What is NAPLAN and why is it important?

We’ve all heard of it - NAPLAN - the ‘National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy’. While the NAPLAN tests are often dreaded, it is important to understand what exactly they are and why they offer an important tool for students, parents and schools alike.

2 months ago   •   4 min read

By Michaela Spiteri
Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu / Unsplash


We’ve all heard of it - NAPLAN - the ‘National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy’.

While the NAPLAN tests are often dreaded, it is important to understand what exactly they are and why they offer an important tool for students, parents and schools alike.

What is NAPLAN?

NAPLAN is a government assessment program that tests students' literacy and numeracy skills across primary and secondary school. Students are assessed every 2 years, in Years 3,5,7 and 9. The program was introduced by the government with the rationale that literacy and numeracy skills provide an important foundation for future study and everyday life skills that are required in the community and workforce - and to improve these skills, they must be assessed!

There are several tests that take place across the three days with each test focused on different skills: reading and writing, spelling and grammar (language conventions) and numeracy.

The content of each test is based on the nationwide English and Mathematics Australian Curriculum. It’s also worth noting that throughout 2022, NAPLAN is transitioning to a completely online mode of assessment, replacing paper tests entirely.

How are the tests structured?

Here’s a quick breakdown of how the tests are structured across the three days:

DAY 1

Language Conventions

  • Year 3 and Year 5: 40 mins
  • Year 7 and Year 9: 45 minutes

Language Conventions is designed to assess the student’s understanding of all things language: grammar, spelling, punctuation etc. Questions come in the form of multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank.

Writing

  • Year 3 and Year 5: 40 mins
  • Year 7 and Year 9: 40 minutes

The writing test will prompt students to write a concise and original text (either creative or persuasive) in response to a given stimulus and question. Students are encouraged to plan their response in the planning space provided.

DAY 2

Reading

  • Year 3 and Year 5: 45-50 mins
  • Year 7 and Year 9: 65 minutes

The reading test is a comprehension-style assessment which assesses the ability to read, interpret and appropriately respond to a range of textual materials. Students are provided with a reading booklet which contains extracts of several text types that they will respond to in their answer booklet (containing both multiple choice and short answer questions).

DAY 3

Numeracy

  • Year 3 and Year 5: 45-50 mins
  • Year 7 and Year 9: Calculator 40 mins and Non-calculator 40 mins

The Numeracy test assesses students’ numeric and problem-solving skills when answering a range of multiple, choice, short answer and fill-in-the-blank style questions. In the later years, students will sit both the calculator and non-calculator test.


Why is NAPLAN important?

Although NAPLAN might be criticised, the program has its benefits.

  1. It provides a valuable means to assess whether schools are achieving their learning and teaching objectives and facilitates a comparison between schools and states throughout Australia.
  2. NAPLAN obviously also assesses students individually. First of all, it provides this nationwide comparison, allowing parents and teachers to know whether their child/ student is above or below the national mean. Secondly, since the assessments are completed across the course of 6 years, NAPLAN also provides an opportunity to assess student progress and development.
  3. Importantly, NAPLAN intends to provide transparency of results, in turn creating an accountability mechanism for the government and schools in how they allocate their teaching resources and achieve those objectives that we mentioned earlier.
  4. NAPLAN supports improvement of teaching. Schools and students can monitor their progress against the national standard and identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

But at the end of the day, NAPLAN is only a snapshot with data taken from a few tests - it is only one measure of assessment and reporting that takes place during the school year.


Preparation tips

While it's natural to feel nervous for any assessment, you should remind yourself (whether student or parent) not to place too much pressure on the NAPLAN assessments. They are designed to assess the natural literacy and numeracy skills of students - while these skills can be practised and developed, students cannot ‘study’ for the exams per se. Each year, the content of the tests will vary. There are a surplus of NAPLAN practice papers available out there. While these can be helpful to understand the format of the tests, they are definitely not the be all or end all and there are other valuable ways to ‘prepare’ for the tests.

Students should focus on how they can improve their personal reading, writing, language and numeracy skills. You might start by completing a few tests and marking those tests to identify areas of weakness. Once those areas are identified it is important to hone in on them - there’s no point continuing with practice tests and getting the same sort of questions wrong if students don’t have the opportunity to learn how to achieve the correct answer next time.

Completing little exercises that put literacy and numerical skills into practice is another valuable way to ‘prepare.’ The focus should be on improving these skills rather than actually ‘studying for NAPLAN’. For example, students might be encouraged to sit down, plan and write a creative piece for 30-40 minutes - it doesn't have to be serious study but it will allow them to practise the literacy skills that the test will be assessing.

It’s also worth remembering that your school will inherently be teaching you these skills and preparing you as you go so it is not overly necessary to rigorously prepare for these tests - just some light preparation to ease the nerves and you should be good to go!


If you're a student or parent in need of some extra help in the lead up to NAPLAN or are looking to improve those literacy and numeracy skills, we can find the perfect tutor match for you!

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