’ but often the full rule for ‘i’ before ‘e’ is missed out. It’s ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ when the sound is ‘ee.’ I understand that there will be regional pronunciations of this rule but it gives pupils a good guide and a starting point. 

Once again, there were words that covered the wider national curriculum, e.g. science, mixture, weightless, council, architect and descendent. Similar to the 2018 KS2 reading paper, pupils will benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum and exposure to a wide range of fiction and non-fiction texts.


5. Pupils need to know the full range of verbs.

Surprisingly, this question left some pupils confused about the verbs used within the sentences. The answers were: ‘gathered’, ‘were’, ‘circling’ and ‘searching.’ The key teaching point here is that pupils need to be clear about both ‘doing’ and ‘being’ verbs like ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘has’ and ‘were’ etc.

In my opinion, pupils need to be clear about verbs from year 1 onwards. Here’s a grid I put together to show the progress in understanding verbs. Verbs or verb phrases can function differently in sentences but this gives teachers and pupils a guide.

Created by Shareen Mayers

View the 2018 KS2 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Test here. 

My 2017 blog with key tips that are relevant to the 2018 grammar, punctuation and spelling paper can be found here. 

Shareen Mayers (@ShareenMayers)

Independent English/assessment adviser and KS1 and KS2 moderation manager for a London LA.

Shareen is the author of the Rising Stars KS2 Spelling Test books as well as many other educational books for teachers and pupils. Additionally, Shareen will be co-authoring the new Rising Stars Achieve Reading Revision and Practice books. Look out for her detailed analysis of the 2018 grammar test when the 2018 implications for teaching documents are published later this year.


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