Top Tips: SATs Spelling Paper

SATs Spelling Paper: Top Tips

With the SATs season around the corner, we share some of our top tips for preparing your class for the spelling paper as part of grammar, punctuation and spelling tests.


This year, the two papers for spelling, punctuation and grammar are on May 13th. Paper 1 covers grammar and punctuation and Paper 2 covers spelling. This blog is full of tips to help with Paper 2, although some may be relevant for any test paper.

SATs Spelling Paper: Good Practice is Always Good Practice

Tip #1: Don’t suddenly change your practice.

Effective methods for teaching spelling are still effective even in the run-up to a test. You should still use phonics, orthography, morphology and etymology rather than relying on rote memorisation. You can even encourage children to use these in the test itself by counting phonemes on their fingers or using some quiet methods to count syllables. Many children find clapping out syllables helpful; however, tapping the pad of your finger on your opposite hand could be a great test-friendly alternative. Some prefer using the hand under the chin method to count syllables, which you can still do as long as you silently’say’ the word.

SATs Spelling Paper: Test Analysis

Tip #2: Recap all-year group patterns.

Looking at any SAT Spelling Paper analysis, you will see that a large percentage of the spellings used are from years 3 and 4. Patterns taught in KS1 might appear. These are often linked to skills taught in a higher year.

The table below shows an analysis of the last four spelling papers compared to the National Curriculum (2013) objectives. You can see in all four that at least 50% of the words featured Year 3 and 4 patterns.

Another significant point to note is how few of the words are actually from the statutory word lists for each phase. In the last four years of papers, only two Year 5 and 6 statutory words and two Year 3 and 4 statutory words have been tested. When looking at the two Year 3 and 4 words, these were actually linked to patterns that are taught in Year 5 and 6. This is shown by the ^ symbol on the table. Some of the numbers have an asterisk (*) next to them because these words are homophones, which can be taught in any phase from Year 2 to Year 6.

The final addition to this table is the numbers in brackets. This shows how many words in the pattern in that phase were listed in the National Curriculum as example words. Especially in the lower years, it is not always the examples from the National Curriculum that are used. If we only teach those words, children cannot access at least 55% of the test in each year group. This is another reason why it is really important to teach children how to spell, not simply ‘the spellings’.

SATs Spelling Paper: Test Experience

Tip #3: Have a practice test in a similar style to the real one.

The purpose of tests is assessment. Practice tests can serve two purposes: to expose children to the style of test so they can be successful with it or to assess how they spell when only given a sentence for context. This can feel quite different from spelling correctly within your writing, but it is all based on the same skills. Remember that tests don’t teach spelling. However, it is always good to set children up to succeed by giving them experience with the format. Teach children how to do the test, but don’t teach children how to spell using a test.

Tip #4: Teach children how to manage test anxiety.

Allow children enough practice to feel comfortable and confident with the test format. It can also be helpful to teach children strategies for managing anxiety during tests. Some helpful starting points could be:

  • Breathing exercises, e.g., square breathing
  • Grounding exercises, e.g., using the five senses, counting five things you can see
  • Eating well
  • Sleeping well
  • Getting plenty of exercise and getting outside
SATs Spelling Paper anxiety tips


Tip #5: Help children choose varied, effective practice methods.

It can get dull to repeat the same thing over and over, no matter what content you are revising. Using a variety of methods can help keep children engaged with the review. Allowing children to choose from a range of effective methods will also allow them to find strategies that suit them. This might include the Spelling Shed games or lesson resources from past lessons or spelling out loud.

Remember that the test will be in written form, so although spelling aloud and typing can really help, ensure children try writing the spellings down too. This links back to Tip #3. None of this is about rote memorisation. If the children don’t know the spelling, using phonics, orthography, morphology and etymology is still the best place to start.

Tip #6: Teach a variety of patterns in one session.

When you are teaching spelling patterns, it is best to teach them one at a time in order to not confuse children. This is the best practice for when children are learning new content.

When we are revising or recapping patterns already known, it is best to mix in a variety. Reviewing all the graphemes for the /l/ or schwa-/l/ ending in one session will mean the children have to draw on their spelling skills to select the correct one. Using lots of word sorts can help with this. You can find some in the Spelling Shed lesson resources, or you can search your reading books for words ending with /sh//uh//n/ and find magician, optician, competition, mission and mansion.

SATs Spelling Paper: Writing Style

Tip #7: Take handwriting on a case-by-case basis.

Do you join or print your handwriting normally? What happens if someone asks you to do the opposite? It takes all your focus away from what you are writing and puts it on how you are writing. If children have established joined-up handwriting, there is no reason to ask them to stop. In fact, this will probably be a hindrance, as they will be so focused on writing correctly that it will remove focus from spelling correctly. You only want to specify that a child uses print when their joined writing makes too many letters look similar.

SATs Spelling Paper KS2 handwriting tips

Want to see how Spelling Shed can help your class achieve in the SATs paper? You can sign up for a free 30-day trial where you can access sample lessons and online games for children to practice. Watch our free webinar or access our free PowerPoint below for even more tips.

SATs Spelling Paper Spelling Shed trial