PREPARING PUPILS FOR ENGLISH TESTS

With thanks to teachers in Norfolk and Newham who contributed to this list.

Practice tests

Flush out:

  • Strategies for getting to the right answer
  • How to appraise the paper for distribution of marks and time
  • Timekeeping issues
  • Gaps in knowledge
  • Procedural issues e.g. crossing out
  • Effective checking

Familiarise pupils with:

  • The format of the test
  • The length and timing of the test
  • The nature of tests

Approaches

A full practice test early in the year is useful to identify pupils with timing issues and to identify gaps in knowledge.  It leaves you time to respond. After that, most practice sessions can be short and based on types of question e.g. how to answer a multiple choice question or questions on our weakest topics. Answers can be discussed and decided in groups so that weaker pupils see how stronger pupils work out the answer.

Guided groups are particularly useful because most gaps in knowledge are shared by a handful of children but not all. This gives you a good focus for group work, going back over questions and trying new ones, thinking aloud about the strategy for getting to the answer.

Parents who are anxious to help

  • Remember that most parents missed out on grammar teaching at school and this makes them especially anxious about the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test.
  • Hold a short parent’s briefing about the test. Let them see a few questions. Some ask for help with particular points of grammar. Most want to know what is covered in the test.
  • Emphasise the need to be low-key and positive with their children about the test
  • Be ready for the question at parents’ evening about how you expect their child to perform.
  • Run a short voluntary SATs club after school each week (20 mis) at which parents can join their children
  • Encourage parents to ask the right sort of questions in home reading e.g. Why? How? What next?
  • Ask them to make sure their child gets an early night before tests, and a proper breakfast on the morning.

Children who show signs of test nerves

  • Avoiding test nerves starts well before the day by maintaining an optimistic can-do culture
  • Always keep a low-key and positive approach. Put on your most encouraging smile.
  • Consider using a calm-down routine with pupils in test practice and on the day e.g. calming music for 5 minutes, breathing exercises.
  • If you set the time, do the test early in the day before anxiety can be established
  • If the session is later in the day, make the session before the test a diverting one, but not an exhausting one
  • How to deal with stress is a topic for PSHE, though not necessarily applied only to tests
  • Practise types of question rather than whole tests, and allow children to attempt answers in 2s and 3s.

Very slow workers

  • Already important in KS2, this will become important in KS1 if the government decide after the consultation to create traditional KS1 tests
  • Observe them to ascertain what takes time (some children wait long periods for inspiration)
  • You may apply for extra time if you can point to specific reasons for the slowness that might disadvantage the child
  • Do a full practice quite early so you still have time to sort out undue slowness (and spot gaps in knowledge)
  • Teach them to check in advance the number of marks per question to see where the high-tariff questions are
  • Issue time checks which include how much time is left and roughly where they should be in the paper
  • We teach most children to pass-and-go-back-at-the-end if they don’t know an answer, but this child may never get there. Instead, teach them to guess quickly and move on.
  • Teach scanning and skimming instead of full reading for the first run through
  • May need to scan text, then read questions and then read in full only once, marking up answers
  • Make speed a target during practice
  • When you practise individual questions, set a time limit for deciding an answer

Signs of tiredness and restlessness

  • Make sure children have a good breakfast that morning.  Put on a breakfast club.
  • Make sure there is good airflow in the classroom.
  • If you are in KS1, break the tests into lengths that almost everyone can manage
  • To avoid general tiredness, take a break if you are in KS1, and access fresh air and a stretch
  • For one or two children who always flag, put them in a separate place and give them breaks
  • Remember to send pupils to the toilet immediately before the test
  • Have water available at start

What you do whilst they are working

  • Be encouraging and vigilant, but don’t unsettle them by patrolling or staring at their work over their shoulders.  Minimise distractions.
  • Wear an encouraging smile.
  • Keep an eye open for children who need you.
  • Observe test behaviour – particularly in practice tests – as it may be helpful later if it gives you clues about why they are slow or underperforming.

The long list of instructions at the beginning

  • Introduce these in advance of the test.
  • Remind pupils about the instructions before the break so you can make a quick start after it.
  • Remind them in your own words as the printed version may intimidate them.