Testing times ahead: tips for preparing for success in the KS2 reading tests

    Published: 25 February 2018

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    With spring term well underway, we have received a number of requests for advice relating to how best to help students prepare for success in May's KS2 reading paper.  The Primary English Team have put their heads together and here are the hints and tips that we have come up with so far.  Please do get in touch if you have further advice that might be helpful to teachers new - or returning - to Year 6.  Remember, there is plenty of teaching time remaining.  These tips are generally - though not exclusively - related to test technique and preparation.

    Summarise for success

    Get children in the habit of summarising each paragraph/section of the practice text as they read it. This may only be in the form of jotting down a single word next to each section to help ‘ground’ them in the text and take note of where information is contained. On the actual test day, the children do not need to jot down their summaries; instead, they should be so used to reading in this way, that it will guide them through the text and make the information – and its location within the piece - stick a bit better.

    One is such a lonely number

    Have the children answering test papers in pairs - rather than in silence and on their own - in the lead up to the big day. After Easter, perhaps is the time to work alone, but until then, a collaborative approach is best (and more fun).

    Put the power in their hands

    To support with distinguishing the difference between answers worthy of 1, 2 or 3 marks, it is helpful to give the children a range of responses and ask them to decide which would receive 1/2/3 marks (the mark schemes usually provide this information).

    Crafting the perfect answer

    In their collaborative working groups, can the children work to create the perfect answer? This is much easier to achieve when working together. How close can the children get to mirroring the perfect 3 mark response in the mark scheme?

    Talk like the test

    Get the children used to asking SATs style questions of the texts that they are working with. They could use a simplified, child-friendly version of the Question Stems.

    Don’t forget to warm-up

    Don’t let the children start the test ‘cold’ on test day. Get them doing a bit of light, fast-paced reading first and asking/answering SATs style questions of the text. Remind them here of some of the ‘tricks of the trade’:

    • Capital letter in the middle of the sentence but you cannot read the word? It’s a name – move on;
    • Visualise as you go;
    • Meet another word that you are not sure of? Read the sentence before and after again and look for clues. Then keep going;
    • Use a line-guide finger / ruler / spare paper if you need one to keep you in place and help you to concentrate.
    • Pick your battles

    Remind them that if they encounter a word beginning with a capital letter in the middle of a sentence and they are struggling to read it, don’t panic: it is a name –move on. Not being able to read this word will not hinder understanding.

    Encourage ‘square eyes’

    Remind the children how powerful visualising is for aiding understanding. Urge them to ‘turn on the TV inside their mind’ whilst reading. This will help keep them focused and make some of the images within the text more memorable.

    Prepare them for a fair fight

    In the run up to the test, the children need to be getting regular practice of reading texts that are equivalent in challenge to those presented by the tests so that they are not disconcerted by the level of challenge on the day (see blog below: preparing for a fair fight).

    Get in order

    Questions in the reading test now follow the chronology of the reading texts very closely, so getting the children to note the question number against the place in the text can really help anchor their progress through the paper and reduce unnecessary and frantic casting about for information.

    Watch your speed

    Build up stamina (and bolster fluency)  every now and then by doing the 3 X reading rate-blaster: children take a short passage and read for one minute.Then take a word count. The children now read the same section of text and see how much further they get and record this.  Repeat the process one last time. Typically children will see a kind of “progress” in words read per minute. This can help to increase confidence so long as it is kept relaxed and with the rates recorded kept as private to individual children.  The repeated reading should support greater understanding too.  This is a strategy that needs to be kept light touch and infrequent.  A heavy focus on rate can lead to unintended negative consequences. Immediate improvements in this aspect of reading can be empowering for some pupils.

    Play to their strengths (and weaknesses)

    Focus on areas that the children are weakest at and, using the question stems, prepare themed reading sessions to blitz that area. If your analysis of past papers shows that the children in your class really struggle with 2d questions (inference) for example, make sure to focus a session or two exclusively on questions taken from this section of the Question Stems document.

    Don’t be blinded by inference!

