How to prepare for SATs.

In an ideal world, our children would not be feeling stressed about exams at any stage of their school experience, but according to reports in the press, some ten and eleven-year-old pupils will be feeling harried as I write this. As SATs week for Year 6 pupils in the UK rapidly approaches, we have an opportunity as parents to emphasise the importance of balance in everyone’s lives, especially when we may feel under pressure. We all know that children tend to perform best when they are happy, alert and prepared so how can we achieve this over the next few weeks?



Children of this age can tend to worry about things that often don’t occur to us as adults, but they may also be concerned about asking questions regarding SATs in front of the whole class at school. We can make sure that any concerns are allayed before SATs week by simply asking them how they are feeling about SATs and if they have any questions.


If they have concerns that you cannot answer or help with, it is worth raising them with your child’s teacher. As teachers, we often have no idea about a concern that a pupil might be carrying around with them which is why the parent/teacher relationship is so vital. Also, if one child has this concern, it is not unusual for it to be shared by other pupils so the teacher can address the issue and reassure the whole class.


Over the years, several pupils have commented that normal after-school and weekend activities are suspended during the run-up to SATs and on the week itself. However, if we are feeling under pressure at any age, it is vital that we learn ways to switch off and recharge, so keeping balance during these weeks will demonstrate the effectiveness of this. It does not have to be active, although that is a bonus, so listening to calm music, reading a book (not SATs related), watching funny video clips or sharing jokes can all release stress in a relatively short time.




The benefits of movement for keeping us alert, as well as lifting the spirits and helping us to sleep soundly, are well documented, and this is certainly a great time to put this into practice. It does not matter what the activity is; if your child has an active hobby that’s great but even a half-hour walk or a ten-minute bounce on a trampoline can have the desired effect.   


The importance of sleep cannot be overemphasised. While it is important to keep the tests in perspective, it would also not be recommended to hold a large birthday party, to which all the pupils in the class are invited, on the night before the tests start, as occurred on one particular year. The chances of those pupils getting to bed at a reasonable hour, in a calm state, was highly unlikely.  


During the tests themselves, make sure that your child drinks before school and takes water with them so that they are fully hydrated. I have yet to meet a child whose afternoon headache was not alleviated by drinking plenty of water.  




You may have been provided with test papers to complete, but whether you have or not, it is vital that the emphasis is placed on the SATs test being designed to allow your child to demonstrate what they can do. Most pupils will have spent sufficient preparation time in school, but if you feel the urge to reinforce that work, I would suggest a focus on actually answering the question and checking whether this has been achieved at the end of the problem. One way of bringing this about is to practise checking for sensible answers.     

Click here for a PowerPoint

presentation containing some

incorrect division examples.

Click here for a PDF 

containing some incorrect division examples.

When it comes to the arithmetic paper, encourage your child to estimate answers using numbers that can be worked on mentally. Often children are tempted to use numbers that are very close to those provided in the question, thinking that they need to get close to the answer. However, an estimate is a comparison and can provide us with a magnitude such as showing whether the answer should be in the tens, hundreds, thousands or higher. We can then use reasoning to decide whether the actual answer should be higher or lower than this estimate.


To add an element of fun, games can be used to practise for this aspect of the maths SATs. Using dice or creating digit cards allows pupils to create the numbers involved which helps you to avoid spending lots of time creating lots of arithmetic examples. 


Addition and subtraction can be practised by playing a game such as Nearest to X - where X is an appropriate final score depending on the size of the numbers – in which players choose to add or subtract their numbers on each of their ten turns. Multiplication and division can be practised by creating boxes for each digit within the calculation, and on each roll of the die to produce a digit, pupils can decide whether to put the digit into one of their boxes or their opponent’s boxes depending on the criteria for winning. Multi-topic games could be produced by copying SATs-style questions on to cards with the answers on the back; the idea is for players to see how many can be completed within a given time.   


Using reasoning and playing games can result in lots of practice while still keeping children engaged. However, if it does all get a bit fraught, it is worth following the advice of the government before World War II: