The SATs Reading Comprehension Test: What You Need to Know
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The KS2 reading exam aims to test a child’s comprehension skills. The questions range from simpler, literal questions (the answers for which are typically located within the text) to more complex questions that require inference or deduction skills.
Formal Exam Conditions
The test takes place under formal examination conditions. Students are typically seated apart and aren’t allowed to talk during the test (unless it’s to ask the teacher a question). No phones or other distracting devices are allowed in the exam and students generally aren’t given any help in answering the questions (there are certain allowances for children with additional needs).
The following information is given to every child taking the test:
‘This is the key stage 2 English reading test. You should have a reading booklet and a reading answer booklet in front of you.
You will need a blue / black pen or a dark pencil, and you may use a rubber for this test.
Write your name, school name and DfE (Department for Education) number on the front of your reading answer booklet.
Open your reading answer booklet to page 3. I will read the instructions to you.
You have 1 hour to complete this test, answering the questions in the answer booklet. Read one text and answer the questions about that text before moving on to read the next text.
There are 3 texts and 3 sets of questions.
In this booklet, there are different types of question for you to answer in different ways. The space for your answer shows you what type of answer is needed. Write your answer in the space provided. Do not write over any barcodes.
Some questions are followed by a short line or box. This shows that you need only write a word or a few words in your answer.
Some questions are followed by a few lines. This gives you space to write more words or a sentence or two.
Some questions are followed by more answer lines. This shows that a longer, more detailed answer is needed to explain your opinion. You can write in full sentences if you want to.
For some questions, you do not need to write anything at all and you should tick, draw lines to, or circle your answer.
Read the instructions carefully so that you know how to answer the question.
The number under each line at the side of the page tells you the maximum number of marks for each question.
As this is a reading test, you must use the information in the texts to answer the questions.
When a question includes a page reference, you should refer to the text on that page to help you with your answer.
You should work through the booklet until you are asked to stop.
You should try to answer all of the questions. If you can’t answer a question, move on and return to it later. Remember that you should keep referring back to your reading booklet.
Pay particular attention to any instructions within test questions.
To make sure your answers can be marked, don’t write in the grey areas, on the barcode or on the lines at the top and bottom or the edge of the page and don’t crumple your answer booklet.
If you want to change your answer, put a line through the response you don’t want the marker to read.
If you have to use a rubber, make sure you rub out your answer completely before writing a new one.
Remember to check your work carefully.
If you have any questions during the test, you should put your hand up and wait for someone to come over to you. Remember, I can’t help you answer any of the test questions or read any of the words to you.
You must not talk to each other.
Are there any questions you want to ask me now?
I will tell you when you have 5 minutes left. I will tell you when the test is over and to stop writing.
You may now start the test.’
The Exam Process
Children taking the test will be given a reading booklet, which usually contains three different texts. Each one is written in a different genre and style. Students may also use monolingual English electronic spell checkers or highlighter pens, if this is within their normal classroom practice. It’s worth remembering though, that spelling is not being tested and using a spell-checker could waste valuable time.
Children may request extra lined paper, should they feel they need it. In the first instance, students are encouraged to use up all the space on their answer papers first. This is normally more than sufficient. All three texts within the reading booklet may have a central theme, such as ‘travel’ or ‘rescue’ and the least demanding text is normally the first one in the booklet.
SATs Reading Exam Technique
Children are given one hour to read the text and complete the questions in the accompanying reading answer booklet. This isn’t a huge amount of time, so it’s important that students are well-practised in methods for extracting information, such as skimming and scanning, or using headings and sub-headings to locate key information.
They should also be mindful of the weighting of the marks against each question. Simpler, more straightforward questions are usually awarded one mark, whereas more complex or longer answers are awarded two, or even three marks. Although children should endeavour to answer all questions on the paper, they should aim to pay particular attention to questions that are worth more marks.
Some questions do not require a written answer at all. There may be a box to tick, statements to place in a correct order or boxes to join. Accuracy is just as important here as it is with written answers. If an examiner is unable to read any of the child’s answers clearly, they will be marked wrong.
There is no set ‘protocol’ to completing the test – some children prefer to work on the first text and complete all the questions before moving on to the next, whereas others may read the three texts in their entirety before beginning to answer the questions. Although the instructions given at the beginning imply that children should work through one text at a time, they would not be penalised in any way for answering questions in any order they choose.
Once students have completed all the questions they can, they should always go back and check their answers carefully. They should consider whether they have answered each question with sufficient depth and clarity. They should aim to leave no question unanswered – even if they have no idea of what the question is asking for. A blank answer space has no chance of a mark, but an answer of some kind, however it is achieved, may just help to add one more mark to their total!
There will be at least one member of staff present during the test. In practice, there are usually two as there may be a need for a child to leave the room (to visit the toilet for example). Staff present are allowed to answer questions if a child raises their hand, but cannot in any way ‘lead’ them or influence their answers.
For example, if a child states that they don’t understand the question, an appropriate response from the teacher would be to encourage them to reread the question, perhaps underlining words that they think could be important. It would not be appropriate for the teacher to lead the child in any way, such as pointing to particular words or indicating a particular section of the text.
Teachers are also forbidden to give children any other hints, such as pointing to a question and encouraging the child to look at their answer again.
Children are normally reminded of the time they have remaining. This is done at the discretion of the teacher but will probably be at around the halfway point and again when there are ten minutes remaining.
If you’d like your child to gain extra practice in preparing for the SATs Reading Comprehension exam, our practice exam papers are ideal. We currently have four separate SATs exam papers that include reading comprehension questions. All of our resources come complete with answers and a detailed marking scheme, so you can easily track your child’s progress.
Our SATs resources