5 Practical Tips for Preparing for the 2021 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Tests

After the school closures, it seems that KS2 assessments are going ahead this year. Therefore, what do pupils need to know and understand? We asked Shareen Wilkinson (Mayers) to share her thoughts and ideas. 

Please also see Shareen’s blog on preparing for the reading paper, where she highlights key strategies for embedding learning that are applicable for teaching grammar. Here are some top tips to help you to begin with:  

  • Explicitly teach an aspect of grammar, e.g. using adverbs or subordinating conjunctions.
  • Use high quality texts to model how it is used in context.
  • Model and demonstrate the use of grammar or punctuation in shared writing or shared reading.
  • Ask the pupils to apply their new learning to their writing.

Tip number 1: Audit and revise areas from the whole of KS1 and KS2

As you can see from the table above, the KS2 GPS test covers areas from both KS1 and KS2. However, there are a few areas that are not made that explicit in the national curriculum, but have been tested in previous years. In addition to the key terminology in the national curriculum, it’s a good idea to ensure that pupils know and understand these terms:

  • grammatical term
  • word class
  • possessive pronoun
  • tense.

Pupils seem to be familiar with past tense or present tense but ‘tense’ on its own has been tricky.

Tip number 2: Ensure grammar is taught well across the whole school.

The KS2 grammar, punctuation and spelling test covers areas from both KS1 and KS2. This analysis represents where an area is first introduced. For example: noun phrases are first introduced in Year 2 but are also mentioned in Year 4. The analysis records this as Year 2. Where a question requires knowledge of the terminology, this analysis records where the terminology is first introduced as a statutory requirement. E.g. the term conjunction is not a statutory term until Year 3

but is first introduced in Key Stage 1.


Tip number 3: Explicitly teach areas that pupils might have missed in Year 5.

The areas below are taken from the year 5 grammar and punctuation appendix in the national curriculum. They are also areas that pupils might have missed during school closures.

  • Relative clauses beginning with who, which, where, when, whose, that, or an omitted relative pronoun
  • Brackets, dashes or commas to indicate parenthesis. Use of commas to clarify meaning or avoid ambiguity

Terminology: modal verb, relative pronoun, relative clause, parenthesis, bracket, dash cohesion, ambiguity

Source: Year 5 English programmes of study grammar appendix

Whilst teachers seem to be competent at teaching subordinate and relative clauses, it is important to note that pupils need to be aware of defining and non-defining relative clauses. It is not until year 5, in the English programmes of study, that pupils are expected to learn about relative clauses and relative pronouns. According to the national curriculum glossary, a relative clause is a special type of subordinate clause that contains a relative pronoun (e.g. who, which, that, etc). Therefore, the subordinate clause is an umbrella term. Only 59% of pupils across the country answered the question below correctly.

Defining and non-defining relative clauses (pupils do not need to know the terms ‘defining’ and ‘non-defining.’)

My sister, who lives in Scotland, is a primary school teacher.

The commas denote that this is additional information (parenthesis) or a non-defining relative clause.

My sister who lives in Scotland is a primary school teacher.

This is about a specific sister who lives in Scotland and is known as a defining relative clause.

Pupils and teachers do need to have this depth of subject knowledge.

Important note: simple, compound and complex sentences are not referred to in the national curriculum. Instead, they are called single-clause and multi-clause sentences. Very often, test questions contain multi-clause sentences (with both what we might have called ‘compound’ and ‘complex’ sentences) and pupils need to be familiar with seeing this. E.g. When the bell rang, we dashed into the playground and we started a game of football (2017 KS2 GPS paper).

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244216/English_Glossary.pdf

Tip number 4: Ensure pupils have a wider knowledge of expanded noun phrases

It seems that expanded noun phrases are primarily taught as two adjectives and a noun, especially at Key Stage 1. A noun can be modified by adding words such as adjectives, adverbs or determiners before them and prepositions and relative clauses after them. ‘It is possible to expand a noun phrase by adding words appropriately before and/or after the noun. There is no requirement for an expanded noun phrase to include a specific number of adjectives.’

• one cold night

• yellowish fur with black spots

• the grasslands of the burning Africa

• the biggest midnight feast in their life

eyes like fire

• a fluffy green pencil case with a gold zip

• The new paintbrushes are in the box.


Source: 2017 KS1 Standards and Testing Agency national moderator training.

(The words highlighted are the main nouns.)


Do we explicitly model our thought process when demonstrating an understanding of word classes?

E.g. ‘This must be an expanded noun phrase because it has a noun at the head of the sentence and a

preposition adds further description etc.’

Tip number 5: Teach test technique ‘tips’ to pupils

★★Ensure that pupils spell prefixes, suffixes, verb forms and plurals correctly. They will lose marks if

these are not spelled correctly.

★★Ensure pupils are able to explain their reasoning, as a few questions in past papers have required a deeper understanding of grammar and punctuation. E.g. Pupils were asked to explain the use of the comma in two similar sentences.

★★Ensure pupils tick, match, circle or underline the correct number of boxes or words. This must be

clear and unambiguous. If a pupil makes a mistake, they should rub or cross out the wrong answer

to ensure that their answer is crystal clear.

★★Hyphens, possessive apostrophes and contractions will not be tested in the Paper 2 Spelling test,

but may be tested in Paper 1: Grammar, punctuation and spelling test. Encourage children to print

in the Paper 2 Spelling test to avoid any ambiguous letter formation and letter joins.


Resources to support schools

Implications for teaching grammar 2019 by Shareen Wilkinson.


Achieve grammar, punctuation and spelling by Madeleine Barnes and Marie Lallaway.


5 tips for teaching spelling blog



Written by Shareen Wilkinson

Shareen Wilkinson is an experienced primary teacher and currently an independent English adviser and KS1 and KS2 moderation manager in London.  Shareen is an established educational author and has written the KS2 Rising Stars New Curriculum Spelling Test books and co-authored the Achieve Reading books and the Reading Planet KS2 teacher guidance. In addition, she is series editor of the NTS Assessments for reading at KS2 and has worked on the national STA KS1 and KS2 tests for the past decade. This includes being on the teacher panel, expert reviewer and subject specialist proofer.

Twitter: @ShareenAdvice


Achieve, Achieve 100 at Key Stage 2, English, English and Literacy, gps, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Grammar, Reading

Added to your basket: