Countdown to the KS2 SATs: Your four-week guide

Experienced school leader and Year 6 teacher James Clements continues his guide to helping your child achieve their very best in the SATs tests.

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

Week Two: Five tried and tested revision techniques

"The first step is to talk to them about where they feel their strengths lie and where they might need to develop."

James Clements

Hello, I’m James Clements. For ten years, I worked as a teacher and deputy head at a successful primary school in West London. For seven of those years I taught Year 6. As well as making sure the children I taught achieved their very best, a big part of my job was working with parents so they could help their children in the final year of primary school. I’m also the parent of two small children.

All children have areas of the curriculum that they find easier than others. As time is limited, it makes sense for children to focus their revision on the aspects of English and mathematics where they’re not feeling so confident. The first step is to talk to them about where they feel their strengths lie and where they might need to develop. If you haven’t already, you might also want to talk to their teacher about where they think your child could do with some extra work. It makes sense for the child, parent and school to be working together.

The key areas covered by the KS2 national tests are:

The national curriculum puts great emphasis on children being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide with confidence so this is a good place to start revision. Even if children can do each of these things, the quicker and more efficient they are, the better. If there are lots of questions to answer in a timed test it can be easy to make mistakes because you’re working quickly.

Practising these four operations, both in their head and using a pencil and paper, is one of the most useful things Year 6 children can do in the run up to the tests. The curriculum expects children to use standard written methods for these (yes, that includes long division) so if you’re a bit rusty, you might want to refresh your knowledge of these by searching online and watching one of the many films that explain the different processes step-by-step.

Fluency in times tables (up to 12 x 12) and number bonds (knowing the numbers that add together to make 100, 1000 or 1 [such as 0.23 + 0.77]) is also likely to be really helpful.

We want our children to be fluent readers and have strong comprehension skills so they can understand and enjoy the books they read. The best way to improve as a reader is to read lots. As a teacher, I spent a lot of my time encouraging the children in my class to read as widely as possible. This means quantity (reading everyday), but also quality (books that are going to introduce them to new ideas and new language) and range (different types of books – fiction, non-fiction, including books they might not normally choose to read). Taking a reading test is slightly different as being a strong reader isn’t enough to do well; it’s also a test of writing. It can be really helpful for children to have some practice responding to questions about a text in writing.

Grammar, punctuation and spelling
A lot of the content of this test is knowing the names for different parts of language and being able to identify them, rather than being able to use them in writing. As with some of the mathematics content, you might find yourself wanting to brush up on the subjunctive and fronted adverbials…

Not a test as such, but teachers will make a judgment about the quality of a child’s writing based on several recent pieces of work. The criteria used to judge Year 6 writing this year leans heavily towards accurate use of punctuation and grammar, with ‘most’ of the Year 5 & 6 word lists spelled correctly.

Different approaches work for different children, but here is some tried and tested advice that’s worked with classes in the past:

1. Don’t just read
The best revision doesn’t involve sitting and passively reading a revision guide. It involves writing or doing something. This might be making notes, answering questions or explaining an idea to someone else. For most children re-reading notes isn’t the best way of revising.

2. Concentrate on the tricky bits
When revising, it can be very tempting for children to spend time on the topics they enjoy and are already good at. Instead, we want them to spend time on the bits of the curriculum that don’t come so easily. Most children will benefit from some support with this.

3. Space out your revision

Try practising the same thing more than once, leaving increasingly long spaces in between revision. For example, a child might do ten division questions one evening. Then they could try and do five the next day. Then wait a couple of days and do another five. Then wait three days and do three more. Then…well, you get the idea.

4. Mix up the revision

Little and often is a better model than a block of learning about something and then not thinking about it again for a week. Ten minutes of spelling practice every day will be more useful than an hour once per week. I used to tell my classes to practice a different multiplication table each night while they cleaned their teeth. Good for their maths fluency (and for making sure they brushed for long enough). However, I did used to get lots of complaints from parents about toothpaste all over the bathroom.

5. Sitting practice tests

Using these is fine: they can be good for helping children to get used to working with a time limit and making sure children have covered all of the key knowledge they need. But on its own, a test doesn’t help you to learn anything new. The real value lies in what you do afterwards – children need to look at the questions they didn’t get right and then work out how to answer them correctly next time. That’s where the learning happens.

Next week ...
In week three of this series, we’ll look at some ways of making revision interesting and engaging.

More from James Clements
You can follow James on Twitter @MrJClements

SATs explained
Find out more about Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 SATs on our SATs advice page.

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