What is the Y6 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test?

Child writing
Year 6 children are all tested on their spelling, punctuation and grammar as part of the SATs. So what will your child need to know, and how can you help them brush up their skills? By Lucy Dimbylow.

What is the SPAG test?

The new English grammar, punctuation and spelling test (informally known as the SPAG test) was introduced in May 2013 as part of the KS2 SATs programme for Year 6 pupils, replacing the previous English writing test. 

‘The Government wants all children to leave primary school with a sound grasp of essential English skills,’ says a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson. ‘The test will put an additional focus on writing skills and encourage good teaching.’ 

For children taking KS2 SATs from May 2016, the SPAG test has been updated (in line with the new primary curriculum) and will be more challenging.

From 2016 children will also be tested on spelling, grammar and punctuation as part of the KS1 SATs in Year 2.

What does the SPAG test examine?

The SPAG test includes questions that assess the following elements of the English curriculum:

  • Sentence grammar through both identifying and writing sentences that are grammatically correct
  • Punctuation through identifying and writing sentences that are correctly punctuated
  • Vocabulary through identifying and writing sentences in which a word is used correctly
  • Spelling (read out parents' guide to Year 5 and Year 6 spelling patterns and rules)

What sort of questions will your child need to answer?

The SPAG test consists of two papers.

Paper 1 requires multiple choice or short sentence answers, covering areas such as using connectives (because, despite, however, etc), using pronouns (I/me) correctly, capitalising the correct words in a sentence and explaining why, putting the correct punctuation into a given sentence, writing sentences that illustrate two different meanings of the same word (such as ‘present’), identifying the verb/noun/adjective/clauses in a sentence, and using plurals correctly. For example:

Q: Which ending would make the word lazy an adverb?
A: laziness/lazily/lazier/laziest
Correct answer: lazily

Paper 2 is a spelling test, where children will have to spell words dictated by the examiner (presented within sentences). For example:

Pria turned on the television to watch her favourite cartoon.

What skills and knowledge do children need to succeed?

‘The ability to write with purpose, accuracy and clarity, drawing on a wide range of vocabulary, is integral to success,’ says a DfE spokesperson.

But for your child to do well in the SPAG test, they don’t just have to be good at writing; they also need a technical understanding of how the English language works.

As well as being able to spell words correctly, use a wide range of vocabulary and punctuate well, they need to grasp the meaning of grammatical terms such as noun, verb, adjective, prefix, pronoun and adverb, know what phrases and clauses are and how to use them, understand what connectives are and how they work, know how to turn a question into a command, and so on. This terminology can be a stumbling block even for children who are otherwise good at reading and writing, and make the questions hard to understand; for a parent-friendly guide to the vocabulary and how English and grammar concepts are taught in primary school see our primary literacy glossary for parents.

How can you help your child practise at home?

There are plenty of other ways to help your child revise for the test:

  • Copy some sentences from a book and get him to underline either the main or subordinate clause.
  • Write down some unpunctuated sentences for your child to punctuate correctly.
  • Call out a word and ask your child to tell you a synonym (a word that means the same) or an antonym (a word that means the opposite).
  • When writing letters or emails, encourage your child to add an adjective or adverb to a sentence (e.g. ‘Thank you for my wonderful birthday present’)
  • If your child asks you a question, ask how he would rephrase it as a command (e.g. ‘Can you make me a drink?’ becomes, ‘Make me a drink!’)
  • Make spelling part of everyday life! Try a few unusual strategies to improve your child's spelling, put a few teachers' spelling tricks to the test or play some great spelling games.
  • Encourage your child to read a variety of texts – fiction, information books, comics, newspapers, magazines, etc – to broaden their vocabulary.

TheSchoolRun also offers a selection of grammar worksheets and spelling practice worksheets – browse through our resources to find the right ones for your child, as well as looking through our SPAG 'mock' papers, available to subscribers.

Can I see some examples of the KS2 SATs grammar test?

The SPAG test was new in 2013, so the only official past papers available to include the grammar, punctuation and spelling test are the KS2 SATs English 2013 and KS2 SATs English 2014 ones. The DfE also has one set of sample papers that relate to the new format and content of the test, introduced for 2016.

TheSchoolRun has also produced practice papers, written in the style of the pre-2016 test, which are available to subscribers (click on the images below to access each paper).