A Subversive Reader’s Guide to Taking NAPLAN

This week is NAPLAN week in Australia, and students in Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 will be undertaking tests in reading, writing, maths, spelling and grammar and punctuation. With standardised testing becoming more high stakes in Australia – for schools, teachers and students – the stress can easily build up – especially for those students undertaking them for the first time.

This is the first year since NAPLAN started that I have not taught a class taking the test. So I know a fair bit about the test and how students handle it. Newspapers have had ‘how to deal with NAPLAN’ articles which basically just repeat parts of the test, while matching them with scare stories about nightmares and schools hiding students in closets so they can’t take the test (I made up the last bit, but give it time . . . )

So, here’s my take on NAPLAN.

The Subversive Reader Guide to Taking NAPLAN

1. Read the questions.

I cannot stress this one enough. NAPLAN is, for all purposes, a reading test. It might be a maths problem in front of you, but it is still a reading test. The more attention you pay to the words in the test, the better you will do at the test.  There are only so many ways you can make a multiple choice test ‘tricky’ (to find those students who are achieving at the higher levels) – one of them is using potentially misleading wording. Last year I co-supervised with a maths teacher. We were looking through the Year 7 maths test booklets and I said that I thought it was pretty easy. She said that there was a question she couldn’t answer . . . until I pointed out a little sentence quirk. Reading is the absolute key to doing well in NAPLAN

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

2. Plan and Take Your Time

This is mostly for older students – it’s way too much to think of for the younger ones. NAPLAN can really rush you on time, especially the maths tests, the reading comprehension and the writing. Have a rough idea of how much time you will need to devote to each question. Remember that if a question is too hard to solve in a reasonable amount of time skip it and come back! It won’t disappear when you’re not looking, and the break from the question might help you solve it better. Plus you’re not missing potential marks on questions because you didn’t get to them

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

3. Eat a good breakfast

Everyone knows the good night sleep/good breakfast combo. Sleep can be a harder thing, but a good breakfast is more easily achieved. It doesn’t have to be a special breakfast, but trying to do the test on an empty stomach is not a good idea.

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

4. Don’t cram for the tests

At this stage, there’s not much you can do to cram more information in before the tests. Use time at home to relax – get outside for a play, read a book to your child, put on some music and have a dance party. The more relaxed and comfortable they are about the test and the time around it, the better.

5. The test is not that important

I cannot stress this one enough. This is a point in time test. Even if private schools are asking for the test, they will not ignore years of good reports and focus on one bad NAPLAN mark (and if they do, it’s probably not the best school for you). Teachers will not be fired because your child forgot how to spell ‘whimsical’. The test is a point in time test which provides some helpful information to teachers and schools and gives education ministers something to talk about, because it’s too much work for them to actually understand what goes on in a school.

No one is going to care how you did in NAPLAN when you finish high school, no one is going to look up your NAPLAN test result when you apply for a job. Relax. Breathe. Read the test carefully. Try and include a joke in the written section for the poor markers. Have a good time. Smile at your teacher when you finish.

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN


Do you know someone doing NAPLAN this year? Or what is your best advice for someone doing a standardised test?



  1. I was worried for my son when he did his first naplan. There was so much build up to it, even I could sense the pressure the kids were put under.

    1. I really feel sorry for kids taking the test. They are very much at the pointy end of the pressure – pressure from Governments on Education departments, from Education Departments on Principals, from Principals on teachers. Then there’s the media pressure as well. And the idea that they might let down their teacher or school if they don’t do well 😦 It’s probably my biggest annoyance with testing

      A lot of teachers are trying to bring fun into this week – silly persuasive text questions and making up new meanings for the acronym ‘NAPLAN’ – hopefully that will lighten the load for some kids

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