The bluffer's guide to the 2017 KS2 Maths SATs: 15 lessons learnt

By Luke Hier 

Detailed content analysis of the Maths SATs 2017, Paper 1 Arithmetic, Paper 2 Reasoning, Paper 3 Reasoning, breaking down the questions, and topics that pupils were asked to help you prepare for SATs 2018.

Now the final lucky Year 6 pupils have completed their Reasoning and Arithmetic papers, and we’re able to talk about the content of the questions without fear of tweets or reprisals from the Department for Education, here’s our quick bluffer’s guide to the content of 2017 SATs: what was in and what was out this year. 

If you’ve not seen our earlier blog post: SATs 2017 Review, the Good, the Bad and the Even Better If, it’s definitely worth reading that first. 

1. Reasoning and Arithmetic Papers aren’t getting any easier 

The level of difficulty to be expected has now been cemented as the second year of papers is published on the new curriculum. In comparison to KS2 SATs 2016, the sequencing of question difficulty slightly changed, and for many, particularly Paper 2 Reasoning may have felt a bit easier, but our view is that overall they’ve stuck to a similar level of challenge. The fact it was our second year on these new National Tests I think meant that there wasn’t such a feeling of shock as in 2016. 

2. New elements of the curriculum are now appearing

The examiners clearly feel this new content should be fully embedded even though this current Year Six had only worked with the new curriculum since their Year 4. 

Roman Numerals is the most striking example of this. There were also questions that required pupils to think fluently, working with multiple concepts simultaneously which are very much a feature of the new curriculum. 

Now let’s take a look in more detail what came up in this year’s paper and the multiple categories of the curriculum which stood out.

3. Emphasis on the four operations in context

Knowing how to add and subtract was often not sufficient to gain marks - pupils were required to make a decision on what operation (and in what order) to use on several occasions. 

Pupils were required to subtract four digit numbers using formal methods as well as subtracting decimals up to three decimal places. Pupils were also required to subtract fractions with different denominators. These demanded a level of fluency with the operations that some pupils may not have reached.

4. Division featured highly from across the curriculum

Pupils were not only challenged to divide whole numbers and those involving decimals by 10, 100 and 1,000 but were also required to solve problems involving the relative sizes of two quantities and use division facts to find missing values. 

In the Arithmetic Paper, they were required to divide proper fractions by whole numbers on two occasions and were exposed to a range of short and long division questions.

Like last year, pupils were asked to divide a number by 1, indicating that examiners are keen to test whether pupils can divide mentally. 

5. More than 50% of the questions focused on Year 3-5 Material

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, they are not just Year 6 SATs.

As part of your revision, it’s crucial to revise key concepts from the other years. Not only is this just good practice to secure foundational knowledge so pupils can tackle the more complex knowledge, but they will lose marks if they’re not up to speed on the earlier stuff. 

Hat tip to @MissieBee here for being an early one to point this out.

6. Times tables and multiplication facts are being tested already

Just one of the reasons we may not need a nationally assessed times tables test...The multiplication questions present in the Arithmetic Paper were not too dissimilar from last year.

There was a need to be confident with times tables as pupils were required to use these facts to multiply one, two and three digit numbers by one digit numbers. The paper then progressed to testing whether pupils could handle multiplying four digit numbers by two digit numbers. 

Pupils also needed to be familiar with multiplying numbers by 1,000 and using facts to multiply mentally.

Third Space Learning’s SATs preparation

Schools who use our 1-to-1 Maths intervention are given a number of resources that they can use with their whole class, or request the teachers to follow.

These include 270 lessons, as well as a bank of SATs style questions, pitched at the appropriate level (eg working towards, meeting or exceeding expectations) that are can be used. 

Interestingly lessons on multiplying and dividing were the most popular choices across all the 6500 pupils we’ve taught this year. One of the many reasons that pupils who’ve received our weekly 1-to-1 tuition raise their attainment so dramatically for SATs is that they’ve simply had more personalised and supported practice.  

7. Multi-step problems combined several concepts or operations

They appeared in several guises. Question 12 in paper 3 is a good example of this. It incorporates both the need to identify an operation as well as fluency with multiplication and division. In this question pupils needed to be comfortable with both multiplication and division in order to be able to check and explain their answers.

