Common mistakes seen by SATs examiners at key stage 2

From the 13th to the 16th of May 2019, key stage 2 children across the country will be sitting their more rigorous Year 6 SATs tests. Darryl Keane from Learning by Questions has worked in education for 10 years and during his time as a teacher, he marked the key stage 2 SATs papers of students from all over England and Wales. We spoke to him about the most common mistakes and misconceptions. Here, Darryl talks us through each paper in the order in which they will be taken and provides us with free access to Learning by Questions test questions to help your students learn to avoid these.

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling (GPS)

1. Forgetting capital letters and punctuation

It is incredibly common for pupils to forget capital letters and punctuation. Most teachers will have reminded children about capital letters and punctuation until they are blue in the face, but many are tempted to be kinder than the examiners will be and allow the mark in practice tests. Children are more likely to learn from their mistakes, so my recommendation is to be harsh and mark any such mistake as incorrect. Let your students run through a few of our practice SATs Question Sets at If they make a mistake, the system will automatically let them know where they have gone wrong and give them the opportunity to try again.

2. ‘ly’ adverbs

Many Year 6 students believe that all adverbs end in ‘ly’, or that all words that end in ‘ly’ are adverbs. In the 2018 SATs paper, pupils were tested specifically on this understanding. To provide examples of adverbs that don’t end in ‘ly’ and a more basic understanding of adverbs, our Question Set, Using and Identifying Adverbs, is perfect. The Question Set, will address this common mistake more deeply.

3. Only ticking one

While the test papers are designed to assess a student’s knowledge of GPS, it is heartbreakingly common for pupils to trip up, simply because of their reading skills. Students commonly miss vital instructions in a question such as ‘tick two’. By giving your students sample questions from our GPS Question Sets they will develop the necessary experience.

4. Not reading all the options

Another example of when a student’s reading skills can let them down is when they decide on an answer before reading all possibilities. It is important to teach them the importance of slowing down. Our SATs Practise Question Sets are designed to have the look and feel of the actual papers whilst providing feedback and a second attempt.

5. Incorrectly punctuating speech

Punctuating speech is a particularly hard skill for children (and even adults) to learn. If this is an area of weakness in your class, use LbQ’s to address all the common misconceptions and highlight exactly where gaps need filling.

6. Incorrectly formed capital letters

It may seem petty but if a capital letter is not clearly written, a pupil can lose marks. This is also the case for punctuation included in sentences not correctly formed. Right-leaning commas caused quite a stir in 2017 when children were denied marks for semicolons that failed to meet strict official standards. News earlier this year suggested that markers will be more lenient with punctuation in 2019, but capital letters could still catch out students who don’t clearly accentuate the characteristics of capital letters.


1. Timing

Managing the allotted time on any exam paper is always a challenge but particularly on the reading paper. It is only by ensuring that children build-up their reading stamina and fluency that they will secure a good pass mark. Our longer reading Question Sets Mission to Mars ( and Danger from the Nile ( help build stamina to allow children to maximise their marks. Try creating your own ‘reading papers’ on any specific topic by using Learning by Questions’ question collection feature at Simply select the relevant topic area and the Question Sets you want to take from and add questions from the list provided.

2. Not using the text to answer questions

Scanning and skimming, are important skills to locate relevant sections of text. Children often lose marks if they find and then copy partial phrases or include slight variations from the actual text; for example, writing ‘babies’ instead of ‘young’. All of our ‘Short Reads’ retrieval sets have been designed to include opportunities for children to find and copy particular phrases. For example in Ancient Egyptian Inventions (

3. Not reading the question!

Not reading the question is an ironic yet very common issue for the reading paper. Due to the time pressure, children often skim-read questions and miss key instructional words such as ‘not’; for example, answering ‘what Bob did’ rather than what he ‘did not do’. Our Question Sets provide many of these types of questions, for example, in Is There Life on Other Planets? (

4. Not giving enough evidence or repeating points in extended answers

Using direct quotes from the text is a skill that can help children use precise evidence to support their answers. All of our ‘Short Reads’ Question Sets (,4,5,6) give children opportunities to develop this skill, providing model answers so that children can instantly self-check their own extended answers

5. Being confident to express their own opinions

When children encounter a ‘Why do you think…?’ type question, they often lack the confidence to put forward their own viewpoint. Looking at the mark schemes so that children can see there are often several plausible answers, can help them develop this skill.

6. Inference

Even though children naturally use inference skills in everyday life, when it comes to inferring from texts, they often struggle to pick up the maximum number of points. Inference usually accounts for as many marks as retrieval questions (if not more), so mastering this skill is a priority. Our Short Reads’ Question Sets include dedicated inference question sets.


1.    Just add zero

Believing that you just add a zero to turn 10 into 100 is a common mistake! Children need to have a secure understanding of place value to be able to multiply or divide by 10, 100 and 1,000. Get them to try our Question Set, Multiply and Divide Whole Numbers by 10, 100 and 1,000, to see where they are struggling and help them to develop their understanding.

2.    Column subtraction

Column subtraction brings another minefield of misconceptions! Errors commonly occur when there are place-holding zeros in the larger number. Children often take the exchanged digit ‘1’ straight to the column they are working on, missing out the interim exchanges. Our Question Set, Subtract Numbers up to 3 Digits using the Column Method, will help to address these issues.

3.    ‘How many more…’ and ‘Find the difference…’ questions

Children commonly struggle to recognise these questions as requiring subtraction. Bar models are particularly useful at visually demonstrating this. If you would like questions to practice this, students can work on: Subtract Numbers Mentally.

4.    Unfamiliar representations of fractions

Many children can show ¾ when considered in the context of simple shapes such as three quarters of the cake, but with unfamiliar shapes they will often attempt to draw horizontal or vertical lines or just shade in three parts of whatever shape they are presented with. Children need to securely understand the concept of the denominator representing ‘equal parts’ to be able to apply their knowledge. Try these this Question Set: Recognise, Find and Write Fractions of a Set of Objects, which helps children to understand fractions in a range of contexts.

5.    Confusion with carried digits

When performing written calculations, children may reverse or not add carried digits, so if the ones column totals 37 they carry the seven instead of the three. Here are a few questions that will help to consolidate their understanding: Add Numbers up to 3 Digits using the Column Method.

6.    Pie charts

Pie charts always present a challenge because of the lack of numeric scales. Children need to recognise that the circle represents a whole set of data. Our Question Set, Interpret Pie Charts and Line Graphs, will help develop this understanding.

7.    Adding fractions

Another classic area where children make the most mistakes is with adding fractions; they commonly add the numerators and denominators. This misconception is challenged in all of our adding fractions sets such as Add and Subtract Fractions with the Same Denominator.

8.    Converting units of measure

This is a problem because some children don’t know, for example, how many millimetres there are in a centimetre. Try these questions to consolidate their learning: Convert Between Different Units of Measure.

9.    Pictograms

Pictogram questions are often a favourite because they are perceived as ‘easier’. However, many come unstuck because they may not be able to correctly interpret the value of one symbol. Our Question Set, Interpret and Present Data using Pictograms, gives children the feedback and opportunities to avoid this common error.

10. Shape Struggles

A great example of this is the rotated square. Even though it is exactly the same shape with four right angles, children often see it as a kite rather than a square. Feel free to use some of our Question Sets, Compare and Classify Geometric Shapes  and Practise 2D Shapes to explore this misconception.

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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