A Comparison of Two National Year 6 Science Assessments

The Independent Schools Examination Board: Common Entrance Examination at 11+ (Science)

Below is the 2018 common entrance exam taken at the end of year 6. It reveals what prep schools teach their pupils in preparation for secondary schools.

My first thoughts are that the level of knowledge and application of knowledge is high. We’ve got an ambitious primary curriculum, but my year 6 pupils wouldn’t be well prepared for this.

I’m also interested in the proportion of ‘Working Scientifically’ questions. Question 5 is all about measuring and analysing data. This is worth 9 marks. Questions 6b is interesting. The question is asking for an opinion backed up by information in the text (2 marks). 6b is about fair testing and repeating measurements. It is worth 5 marks.

Together these ‘Working Scientifically’ questions are worth 16 out of the 80 available marks (20%). The rest of the questions are either retrieval or application of knowledge.

Given that many prep schools advertise their laboratory resources, I suspect pupils spend significant time working in labs. However, the exam pressures must be considerable to get in to the higher status schools, so there can be no doubt that the pedagogies used are effective at teaching knowledge recall and application. I would be very interested to see how this is managed.

2016 National Curriculum Key Stage 2 Science Sampling Tests

When the government stopped assessing science at the end of Key Stage 2 in England, there was no way of determining the standard of English children’s science education at the end of primary other than teacher assessment. This data is checked using a biannual sample assessment (my pupils were part of the sample in 2016). The school and the pupils get no feedback on their performance.

There are 6 different assessment papers (see below) – these are used statistically to infer the performance of pupils nationally.

The 2018 results are pretty shocking (see here for the full report. I wrote a shorter blog here). The summary of the summary is:

  • 21% of year 6 pupils in 2018 reached the expected standard.
  • Boys and girls were about equal.
  • Only 9% of year 6 children in 2018 who received free school meals (FSM) achieved the expected standard in science.

The 2018 assessment had 30% of questions assessing “Working Scientifically” – not dissimilar to the Common Entrance Exam.


I can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from this – more questions I suppose:

  • Do I think 20-30% ‘Working Scientifically’ is about right for a science assessment? It feels right to me: it’s important, but not more important than subject knowledge in biology, chemistry or physics.
  • How important is it that the private sector emphasises knowledge retrieval and application significantly over working scientifically? The common entrance assessment is about selecting pupils to be successful at GSCE, A-level and then university. Can I assume that there’s a correlation between knowing more substantive knowledge and later academic success?
  • Does the % marks tell us much about the % of classroom time allocated to knowledge and application vs working scientifically?

If anyone has any thought on this, please share 🙂


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