How to survive SATs (without killing your child’s love of reading!)

Teacher and children’s author Catherine Bruton gives her top tips on how to help your child survive the SATs experience - with their love of books intact

sats exams

The new super-SATs are here to stay, along with  the horrors of the subjunctive, the past progressive and subordinating conjunctions! According to studies, 80% of UK adults couldn’t pass these tough new tests, with some teachers and parents concerned the emphasis on short extract analysis and fact retrieval risks killing children’s love of reading. But studies show the most powerful way parents can influence their child’s learning journey is by engaging positively with the process.


So, how can you get your Year 6 through SATs, and keep them buzzing about books along the way? Teacher and children’s author Catherine Bruton shares here advice:

1. Rhyme your way to SPAG success

The new SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) tests are tougher than ever but  helping your child learn their parts of speech now will benefit them in all sorts of subjects later. And if the subjunctive and fronted adverbials are beyond you, this little poem has helped generations of students to get to grips with their nouns, adjectives and verbs!

Learn it as a family, recite it over breakfast, sing it in the car. Go on, you know you want to:

Three little words you often see

Are articles a, an and the.

A noun’s the name of any thing

Like house or garden, boat or swing.

Instead of a noun, you may prefer

The pronouns you or I or her.

The adjective tells what kind of noun

Black or blue,  square or round.

A verb is something to be done:

Read, write, sing, laugh or run.

How things are done the adverbs tell:

Quickly, slowly, badly or well.

A preposition comes before a noun:

On, or under, through or around.

Conjunctions join two words together:

Man AND woman, wind OR weather.

An interjection shows surprise,

Like OH, how witty! Ah, how wise!

These are all your parts of speech

Which make your SATs a joy to teach!

2. Read whole books!

The SATs Reading paper is all about extracts, information retrieval and assessment objectives, which can be a complete passion killer at a critical juncture in many children’s reading journey. So, keep reading whole books with your child – great books – books that make them desperate to turn the page, books they will want to read under the covers after lights out. Read bedtime stories together (no – they are not too old!)  and build positive associations with reading that will last them for life.

3. Know your question types

Talk about the books you read together, ask questions,  share ideas and test your child’s understanding in fun ways that will feed into SATs without them even realising it. Try the following question types:

  • Prediction questions – Stop and ask, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ Play a game of who can guess the next twist. If they get it right, you read another chapter! Make reading a reward and positive associations with books are reinforced.
  • Comparison Questions – Which character would you invite on holiday? Why? If two characters had a ping-pong match who would win? Why? SATs success is like being a detective –  finding evidence to back up your claims!
  • Summary Questions – Who can come up with the best title for the chapter?  Or a better title for the book?
  • Definition Questions – Pick a tricky word and ask if they know what it means? And how they figured it out.  Play a game of  who can find the best word that means the same thing!
  • Language questions – Find a simile then ask them what’s being compared to what? Take it in turns to name features the two things have in common – which of you can come up with a longer list?

4. 15 is the magic number

Studies suggest 15 minutes reading a day  is the “magic number” when it comes to boosting progress in the classroom! An international study  across 32 countries highlighted the correlation between reading frequency and reading scores, which is is true for all age groups. In terms of academic outcomes, daily reading is  more important than socioeconomic status, gender, family structure, or time spent on homework. And benefits increase as children get older. Among 9-year-olds, there was only an 18-point difference between children who read “never or hardly ever” and those who read “almost every day.” By age 13, the gap widened to 27 points. At age 17, it further increased to 30 points.

And, people who read 15 minutes a day are shown to have better physical and mental health. When you start reading your heartbeat slows, your muscles ease up and your state of mind changes, reducing stress levels by up to 60%!  Books are the perfect SATs stressbusters!

5. Don’t reward success!

Tempting as it may  be to offer rewards for good marks, or to shower your child with praise and gifts  if they crack the magical 100+ , the long term effects of rewarding success are less helpful than one might imagine.  This is because extrinsic motivation (whether  of the carrot or stick variety) has been shown to undermine pupil’s intrinsic motivation (that’s your child’s desire to do it for themselves). Yup – the more parents nag, cajole, bribe, threaten, reward, the LESS motivated pupils become!

Meanwhile by rewarding a child for reading/homework you are implicitly the message that reading/learning = a bad thing/worthy of a consolation prize! Treat them  for trying hard rather than for top marks!

New SAT-busting reads to keep your child buzzing about books

The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock

Athan Wilde dreams of flight. When his friend, Mr Chen, is murdered, Athan must stop his flying machine from falling into the wrong hands. But keeping the machine safe puts his family in terrible danger. What will Athan choose – flight or family? Perfect for: fans of Philip Pullman or Phillip Reeve

The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum 

Eleven-year-old Maggie lives in Fennis Wick, enclosed by a boundary, beyond which the Quiet War rages. Her elder brother Jed is a hero. Everybody loves her  younger brother  Trig. But Maggie’s just a middler; invisible and left behind. Then she meets Una, a hungry wanderer girl and everything Maggie has ever known gets turned on its head. Perfect for: fans of Malorie Blackman or Francis Hardinge

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

Aya has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. Then she stumbles across a local ballet class, but will she be allowed to stay in the country, will she ever find her father? With wonderful authentic ballet writing and an important message championing the rights of refugees. Perfect for fans of Noel Streatfield or Eva Ibbotson

White Bird by  R J Palacio

Palacio’s ‘Wonder’ was a monster his worldwide, especially with tween readers. She expanded on that world with ‘Auggie and Me; and now she  reveals the moving story of Julian’s grandmother and how she survived as a young Jewish girl in WWII France. Perfect for fans of  ‘Wonder’ and Jacqueline Wilson

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee 

Part of the ‘Rick Riordan Presents’ series, this sci-fi adventure about Min, a teenage fox spirit who runs away to solve the mystery of what happened to her older brother and ends up saving her planet is a thrilling page-turning adventure. Perfect for fans of ‘Percy Jackson’ and Eion Colfer.


>> Catherine Bruton has been teaching English for nearly 25 years and currently works at King Edward’s School in Bath. She is also the critically acclaimed author of books for children and teens, including ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ and the ‘Somersaults and Dreams’ series.