Avoiding unnecessary ‘null point’ in SATs questions

Darryl Keane

Darryl Keane from Learning by Questions has worked in education for 10 years. During his time at Pearson, he marked the key stage 2 maths papers of students from all over England and Wales.

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During his 10 years in education, Darryl Keane from Learning by Questions marked the key stage 2 SATs papers of students from all over England and Wales. In this time, he noticed that the same mistakes, many often easily avoidable, were made by students. With this year’s SATs being sat in the same week as the Eurovision Song Contest, Darryl gives us his Eurovision Song Contest style countdown to the most common SATs mistakes and misconceptions. 

Of course, many of the most regular mistakes were of concepts that are hard to learn such as punctuation in the grammar, punctuation and spelling paper and fractions in the maths paper, but others are easily avoidable mistakes that often lead to unnecessarily lost marks. So, in reverse order, here is my run down of needless mistakes that, with a little practice, can help your students to avoid deducted marks. I’ve included free access to our Question Sets to help your students re-learn and refine their skills before the big day!

In fifth place we have a section from the grammar, punctuation and spelling paper, namely ‘ly’ adverbs. Children often come unstuck here because they have learned that most adverbs end in ‘ly’ and of course many do, but others don’t.

The reason I have picked this common mistake is not only because it’s easily avoidable but also because in the 2018 SATs paper, pupils were tested specifically on this understanding. The following Question Sets from Using and Identifying Adverbs and Express Time, Place and Cause using Conjunctions, Adverbs and Prepositions, will help to reinforce their learning and address this 5th place common mistake.

Coming in 4th place is from the reading test: namely not using the text to answer questions. In the SATs reading papers many questions include some information which the students have to read and use to answer the question.

In third place from the maths paper, we regularly see confusion with carried digits. Rather than a simple and avoidable mistake this is generally because of a lack of understanding of place value.

We often see children reversing or not adding carried digits, so if the ones column totals 41 they carry the one instead of the four, not recognising the 4 as having a value of 40. Here are a few questions that will help to teach them this concept and consolidate their understanding: Add Numbers up to 3 Digits using the Column Method.

Coming in a very close second, we have forgetting capital letters and not forming them correctly. If you had a pound for every time you’d reminded your class about capital letters you probably wouldn’t still be teaching! However, sadly, it’s a very common cause of lost marks. While news earlier this year suggested that markers will be more lenient with punctuation in 2019, it is worth getting your students to carry out some additional questions to refine their skills. Letting your students run through a few of our practice SATs Question Sets will hopefully help to avoid these lost marks.

And in first place… we have ‘not reading the question properly’. Nerves, worry about running out of time, whatever the reason, this is one of the main causes of lost marks and more importantly, unnecessarily lost marks!


When children skim read questions, they can easily miss key instructional words such as ‘not’. For example, answering ‘Which sentence is punctuated correctly’? rather than “Which is ‘not’...” Our Question Sets provide many of these types of questions, to teach children the importance of spending time reading the question carefully: Is There Life on Other Planets? Another example is with questions that ask for multiple answers. We regularly saw papers where the question has asked for ‘two examples’ or to tick all that applied, and only one was given. Try creating your own ‘reading papers’ on any specific topic by using Learning by Questions’ question collection feature. Simply select the relevant topic area and the Question Sets you want to take from and add questions from the list provided. Questions from our GPS Question Sets are correctly scaffolded to help them to develop the necessary experience.

I hope these examples are useful and that having the extra questions to practice on will give your students more confidence as they go into their SATs papers. Good luck! If you would like access to all the Question Sets mentioned in this article, and over 1,000 other Question Sets covering curriculum aligned topics in maths, science and English, register for a free account today.

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