Shareen Wilkinson's take on the 2023 SATs reading paper

Several schools have expressed that the 2023 KS2 reading national curriculum tests (SATs) were much harder than previous years, so we asked Shareen Wilkinson to share her views.

There were many aspects that I could explore within the 2023 KS2 reading paper. Indeed, areas might include the increase in vocabulary questions; implications for explicitly teaching reading test techniques, or how to answer 3-mark questions. However, I will focus on the three areas that stood out for me this year.

Trickier Inference Questions Table

Let's take a closer look at the first questions in the KS2 SATs papers.

2019 KS2 reading paper

Inference questions - 3 marks on the first paper.

Question 1 (2b retrieval) and question 2 (2d inference).

2022 KS2 reading paper

Inference questions - 7 marks on the first paper.

Question 1 (2b retrieval) and question 2 (2b retrieval).

2023 KS2 reading paper

Inference questions - 8 marks on the first paper.

Question 1 (2d inference) and question 2 (2d inference).

In 2023, there were two inference questions right at the start of the paper. They required pupils to re-read the text to find the answers, rather than more straightforward retrieval questions which can be found at speed.

2. Retrieval questions need to be answered using the text. 

A salient point to note is that the answers are based on reading the text. I explicitly recall the 2011 KS2 reading paper called 'Caving.' Many colleagues complained that their pupils had no experience or background knowledge of caving. However, some pupils, who had experience of caving, were also disadvantaged because they answered the questions based on their experience, as opposed to what was in the text.

In Q13, the pupils were required to find the answer from the text and the word in the question stem, 'state' matched the words in the text, 'Austin is the capital city of the state of Texas in the USA.' Although I saw many pupils writing 'Texas' the implications here are on teaching pupils to answer based on the text. However, knowledge of what a 'state' means would have been beneficial. The complexity also comes from having to read two paragraphs.

3. There was a 3-mark question on the second text.

Over the years, we have seen different types of 3-mark questions. In 2016, we had a 3-mark question on the second text. There are normally two 3-mark questions on the third text. For those of you not aware, the 2016 paper was also seen as challenging for pupils.

In 2023, the first 3-mark question appeared on the second paper again, which slowed many pupils down. The question had a scaffold, which was incredibly useful, but the amount of work needed took many pupils a long time to answer. This has implications for teaching pupils how to write a point with suitable evidence. It also had a different style question stem, with the use of the words 'positive message.'

Finally, the last 3-mark question helpfully had a scaffold for pupils to complete, rather than multiple lines. Pupils needed to understand what the word, 'personality' meant, as it was different to possible practice papers. Previously, pupils would have seen questions that asked about the, 'features of the character' or 'what impression...'

Resources to support schools:

Rising Stars NTS tests

Rising Stars Achieve revision series

About Shareen Wilkinson (@ShareenAdvice)

Shareen is an experienced education adviser and is a senior leader for a multi-academy trust, with over 20 years' experience in education. In addition, she was previously a Lead Primary Adviser, specialising in English and assessment for a successful local authority in London.

She has been writing educational resources and books for the past decade and is the co-author of the popular Rising Stars Achieve Reading books. From time to time, Shareen works with the DfE Standards and Testing Agency, as a KS1 and KS2 reading and grammar quality assurance subject expert proofer and sits on various expert review groups.

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