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It is that time of year when there are reports of students aged ten and eleven, as well as their teachers, feeling stressed as the SATs exams in maths and English rapidly approach.

As educators, the run-up to SATs is an opportunity to emphasise the importance of balance in everyone’s lives. We all know that children tend to perform best when they are happy, alert and prepared so how can we achieve this in the next few weeks?

Happy

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. We can make sure that any concerns are allayed before SATs week by having a SATs box in which pupils can drop anonymous messages or holding a short session where they work in small groups and brainstorm their thoughts about the upcoming exams. Challenge them to come up with more positive thoughts than negative ones. You could add your own positive thoughts if they need some help.

Administering practice maths SATs sessions can be useful since it allows you to explain the procedures and answer any questions while providing an opportunity for pupils to work under timed conditions. Despite it seeming obvious, pupils may need reminding that they do not have to work through every question on the maths papers in the order presented and that they can come back to questions that they are unsure about. I have witnessed some pupils spending far too much time on a tricky question which resulted in them not completing questions that they could have achieved easily. There can also be some reticence to show their working on the paper, so it is worth showing examples of this afterwards to reassure them that while legibility is essential, marks are not issued for neatness in maths SATs, but some marks may be issued for correct working even if the final answer is wrong.

Alert

My preference for lightening the atmosphere just before exams is to undertake some physical activity rather than trying to cram in some last minute revision because those who have a good grasp of the material are learning nothing and any who are still unsure are reminded of this fact, and their confidence can plummet as a result. To get the oxygen flowing to the brain, one year we all followed a fitness routine to lively music while at other times, a jog around the playground has sufficed to release some nerves and wake pupils up. I also have a store of jokes which are shared just before we settle down. After the exam, if we are waiting for other groups to finish or there is some spare time after the papers have been collected in, a selection of riddles are produced. These have the desired effect of focusing the mind on something entirely different and avoid the rising panic as some pupils try to remember what answers they gave to particular questions.

Prepared

By this stage, you will be well aware of any weak spots within your pupils’ knowledge and understanding and will no doubt be addressing these areas over the coming weeks. However, being exposed to lots of different questions that cover all the topics is also useful so that pupils are not thrown by trying to tackle a topic that they last encountered months ago. Questions can be cut up and distributed to various pairs who can check their answer against a model answer when they have finished a particular question. Paired work results in pupils having to justify their ideas to their partner which can clarify their thoughts and reveal misconceptions.

Of course, even confident pupils can lose marks far too easily by not checking for sensible answers and not revisiting the question to check that they have actually answered what was asked! To avoid this, it is worth spending time looking at questions with their incorrect answers and discussing how they know that the answer must be wrong without carrying out any written calculations. This activity also encourages pupils to estimate answers which is an important skill that needs to be fostered.

Click here for a PowerPoint presentation containing some incorrect division calculation examples that can be used with your pupils.

Now while it easy to work in pairs on reasoning questions, it can be more tricky when faced with questions from the arithmetic paper. However, games can be used to practise for this aspect of the maths SATs. Providing dice or digit cards allows pupils to create the numbers involved which helps you to avoid spending lots of time creating lots of arithmetic examples. Calculators can be provided for pupils to check calculations themselves.

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 cutting up SATs-style questions and using these to create cards with the answers on the back; pairs or individuals have to see how many they can complete within a given time.

Using reasoning and playing games can result in lots of practice while still keeping pupils engaged, with the added bonus of enabling you to gain an insight into their levels of understanding by incorporating that essential element of maths sessions – discussion. However, if those insights are not what you would want to discover at this stage, you could always follow the advice of the government before World War II: