What can we learn from the 2017 KS2 reading and grammar test?

Thanks for Shareen Mayers for the following article.

After the challenging reading paper in 2016, many teachers were pleasantly surprised by the 2017 reading paper. The questions seemed to be a little more accessible and the texts appeared to be more relevant to year 6 pupils, especially the English Channel text. Shareen Mayers shares some of her key top tips for teachers and schools!

You can view the 2017 test papers here.


1. Explicitly teach new vocabulary

Once again, the KS2 reading paper had a huge percentage of questions focussed on understanding vocabulary in context (20%). This was the same percentage as last year but some of the words were more familiar. Interestingly, the vocabulary used are all linked to the KS1 and KS2 spelling rules. For example, -ed words, -al words, -ous words and -ing words. Therefore, the spelling rules can also be used to support the pitch of vocabulary that teachers need to expose pupils to in every year group. Please see my blog on vocabulary in the KS2 reading paper.

2016 vocabulary in the reading test

10 marks

2017 vocabulary in the reading paper

10 marks





glassy surface






















glass surface






2. Explicitly teach reading skills (reading speed, skimming and scanning)

Anecdotally, many teachers have expressed that more pupils finished the paper or at least got to the end questions. However, there was still a focus on pupils reading at speed and skimming and scanning for answers. After completing the reading paper myself, it seemed really clear that the questions were in the order of the text. I had told my year 6 pupils this year to read the questions and answer the text as they completed the paper. I know that this is contentious and controversial but it actually worked this year. Most of the sections were clearly labelled and it was only the last text that demanded that the pupils skimmed and scanned the whole page to find the answer, increasing the level of difficulty.

Look and Learn: Use Picture Books to Sharpen Your Pupils Textual Analysis Skills

3. Explore and teach character analysis skills

Interestingly, 44% of the questions were focussed on making inferences this year and it appears that 36% of the inference questions were focussed on character descriptions, actions, thoughts and feelings. This demonstrates the increased focus on fiction with two fiction texts and one non-fiction text represented.

Using pop songs is perfect for exploring characters’ thoughts, feelings and actions. I used Adele, Ed Sheeran and Pharrell Williams this year and my pupils loved it! Please see my Teach Primary article which outlines how it might work in practice.

Using Adele to Teach Reading Comprehension Skills (using pop songs to teach the 3-mark questions).

Although pupils do not need Point, Evidence and Explanation (PEE) or a similar acronym for the reading paper, I still believe that these skills help to deepen their understanding and increase the quality of their oral responses.

4. Explicitly teach how to answer the 3-mark questions.

I was pleasantly surprised by the two 3-mark questions this year. The question stems seemed to be a lot clearer for pupils. For example, Q36 Explain two features of his character, using evidence from the text to support your answer. A salient point here is to ensure that pupils use different points rather than using a synonym for the same point, e.g. curious/interested. It is also noted that they only need to find two points with evidence for the answering the 3-mark questions.

Here is a model answer:

Award 3 marks for two acceptable points, at least one with evidence, e.g.

He is careful (point) because instead of screaming or running to the side of the boat, he went calmly (evidence). He is also very aware (observant) of the things around him (point).


5. Constantly review and recall spelling rules from KS1 and year 3 and 4.

From my analysis of the spelling paper, it seems that 60% of the questions were from year 3 and 4 and 40% were from year 5 and 6. Interestingly, there were three words that cover a KS2 spelling rule but also appear on the statutory word lists for years 3-6, e.g. straight, bruise and thorough. It’s useful to group the word lists by rule. e.g double consonants, silent letters and unstressed vowels. The Rising Stars New Curriculum Spelling test books have the statutory word lists grouped by rule.

6. Ensure that all year groups are aware of their responsibilities.

Similar to last year, approximately 36% of the questions in 2017 were from KS1 learning.

This demonstrates that the test is a whole school responsibility and should not be the focus for year 6 alone.



2017 GPS test

Year group in the national curriculum

Number of marks and percentages 2016 GPS test

Year group in the national curriculum

Number of marks and percentages
1 4 (8%) 1 3 (6%)
2 14 (28%) 2 14 (28%)
3 5 (10%) 3 9 (18%)
4 7(14%) 4 7 (14%)
5 10 (20%) 5 9 (18%)
6 10 (20%) 6 8 (16%)


7. Accuracy is important!

It’s worth noting that verb forms, contractions, prefixes, suffixes and plurals must be spelt correctly and pupils will lose marks because of this. Test techniques are still important to teach but it’s also crucial to embed the importance of accuracy throughout the school.
Reading and grammar test technique tips.


8. Remember that not all adverbs end in ’ly.’

Question 50 on the 2017 grammar paper explored a more in-depth understanding of  adverbs and it really caught some pupils out.

Of all the toys in his large collection, Karl’s little brother like the cuddly rabbit best.

It’s worth noting that adverbs can modify a verb, other adverbs,  an adjective or a phrase and not all of them will end in ‘ly.’

9. Teach the correct terminology

Teach the correct terminology for grammar and ask pupils to explain what they mean in real texts.

Grammar terminology for teachers

Please look out for my detailed analysis of the KS2 reading paper and future implications for schools, which will be shared on this site and via social media by the autumn term.


Shareen Mayers

Shareen is an experienced primary teacher who is currently an independent English and assessment consultant.  She still regularly teaches in the classroom, especially in Year 6. Shareen is also a part of the Rising Stars Assessment Advisory Team and will be presenting at the Rising Stars National Test Conferences, focused on preparing pupils for the 2018 reading and grammar tests.

Rising Stars National Test Conference: Achieving and exceeding the expected standard