NAPLAN Explained: How Students and Parents Should Prepare

NAPLAN Explained: How Students and Parents Should Prepare

Table of Contents

Like it or not, NAPLAN is an annual event for approximately one million Australian students, and preparing for it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

For parents, navigating NAPLAN can often seem complex. Recognising this, the following overview aims to demystify NAPLAN by providing all the crucial details you need to understand, such as what is evaluated, how the results are utilized, and the most effective strategies to help your child adequately prepare for the assessments.

What is NAPLAN?

NAPLAN, an acronym for the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy, is an annual evaluation conducted in Australia for students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. It aims to gauge the literacy and numeracy skills that are crucial for a child's academic and personal development, including areas such as reading, writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and numeracy. NAPLAN is not a pass-or-fail examination but an assessment that benchmarks a student's literacy and numeracy progress against national standards. From 2023, the NAPLAN test has been administered online, offering a more tailored testing experience that adapts to a student's performance. The results are reported against four proficiency levels, providing a comprehensive understanding of a student's academic ability. The data generated from NAPLAN provides valuable insights for students, parents, teachers, and schools, aiding in personalised learning and teaching strategies.

When is NAPLAN?

Naplan is conducted annually, usually in March each year.

The National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an annual event in the Australian academic calendar. Starting from 2023, the assessments are conducted in March for students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. The exact dates may vary slightly each year, which underscores the importance of checking the official NAPLAN website or communicating with your child's school to confirm the exact testing schedule. This way, students and parents can plan effectively and ensure that the NAPLAN testing period is approached with preparedness and confidence.

The NAPLAN test and what it means for students

Since 2008, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) has been an annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in all Australian schools.

Testing is conducted over three school mornings – usually a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – in the second full week of May. All schools throughout Australia are expected to complete the tests on the same days.

The results are used to chart student progress against a national standard. This helps the government and education bodies identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching programs and set goals for any recommended changes.

For students, NAPLAN is about assessing their competency in skills that will be essential for everyday life, such as finding work, filling out forms, and understanding how to do calculations. The tests, therefore, cover skills in numeracy, reading, writing, spelling, and grammar and punctuation.

Teachers can use NAPLAN results to identify and challenge higher-performing students, as well as to support those who are not performing as well as the typical student of their age..

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is responsible for developing and implementing the nation-wide Australian National Assessment Program, including NAPLAN. They work with representatives from education bodies in all states and territories and the non-government school sector.

For school systems and governments, NAPLAN provides helpful data to support school improvement and good teaching and learning.

How students are assessed

Each test is based on content from the Australian Curriculum. The literacy tests are based on content from the English learning area, and the numeracy tests from the Mathematics learning area.

The complexity of the tests depends on the year level. The way tests are constructed should be familiar to students, including questions requiring a multiple choice or short written answer responses, for example.


The numeracy tests measure a student’s mathematical capability in four key areas – understanding, fluency, problem-solving, and reasoning. These are tested across three strands of maths – number and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability.

For students in Years 7 and 9, the numeracy tests contain a short non-calculator section of eight questions. They can use calculators for the rest of the test.

Language conventions

These tests cover key areas of literacy, including spelling, grammar and punctuation, that are essential for good reading and writing. These tests go hand-in-hand with the writing task, where spelling, grammar and punctuation are assessed in the context of a student’s creation of text.


For the writing test, students are asked to write a continuous text. They are given an idea or topic as a prompt, and asked to write a response of a specific text type (or genre). The three main genres are:

  • imaginative – these texts use language to represent and explore human experiences in real and imaginary worlds, and cover sub-genres such as fairy tales, novels, plays, poetry and illustrated books.
  • information – these use language to represent ideas and information about people, places, events, and issues, such as reports, biographies, explanations, news articles and features.
  • argument – these intentionally present a point of view or seek to persuade their audience, and include arguments, letters to the editor, debates, reviews and advertisements.

Students in Years 3 and 5 do one writing task, and those in Years 7 and 9 do a different one.

Changes in NAPLAN 2023

In 2023, there have been some significant changes to NAPLAN that parents and students need to be aware of. For the first time ever, the test was conducted entirely online. This has facilitated a much earlier release of results than in previous years.

Traditionally, NAPLAN tests were conducted in May, with the results being released towards the end of the year. However, in 2023 the test was administered in March. This earlier testing date, combined with the efficiency of online administration, means that parents and schools can expect to receive individual reports from mid to end of July.

