How much do SATs exams really matter?

Some parents feel children shouldn't be put under exam pressure at such a young age. (Getty Images)
Some parents feel children shouldn't be put under exam pressure at such a young age. (Getty Images)

This week, year six students across the UK will take the key stage 2 curriculum tests, often called SATs.

Starting on May 9 and ending on May 12, these exams include tests on grammar, punctuation and spelling, reading and maths.

Results from the SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) will be released on July 11 this year, and your child’s school will send you a report with the test results and teacher assessments.

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As a general rule, children with a scaled score above 100 are working at, or above, the expected standard for this age, while those who score below 100 may need some support to reach this standard.

But how much do these exams really matter and what are the results used for?

What are SATs?

“SATs, which are a series of standardised tests taken by primary school children in the UK at ages 7 and 11 [or nearly 7 and nearly 11], evaluate their knowledge and understanding in core subjects like English and Mathematics,” says former primary school teacher and tutor recruitment manager for GoStudent, Chris Helps.

“The primary aim of these tests is to assess students' progress and provide information about the school’s performance on a national scale.”

a young boy takes a test with a pencil
SATs aren't the be-all and end-all. (Getty Images)

Helps explains that while schools will look at SAT results and could use them as an indication of general ability on a subject, the main use of the results is to “evaluate the performance of schools and provide data for government accountability measures”.

“They can also help identify schools that may require additional support or resources and help parents make informed choices about which school they would like to send their child to,” Helps adds.

SATs aren’t the be-all and end-all

Helps says that while SATs are useful in providing a snapshot of a child’s academic progress and identifying areas for improvement, “they are only one measure of a child's abilities and do not necessarily indicate their overall potential, skills, or future success”.

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“Their significance can vary depending on different circumstances, especially with secondary schools who will use SATs results as only part of their data when assessing a child and deciding which stream the child should be placed in,” Helps adds.

“Many secondary schools will do their own teacher assessment or tests once a child has started at the school, allowing for a more targeted assessment.”

While SAT results can play a part in determining which stream your child will be in, Helps says that it is only a small part.

"The secondary school will consider a wide range of factors such as information from meeting with primary school teachers, current school policies and even placing children in classes with peers they may know from primary school and other settings," Helps continues.

"It's also common for children to move streams or classes throughout their secondary school career so where they start in September may not be where they finish."

Tips for speaking to your child about SATs

If your child is feeling anxious about exams or tests or has any questions, Helps says it’s important to explain that the test is a way for their teacher to see how well they’re doing, but that it’s not the only measure of their abilities.

“Emphasise that it's essential to try their best, but also remind them that it's okay if they find some questions challenging,” Helps advises.

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“Make sure they understand that SATs are just one part of their educational journey, and their results won't solely determine their future success. Encourage them to ask questions or express any concerns they have about the tests, so you can address them together.”

It’s also important for parents to ensure that their child maintains a balanced lifestyle during an exam period, Helps says, and ensure that the child gets enough sleep, has time for fun activities, and eats well.

“It is also essential to keep the dialogue about the SATs open, finding a calm moment each day to talk about each day’s tests so the child has a clear space to express their feelings and ask questions,” he adds.

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