3 Practical Tips for Preparing for the 2021 Mathematics Tests for Year 6

By this time of year we have usually spent numerous hours analysing the latest test papers and drawing out implications for teaching for the new academic year. This year, of course, is so very different but there is still a lot we can learn from the assessments we have seen so far.

As part of a recent training event for Year 6 teachers, I shared a number of tips to help consolidate Key Stage 2 learning and prioritise areas of mathematics in readiness for SATs and for Year 7.

Here are some examples where the Achieve series can be really helpful.

1. Consolidate previous learning and prioritise key areas

  • The tests draw from all of Key Stage 2 and build on Key Stage 1 learning so it is vital that you set aside plenty of time for consolidation and revisiting key facts.


  • The ‘What you need to know’ feature in Achieve will help to think about any pre-teaching required.  

  • Questions that draw from Lower Key Stage 2 often see lower success rates as facts are forgotten over time. Here is an example from 2019.

I always encourage children to make fact files for revision. The ‘What you need to know’ section of the Achieve Revision book is really helpful here so children could do these activities in school or at home.

     Here is an example of part of a fact file:

  • Many areas of mathematics are reliant on multiplicative reasoning. Take working with fractions, for example. Are children aware of the role of common multiples when finding equivalent fractions and the role of common factors when simplifying fractions?

Prioritising the following topics in Achieve may help fill the gaps and are key for revision purposes: scaling for place value (x 10, 10 etc.), fractions, decimals, percentages, ratio and proportion, as well as problems involving multiplication and division etc.

  • Remember to think about the way that manipulatives and pictorial representations expose connections between mathematical ideas.


2. Focus on mathematical language and reading

  • Questions on the reasoning papers can be wordy with a lot of information to process.  

You can uor whole class reading activities. Ask questions, such as: What is the problem about? Which words or information are important?

  • The number of ‘explain how you know’ questions has been gradually increasing over time but they are still not answered very successfully.


Try using the ‘Explain how you know’ questions as opportunities for shared writing and focus on concise and effective explanations. A good starting point is to make use of explanations in the mark schemes and ask children to rank them on a scale e.g. great, good, ok, poor, incorrect.

3. Model how to be a mathematician – fluency, reasoning and problem solving

  • The tests assess children’s mathematical fluency, reasoning and problem solving skills. Over the years, many schools have seen improved scores in the arithmetic paper but this 30 minute test requires children to identify when a mental method is more efficient.

  • Procedural fluency will lead to written methods, but fluency with reasoning will help children to see, for example, that 5400 ÷ 9 is 54 hundreds divided by 9 which equals 6 hundreds. How would you want them to use fluency with reasoning to solve the other two examples mentally?
  • One useful strategy is to share your mathematical thinking and discuss the decisions you made when solving calculations and problems. This supports the development of meta- cognition by providing children with a repertoire of strategies to choose from and the skills to select the most suitable strategy for a given task.
  • Here are just a few prompts to guide discussion:

  • The steps in the Achieve Revision books will provide further ideas for this and help children move towards greater independence.


  • Research evidence by The Education Endowment Foundation shows that effective feedback can lead to high impact in terms of children’s progress. You could focus feedback on working mathematically e.g. thinking about the way to make the calculation easier: ‘It was good because you noticed that the number of chocolates in the large box is double the number in the small box so you made fewer steps to find the solution.’   


       Remember that you can also find lots of Top Tips for children in the Achieve series.


Steph King is a mathematics education adviser and author with over 25 years’ experience in primary education, including senior leadership, subject leadership and ten years as mathematics
adviser for a local authority, before working independently in her own company, AK Mathematical Solutions Ltd.
Steph is an NCETM Professional Development Accredited Lead and writes and presents CPD for schools. She has also been involved in national events for NACE, Rising Stars UK and UKLA. 
Steph is an author for publishers Hodder Education, Rising Stars UK, Harper Collins, Pearson, Oxford University Press (OUP), MacMillan Education, GL Assessment and Keen Kite. She works on both national and international writing projects.



Achieve, Achieve 100 at Key Stage 2, English, English and Literacy, english teaching, gps, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Grammar, key stage 2, ks2, literacy, Mathematics, Maths, Maths Curriculum, national tests, Reading, revision, Revision and Practice, sats, SATs style

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