    No doubt, any analysis that you do of past reading papers will show that the children find 2d (inference) questions the most challenging. This is partly to do with the fact that the majority of the paper tests this domain, and partly to do with the fact that successful inference relies on strength in other reading domains. If the children appear to be struggling with inference questions, try to unpick which underlying reading skill might need strengthening and address that (see blog below: reading re-envisaged, July 2016).

    Don’t save the best (or hardest) till last

    Avoid giving the children a list of questions that are structured sequentially from ‘easiest’ to ‘hardest’ (in other words, from basic retrieval to inference). The danger is that some children will spend their time lingering over the easy questions, and never have time to have a go at the trickier ones.

    Know your strengths

    Make sure they know ‘what kind of a reader’ they are so they know how to make the best of how they read.

    A ‘slow’ reader is likely to absorb the detail but in timed situations will need to push on faster to get through the text.

    A ‘quick’ reader is likely to get through the text in a timed situation but may miss out on the detail so will need to re-read (sometimes several times) to be sure of accuracy.

    Reading aloud habits

    Provide regular practice where children read sections of text aloud, particularly if sentences are long or complex, so that they will not be self-conscious about doing this to aid comprehension in the test (or life). Once the habit is established, teach them to bring it down to a ‘quiet or invisible mutter’ so that other children aren’t disturbed.

    Spoken mantras matter

    When teaching them to refer to the text, having a repeated phrase to couch their answer in can help e.g. ‘It says in the text ….., and this means ……’

    Say it often enough and they’ll do it automatically.

    Really understanding the question by being the questioner

    When you’ve unpicked what a question is asking, answered it, and checked you’re on the right track with the mark scheme, ask them to make up another question, using the same question framework, on a different section of the text.

    How many points?

    One point required? Make it and move on. Highlighting afterwards will help children to see if they are writing in too much detail and so running out of time for the rest of the paper.

    Two or more points required? They need to be different points. Highlighting answers in different colours can show children whether they have in fact said the same thing twice.

    Useful blogs (links are followed by a short preview)

    Another new school year, another assessment framework – but just how different is it? Kirsten Snook succinctly maps where things have gone, stayed the same or been subtly changed, following the government’s consultation with schools. Click on the links for an extremely helpful shortcut to an outline of the new expectations.

    Following recent blogs on the KS2 reading paper and the lessons we might draw from it,here we share some good reading resources from a while back and a conceptual model of the skills involved in comprehending.

    1. seems we can all agree that the test was, at the very least, very challenging. Perhaps more subjectively – but nonetheless commonly – many seem to agree that it did not feel very “4b”ish. It also seems that many of us agree that it made some heavy demands in terms of vocabulary.

    In this short blog, Penny Slater points to some texts that may prove useful in the last few weeks leading up to this year’s SATS.

    Let’s cut to the chase…It’s early summer term. You are a Y6 teacher. You have a couple of weeks left before the 2017 Reading SATs paper. What you are probably looking for are some great texts that will give your pupils a final push to prepare for the challenge ahead? Oh…and you probably need those texts to be free and easily accessible. If so, read on….

    There is no doubt that the final text in the 2016 reading paper was a bit of a challenge (to say the least)! Not only was it awash with tricky language and complex sentence constructions that went on…and on…and on! Let’s not forget that by the time the children got onto answering questions about this text, they had already waded through two other texts, neither of which could be described as ‘easy’. However, to gain some perspective, it is worth noting that in order to achieve the necessary marks to pass the test, the children didn’t actually need to go anywhere near the final text.

    Anyone who has been involved in the business of analysing children’s responses to reading tests before will know that one testing domain always rears its head as an area of weakness: no prizes for guessing that it is our old friend Inference. This year’s test was no different. Saying that, two testing domains did actually fare worse than inference this year…

    Penny Slater considers the level of challenge surrounding this year’s reading test. Watch out for a forthcoming blog on the more technical aspects of readability measures. This is in the works from Kirsten Snook, who has done a great deal of groundwork for us in this area.

    Penny Slater unpicks the 2017 reading paper and concludes that despite the concepts within the texts being more easily accessible for most children, the challenge of the reading test remains high.

    In this blog (a direct follow up to her popular entry from last year) Jane Andrews once again analyses the questions served up in the KS2 reading paper and updates her question stem resource for 2017, for use in school.

    Collective ponder from members of the Herts for Learning English team

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