Sats q1

8. It’s time to really nail percentages in your school

Problems involving the calculation of percentages popped up three times in the Arithmetic Paper and were present in Paper 2. And some of these were complex percentages such as 45% not just 10%. As ever, pupils were also tested on how to calculate percentages that required more than one step to get an accurate answer. 

We know that a basic understanding of percentages still eludes many adults despite it being so important in life; make next year the year your school really gets percentages! 

This is actually why we deliberately structure our lessons to support pupils towards a complete understanding of percentages, starting with simple percentages before moving on to working with percentages in other contexts. 

9. Fractions are being tested across several curriculum domains

Lots of teachers commented to us on the proliferation of fractions questions. Their appearance wasn’t a surprise to us. It’s one of the topics pupils of all ages struggle with most and that schools choose for our tutors to teach throughout Key Stage 2 so it’s not surprising that examiners want to test them. 

Questions included:

  • Adding and subtracting fractions with both the same and different denominator 
  • Adding mixed numbers and proper fractions
  • Multiplying pairs of proper fractions 
  • Knowledge of equivalent fractions
  • Recalling and using equivalences between simple fractions, decimals and percentages
  • Which shape had been ¾ shaded

Without a sound grounding in fractions of all types, and a clear understanding of what to do when confronted with using one of the operations, pupils would have struggled with several questions across the papers.

10. Mathematical language is important

We know that some pupils struggled in general with the language of some of the reasoning questions (somersaults?) but when it comes to mathematical language we have fewer excuses not to make sure our pupils are ready. This year for example pupils were required to know the meaning of terms such quadrilateral, perpendicular and parallel to have any chance of success in some of the geometry questions.

11. Fewer polygons but triangles in the SATs test for a second year!   

Polygons did not dominate to the same extent as in 2016 but children were still required to translate a triangle from one plane to another which many may have found tricky. 

Interestingly, on question 13 of paper 3, pupils would only have achieved the mark if they not only remembered what an acute angle was, but also how many sides a pentagon has. 

12. Don’t omit your introduction to algebra in Year 6

Two questions in paper 3 asked pupils to express missing number problems algebraically and find pairs of numbers that satisfy an equation with two unknown numbers. In paper 2 question 11, pupils were asked to use simple formulae. This is in line with last year’s papers where pupils had two questions regarding the use of simple formulae.

13. Challenging questions test both concepts and fluency across the curriculum 

The last question on paper 3 demonstrates this point. Having knowledge about 3D shapes and calculating volume is not sufficient, applying such knowledge through a multistep problem was expected for those pupils who wanted to achieve high marks. 

This question may have stumped pupils who knew the areas of Maths in isolation, but were uncertain how to apply it in this context. 

And as the last question on a paper that was difficult to finish within the set time, even if pupils did get there, they may have struggled to process the information at such a late stage.

Sats q2

14. Multi-step problems must be second nature to Year 6 by the SATs

We recommend exposing pupils really early in the year to such questions to help them to become familiar with this style of question. In our 1-to-1 lessons, pupils are deliberately given challenging questions from very early on, so that we can probe the pupil’s ability to problem solve and reason mathematically for just this reason. 

With the tutor there to support them and address misconceptions, pupils build mathematical reasoning in a supportive environment that has been proven to build confidence. 

Once your pupils are confident with these sorts of problems they have all the tools they need to start tackling questions such as the one above or this from paper 3:

Sats q 3

15. Some surprising ommissions!
  • Despite the calculation curriculum strand featuring heavily, there was only one relatively simple order of operations question. 
  • Nothing on the reading and converting of metric/ imperial units. Different measurements did feature, in question 10 of paper 3 for example, but this was a relatively simple question that came from a Year 4 domain. 
  • Extensive knowledge of angles was not required. One question probed knowledge of degrees and turns and there was a separate question involving acute angles linked to shape, but further expertise in finding missing angles was not tested. 
  • Properties of 3D shapes were tested but there was no link to nets.

So that’s our rundown of the Maths SATs 2017. If you take one message from it let it be this: 
Questions are testing concepts linked across the curriculum. Make sure your pupils have had the chance to practise this. 

If you’d like to find out how we can help make next year and SATs 2018 easier for your target Year 6 pupils who are at risk of not reaching national standard, then get in touch by filling out the form below. We are now taking bookings for our Autumn Year 6 Intervention during which pupils plug all their learning gaps and secure any shaky concepts 1-to-1 with a tutor every week before the work of SATs preparation starts in earnest in January. 

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