5 Practical Tips for Preparing for the 2021 Reading Tests for Years 5 and 6

After the school closures, it seems that KS2 assessments are going ahead this year. Therefore, what should teachers be focussing on? We asked Shareen Wilkinson (Mayers) to share her thoughts and ideas.

Tip number 1: Focus on high quality teaching 

One of the most important things that we can do as teachers, is to ensure we are teaching to a high standard. Looking specifically at the Education Endowment Foundation research, we know that high quality teaching will enable pupils to make rapid progress in reading. It is relatively cheap to implement and has the biggest impact on reading (as well as impacting on other subjects). 

What works? 

•    Feedback + 8 months progress
•    Reading comprehension strategies   + 6 months progress
•    Metacognition and self-regulation + 7 months progress

Source for more information: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/

The impact of teaching reading comprehension strategies is very extensive but what is important to note, is that teachers are using these alongside modelling and supported practice, for example: 

1.    an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used; 
2.    modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/ or pupils;
3.    collaborative use of the strategy in action;
4.    guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and
5.    independent use of the strategy.

Source for further information: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/literacy-ks-2/

Tip number 2: Teach reading comprehension strategies 

As mentioned above, teaching reading comprehension strategies explicitly, perhaps using the gradual release model (e.g. I do it, We do it, You do it together, You do it alone) and teachers being explicit about their strategies in action is very powerful. 

So, what could this look like in practice? The activity below can be applied to any book but can also be used as a prompt for when reading books. These strategies can be used when looking at the reading text in past papers and are suitable for both key stage 1 and key stage 2. 



Making these strategies explicit for pupils, for example: ‘I wonder why she has an umbrella.’ Or ‘I remember when Mary Poppins had an umbrella to travel around,’ is very essential. 

Further examples and planning: https://www.hachette.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Nevermoor-Resource-Pack.pdf

Tip number 3: Model and demonstrate inference strategies. 

Whilst it is good practice to teach pupils how to read texts and to make explicit the strategies we use when reading, teaching children how to answer particular question types is also very pertinent. Again, modelling the strategy in action and using the gradual release model are necessary here. 

Over time, inference questions (2D) have carried a large weighting within the KS2 tests. For the last few years, it has been 36%-44% respectively. 


3-mark inference questions

3-mark questions are particularly challenging for KS2 children. All KS2 teachers should use these templates to provide opportunities for children to see the relationship between making a valid point (impression) and supporting it with evidence.  2 correct points + 2 matching pieces of evidence = 3 marks (the children can still get 3-marks with 2 points, at least one with evidence but most year 6 teachers want them to provide two pieces of evidence – just in case!)

• Make a point
> Provide your evidence
• Make a point
> Provide your evidence

Source: Implications for teaching reading 2019 by Maddy Barnes
Please see the implications for teaching reading 2019 document for further examples and analysis. This document is still relevant for this year. 


The example above is taken from the Achieve Reading Question Workbook for the Expected Standard. It demonstrates the importance of being explicit about the strategy in action and making this crystal clear for pupils. 

Tip number 4: Explore how to answer vocabulary questions.

One of the starkest changes to the reading test paper over recent years, is the emphasis on pupils understanding vocabulary in context. This can be achieved through exposing pupils to a wide range of texts, especially texts from our literary heritage. It is almost impossible to teach pupils every word that could appear

on the test so in this case, it is important to promote and encourage implicit learning of new vocabulary, through reading widely and discussing words used in real texts. Using strategies such as reading around the word to decipher the context, reading backwards, and reading forwards, using the context or telling pupils to use any root words and identifying prefixes or suffixes to help to determine the definition.

Further reading on explicit vocabulary teaching: The 6 Goals of an Ideal Vocabulary Curriculum by Timothy Shanahan https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-literacy/six-goals-ideal-vocabulary-curriculum

Tip number 5: Explicitly teach reading test skills (e.g. skimming and scanning)

Although it is important to continue to teach, understanding test techniques can also be beneficial for pupils. A simple strategy like ‘Tick two’ (as per instructions) could make the difference between a scaled score of 99 and 100 (the expected standard). Pupils need to skim and scan for answers that may not appear in the question stem. Very often, pupils need to interpret the question stem to find the answer in the text. For example, the question stem might say, ‘illegal’ but the key word in the text is ‘outlawed.’ Do the pupils understand the root word ‘law’? Can they work it out from the suffix -ed used? Again, pupils can interrogate words by thinking about the root word or any prefixes and suffixes used.

Ensure children are familiar with the question stem language

Resources to support schools

Implications for teaching reading 2019 by Maddy Barnes


Achieve Reading by Laura Collingwood and Shareen Wilkinson


Improving Literacy at KS2 Education Endowment Foundation Publications https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/Literacy/KS2_Literacy_Guidance_2017.pdf

Written by Shareen Wilkinson  

Twitter: @ShareenAdvice

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.


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

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