What are optional SATs?

Child writing
SATs don’t just happen in Years 2 and 6; in many schools, children sit tests every year throughout KS2. Here’s our guide to optional SATs and why your primary school child might take them at the end of this school year, plus links to free past papers to download.

What are optional SATs?

Optional SATs are tests that can be taken near the end of school years 3, 4 and 5: the years in which children don’t have to sit proper SATs. There are two sets of papers available to parents, which were developed by the QCA and released in 2003 and 2006. There are tests in maths and English (reading and writing).

Do all schools do optional SATs?

All schools have to assess children’s progress at the end of the year. In the past, many used the QCA past papers. However, because the national curriculum changed in 2014, and new SATs are to be introduced in 2016, these papers are now outdated. Many schools will be using new optional SATs testing arrangements to mirror the new curriculum and the new primary grading system from summer 2015. Other schools will write their own tests based on the SATs rubric, while others will use ongoing teacher assessment, such as observation and classwork, to gauge progress. 

What’s the point of the tests, if they’re optional?

There are several reasons why schools use optional SATs. ‘The main benefit is to inform teachers’ assessment of how pupils are progressing,’ explains Year 6 teacher Bethan. ‘They are used to track their progression, and to guide target-setting for the following year.’ Schools are obliged by Ofsted to show how students are progressing, and SATs can be useful in validating teachers’ own assessments.

The SATs can help to identify children who are not progressing at the expected rate, so that teachers can offer extra support where it’s needed.

They can also help to familiarise children with the format of SATs, and with the experience of taking a formal exam. ‘Children are given the correct amount of time, and sit the tests under exam conditions, in silence,’ says Y5 teacher Stacey. This prepares them for the proper KS2 SATs at the end of Year 6, and allows teachers to coach children who have difficulty with exam techniques.

Are parents given the optional SATs results?

Optional SATs are usually marked internally, although some schools send the papers to an external marker. The papers are marked in line with new primary-school grading system.

Some schools give parents the results from the SATs themselves, but it’s more common for them to give a combined level based on the SATs results and teacher assessment together. ‘Our end of year assessments incorporate a range of results,’ says Year 3 teacher Amanda. ‘We recognise that some children don’t perform well under exam conditions, so we use a variety of assessments, and the SATs marks wouldn’t be given to parents as a standalone result unless they specifically asked.’ Usually, if there is a discrepancy in the results, the teacher assessment will be used.

Do we need to prepare at home?

There’s nothing specific that you need to do at home to prepare your child for optional SATs. ‘Everything they need to know gets covered within the school year,’ says Stacey. ‘All you really need to do is support your child with homework and reading and practise tables with them.’

To help your child at home with maths and English in Y3-Y5 look through our year-specific learning journeys; you can also find details of what your child learns in numeracy and literacy lessons in primary school in our guides.

Download free optional SATs past papers for Y3, Y4 and Y5

If you'd like to look through an optional SATs past paper for your child's year group, the 2003 and 2006 official papers used in schools are available for parents.

TheSchoolRun subscribers can also access our exclusive "mock" optional SATs, practice papers written to mirror the format of the official papers. Bear in mind that the past papers and mock tests are all intended as practice for the old-style optional SATs taken before 2015. The format and content of the new optional SATs will differ, but the old papers can still be used to help your child get used to taking exams.


Look through all the optional SATs papers available to download on our listings page.

Y3 English and Y3 maths optional SATs papers

Y3 English optional SATs, 2003 Y3 maths optional SATs, 2003 Y3 English optional SATs, 2006 Y3 maths optional SATs, 2006

Y4 English and Y4 maths optional SATs past papers

Y4 English optional SATs 2003 Y4 maths optional SATs 2003 Y4 English optional SATs 2006 Y4 maths optional SATs 2006

Y5 English and Y5 maths optional SATs past papers

Y5 English optional SATs 2003 Y5 maths optional SATs 2003 Y5 English optional SATs 2006 Y5 maths optional SATs 2006