5 top tips for making KS1 SATs less stressful for children

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Key Stage 1 SATs have long been controversial. But with tests this year the first to be linked to the new curriculum, they feel more high-stakes than ever. With this in mind here are 5 ideas to help you to prepare your children and minimise stress while maximising results.

1. Involve parents in managing the pressure

As early as possible invite parents to a meeting or simply send out a letter setting out what these tests are – and what they actually mean for the child and the school. Many parents will find these tests scary themselves, and pretty much all will be looking for reassurance that their children will not be put under massive pressure – especially at KS1 where the spread of ability due to birth month, mother tongue, and multiple other factors can still be so diverse.

How do you as a school plan to present these tests to the children? Do you use the word ‘test’, ‘assessment’, ‘checks’, ‘round-up’? Do you want your children to know they are important, or do you want them to think they’re just a normal, run-of-the-mill progress check? Let the parents know so they know how to talk about them at home too.

2. Teach children how a test works

There’s lots of talk about teachers ‘teaching to the test’ but what about teaching children how a test works? As adults, we’re so conditioned to the test format we can’t imagine not understanding how to fill one out – but what about a 6 year old? How do they know that the answer is in the text if no one makes it explicit? If a question requires a full sentence as a response, do children have the practice at turning a couple of words from the text into a subject, verb, object format?

Can you recruit parents to help practise just this skill for a week? Even things we think are incredibly basic could throw a young Year 2 child into a tail spin. For example, if a question is in multiple parts, they need to understand that a) and b) mean that they are expected to give separate answers. Some children might even need telling explicitly where to write their answer (my son recently asked me which line he should write on where a two-line space was provided).

Progress & Assess tests use all the kinds of question format that crop up in the SATs to make sure children have plenty of experience of all of them.

3. Practice makes perfect

Children are much less likely to be thrown by the tests if they’re used to the test format. Why not send some practice tests home in the run-up to the real thing? – with instructions to parents to just do a question or two at a time, in a non-stressful, untimed way (so you’re not just compounding a problem!). Make sure you send home the right level of test (Bug Club book-banded tests are perfect for this) so that children don’t get stressed out and parents don’t get frustrated. 

This is the way NOT to do it…

There’s no point sending home a generic test, or (as one school did) a detailed comprehension activity intended to be used in class with lots of teacher-led modelling, participation and discussion. Without lots of instruction and reassurance for parents about what you’re expecting from the child and with what level of support, this road is paved with tears.

Children respond better to homework when they see that their peers have to do it too. Why not use your website or newsletter to suggest setting up ‘homework groups’ within natural friendship groups? A focused 10-minute session with friends followed by a jump about on the trampoline will give better results than an hour-long session with a parent trying to coerce a reluctant child at the end of a long school day.

4. Revising skills (in a fun way)

While taking a test is in itself a skill to be learned, the skills to be tested also need to be revised and embedded. Rote learning is thankfully a thing of the past, but there’s still nothing quite like repetition to embed a concept. Even if you haven’t got enough time at school, you can pull in parents to make sure it happens at home.

You could create some sheets of ideas for parents to get learning-based conversation flowing over dinner, lists of websites where they might find free resources, story starters for writing, anything that could save their tired brains and make it easy for them to promote learning at home.

Pearson Primary resources such as Abacus (for maths), and Grammar & Spelling Bug (for, well, grammar and spelling) have online games to practise specific skill strands that you can allocate for home practice that work on an iPad, most Android devices and of course a normal PC or laptop. These games are so much fun, children will barely realise they’re revising – and the information button has tips to help parents support them.

5. Catch more flies with honey…

You know there’s that child in every class who could maybe do it if they concentrated, but they just don’t because they don’t see the point? There’s two ways to get that child to cooperate: you can scare the living daylights out of them (not recommended) or you can use praise and positive reinforcement to capture their good will.

You could try explaining to the child that the test is about showing people who don’t necessarily know them what they can do. You know how great they are, their parents know how great they are – but unless they write it down then no one else can tell how great they are. This is their chance to show what a superstar they are!

With particularly reluctant children, use the parent as an ambassador – asking them to reiterate the message gently at home. And of course, let’s not forget the power of the sticker and the certificate, which experience has proven motivate children and parents in equal measure. Download some free certificates and get those parental competitive juices flowing:

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