Thoughts on the 2018 SATs - Reading

It has been ten years since the KS2 test included poetry (cast your minds back to the themed ‘Rain & Shine’ reading booklet in 2008 where pupils were presented two poems related to rain) so were you and your colleagues surprised to open the reading booklet this year to find a poem? How did your children react to seeing a poem? It should not have been a surprise to either teachers or children, since poetry is included in the National Curriculum Programme of Study and has featured in the last three consecutive KS1 reading tests.

So what was the make-up of the 2018 KS2 reading test? Did it mirror some of the trends that we have identified over the last few years since the new suite of tests were presented to us? Here is a break-down of how the content domains were tested across the three extracts:

In its simplest terms, the above information can be summarised as:

  • 1/5 of the test tested vocabulary

  • ¼ of the test tested retrieval skills

  • Almost ½ of the test was inference based

  • The first extract was non-fiction – unsurprisingly most of these questions were retrieval based

  • The third extract was fiction – again no surprises that 11/16 marks were inference based

  • That leaves us to examine the second extract – the poem ‘Grannie’. A closer look at the content domains tested in this extract (9/17 marks inference based) shows that this narrative poem was tested in a similar style to a straight-forward fiction text. This in itself raises implications for teachers of all year groups – how much narrative poetry is read by and explored/discussed in Key Stage 2?

Since the new style of test was introduced, each year we have seen a range of new question styles. We have become familiar with some and children have been well-prepared with the variety of question types and styles (Rising Stars Optional Tests and Progress Tests are great resources that familiarise children with this). Let’s take a closer look at the variety of questions that were included in the 2018 test and any that were presented in an unfamiliar way.

The Giant Panda

In the 2017 KS2 reading test, a 2-part question beginning with ‘According to the text…’ was included in the third tier. However, this year one was presented in the first tier.

As this question was included in the first tier, more able readers may have coped with the demand of it. This question is testing content domain 2h – make comparisons within the text, and was the only item on the paper that tested this. As this content domain is rarely tested, it adds another level of difficulty for less confident readers.


There is no surprise that 4/17 marks (3 questions) available in this middle text tested content domain 2a – give/explain the meaning of words in context. Questions 16 and 20 were presented in the familiar ‘Find a copy a word/group of words’ style question stem. However, question 22 demanded a deeper thought process as it was a 2-mark vocabulary question.

Just as in 2016 where children were required to describe ‘milling around in bewilderment’ in the context of Martine’s Wild Ride and her encounter with a group of warthogs, we could anticipate that many pupils will gain 1 of the possible 2 marks here. In order to be credited with both marks, children’s responses must refer to both ‘remembrance’ and ‘clarity’.
We have already established the high proportion of inference questions in this tier. One of those questions is number 23. Although the line ‘It was weird’ features in the poem ‘Grannie’, the wording of this question may have caused some difficulty for some less confident readers. Again, they may be able to gain one of the two marks available. In order to be credited with both marks, children needed to infer that ‘memory had changed the poet’s perception of his grannie & that time has changed his perception of his grannie.’

Albion’s Dream

In the 2017 KS2 reading test, both 3-mark questions appeared in the third tier. This year, we also saw this replicated.
 However, one of the 3-mark questions was set out in a style that we had only previously seen in historic level 6 reading tests. After analysing the style of question 38, I hope that the structure given will have provided a scaffold for children to respond to. Rather than criticise this as an old level 6 style question now appearing in the KS2 test, we should embrace this style of question as the table provided children with a structure, so they could clearly present their points and evidence.

As we do not yet know how well children performed in this item, I would hope that although the layout of the question was different, many year 6 readers will have coped with this style of question.
The position of both 3-mark questions being in the last 3 items of the paper may have impacted on some children who ran out of time. The last three questions totalled 8 marks which has implications for children and stamina.
The last item in the collection, question 40, was the second 3-mark question. This was presented again with a clear structure perhaps allowing those less confident readers to attempt a response, but it definitely demanded a greater depth understanding of the text. If we put this into perspective, it is the last item in the test and is there to challenge those very able readers. That is exactly what it did.


Whilst preparing my own year 6 class for the KS2 reading test, I always use the analogy of, ‘Year 6, you never know what starter, main course and dessert you will be served up this year when you open the reading booklet!’ referring to the choice of 3 extracts! That is certainly true.
However, we do have three years of this style of tests that are certainly presented in a similar style; have broadly the same proportion of content domain questions and mark schemes that have been diligently worked on to be clear and concise.
Once the threshold has been released and later the QLA, we will be able to further analyse how specific items worked in this test and how well children performed both nationally and in your own settings. For now, we need to wait!
Maddy Barnes

Madeleine is a full-time English Consultant and has been a successful assistant head teacher for many years. 

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