Sarah-Anne Fernandes and Trevor Dixon share their views on the 2023 Mathematics SATs

There has been much talk in the media about how the 2023 reading papers have really been quite challenging. Similarly, there have been online posts suggesting that the maths papers have also been challenging compared to previous years. Our personal view is that although there are some tricky questions provided within the papers, to challenge pupils working at greater depth, the analysis shows that the overall construction of the papers is very similar to previous years’ papers. If we start here at our first chart:

We can see that the allocation of year group marks for this year’s papers is very similar to what has been before. We can see that 32 and a half marks have been drawn from year 3 and 4 learning; 30 marks have been drawn from year five learning and 47 and a half marks from Year 6 so again. Hence it’s really important that, as we start preparing children in year 5 for the 2024 SATs, we consider not just what they need to learn that will be new in the Year 6 curriculum, but also give the children opportunity to revisit and learn content from years 3, 4 and 5.

Now, let’s look at how the marks have been distributed across the different content domains:

Again, there’s no surprise to see that number and calculation hold the greatest weighting with fractions, decimals and percentages holding the second greatest weighting with 26 and a half marks. This, of course, reflects how Paper 1 is an arithmetic paper made up solely of calculation and fractions questions. Over recent years, we have seen that teachers have become very good at preparing pupils for Paper 1 through regular practice to help them become fluent with the four operations and develop good stamina to get through all 36 questions in 30 minutes. Hence there is no harm in getting ahead and starting now in Year 5 to complete 5 daily arithmetic questions.  
Looking at the chart, we can see that ratio, algebra, measurement, geometry and statistics again have similar weighting to previous years so the content domain  coverage is very similar to what we have seen in previous years.  
If we drill down a bit further, we can see that a similar number of marks were put in context this year across the two reasoning papers. Also, there were two 'explain how you know' questions – one in paper 2 and one in paper 3. 
Interestingly, there was a lower number of marks allocated to ‘show your method’ type questions than in 2022, as this graph shows: 

Hence, one could argue that the challenge was not as difficult but on reviewing the questions there were, in fact, many 1-mark questions that required two or more steps to complete the calculation.

As with all SATs papers, each year there are always certain questions that grab our attention either because of how they are written or because there is a slight red herring in how the examiners are trying to challenge the children’s understanding. 
This year the first question of paper 2 had a potential red herring – children had to circle the clock that showed 11:05. If you looked at the bottom clock on the right-hand side, you could quite easily fall into the trap and think that this showed 11:05 because the Roman numerals of two ones put together look like the number 11. Hopefully, many children would have escaped this and would have selected this correct answer.  
So, although there were no doubt some tricky questions as there have been in recent years to challenge greater-depth pupils, what we have also found from looking at papers 2 and 3 in depth is that there were familiar questions that have appeared in previous past SATS Papers. 
For example, Paper 3 Q11 – this we would argue is a classic ‘expected standard’ two-step word problem – the pupils need to complete an addition and then a subtraction to find out how many games were left in the shop to gain two marks. We can see a very similar question was asked in 2022 Paper 3 (Q7) using a different context and slightly larger numbers but to be successful at this question the pupils need to follow the same steps as what was needed this year in Paper 3, Q11.  

From Paper 3, Q11, 2023:

From Paper 3, Q7, 2022:

What we hope our analysis demonstrates is that although we may feel that because the paper is new, we instinctively think it more challenging than past papers but if we dig a little deeper, we can see the papers are constructed in a very similar way to previous years and there's a lot of commonalities between the papers in style and type of question that have been asked!  

So, to help pupils get ready for 2024 we would recommend: 

  • Revisit learning from Year 3, 4 and 5 
  • Aim to complete new Year 6 curriculum by February half-term. This will allow time to re-visit topics and prepare for the SATs in May
  • Practise a variety of SATs question styles from previous papers to improve reasoning because in actual fact there are lots of similarities in the SATs question that do come up and are repeatedly used to assess the children.

About Sarah-Anne Fernandes and Trevor Dixon (@SMASHMaths)

Sarah-Anne Fernandes is a leading UK Mathematics Educational Consultant who has had the privilege of working with several schools and school leaders across the country to help them improve maths curriculum teaching and results. She loves to teach and has first-hand experience of helping pupils pass 7+ and 11+ entrance exams with great success. Over the years, Sarah-Anne has been commissioned to be an author and Series Editor for a range of titles for leading Education publishers.

Trevor Dixon has over 35 years' teaching experience; working for nearly 30 years as a maths subject leader in three different primary schools. He is a former Advanced Skills Teacher, specialising in mathematics teaching and learning. He is an Associate of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. He also holds the Mathematics Association Diploma of Mathematical Education alongside his degree and teaching qualifications.


Maths, SATS

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