This is a significant shift as it gives schools almost two full terms to support students in key areas based on their individual results. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has not specified an exact date for the release of the results, but the early testing date and online format make it possible for results to be released faster.

Changes in Result Presentation

Alongside these changes, there have also been modifications to the way NAPLAN results are presented. The previously used ten "proficiency bands" have been replaced by "four levels of achievement". This is intended to make the reports easier for parents to understand and better aid in comprehending their child's strengths and areas for improvement.

Importance of NAPLAN Results

NAPLAN results are significant as they provide a national assessment of literacy and numeracy for students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9. They help to identify strengths and areas for improvement in teaching programs and guide resource allocation. With these changes in 2023, NAPLAN is continuing to evolve to better meet the needs of students, parents, and schools.


While NAPLAN tests were originally all paper-based, from 2018, schools were able to opt-in to online testing. However, as of 2023, NAPLAN has shifted entirely to an online format. The test was also administered in March this year, rather than in May as in previous years.

The NAPLAN Online tests include a range of question formats and interactive features, such as audio questions, an on-screen timer, and online numeracy tools (ruler, protractor and calculator). Questions are answered by clicking, typing and dragging-and-dropping; and they can be flagged and returned to later if students need to. The tests are completed in sections, with a student’s answers to one section determining what section appears next.

This allows for tailored testing, where students are presented with questions that are more or less difficult depending on their performance in earlier questions. The idea is that students who receive questions suited to their ability are more likely to stay engaged with the tests.

A student’s NAPLAN result is based on both the number and difficulty of the questions they answer correctly.

Students completing NAPLAN Online can bring their own device, provided it is secured so that they can’t access unauthorised websites, applications, and spell-check features.

Because of the shift to an entirely online format, the results for the 2023 NAPLAN tests are expected to be released much earlier in the year. This gives schools almost two full terms to support students in key areas based on their individual results.

To see what a NAPLAN Online test looks like, visit the National Assessment Program’s public demonstration page.

How NAPLAN Measures Student Performance

NAPLAN is not your typical pass/fail test. From 2023, NAPLAN results are reported against proficiency standards, showing student achievement against four levels of proficiency. This replaces the previous numerical NAPLAN bands and national minimum standards. The NAPLAN measurement scale and time series have also been reset.

NAPLAN Results for Students, Parents and Carers (Individual Student Reports)

All students who participate in NAPLAN receive an individual report of their results. From 2023, NAPLAN individual student results are reported against proficiency standards to provide parents and carers with clear information on student achievement. These reports are provided to schools from Term 3, with the timing determined by the state or territory test administration authority. The proficiency standards are set to a challenging but reasonable level expected for students at the time of NAPLAN testing. What NAPLAN assesses has not changed.

Reading a NAPLAN Individual Student Report

The student’s result in each assessment area is classified into one of four proficiency levels: Exceeding, Strong, Developing, and Needs Additional Support. The report shows the student’s achievement against the national average for their year and the range of achievement for the middle 60% of students in their year level. The final page of the report provides a brief summary of the skills typically demonstrated by students at each proficiency level.

NAPLAN Scales and Proficiency Standards

From 2023, NAPLAN results will be reported using proficiency standards. These include four proficiency levels for each assessment area at each year level: Exceeding, Strong, Developing, and Needs Additional Support. Each of the standards represents increasingly challenging skills and understandings as students move through the years of schooling. To see a detailed description of each proficiency level download this PDF.

How Were the Proficiency Standards and Levels Set?

The proficiency standards were set by expert panels of subject area specialist teachers from states and territories. These panels classified NAPLAN questions into proficiency levels based on their judgement of what students in each year level and test domain could achieve, and the knowledge and skills expected of students at the time of testing.

How Do the Changes More Clearly Report Student Achievement?

The proficiency levels allow teachers and parents to see a measure of each student’s achievement and show more clearly whether a student is meeting expectations for their current stage of schooling. The names of the four proficiency levels are descriptive and provide a summary of students’ performances.

Is ‘Needs Additional Support’ the New National Minimum Standard?

The new ‘Needs Additional Support’ level is a better representation of students who need additional support. The previous national minimum standard provided an approximate measure of which students needed additional support but identified too few of these students.

For further information on how to interpret NAPLAN results, have a look at this video.

The NAPLAN Student Report

All students who participate in NAPLAN tests receive an individual report of their results. This report provides information on how they have performed in comparison to the national average, and in specific testing areas such as reading, writing, language conventions, and numeracy.

From 2023 onwards, these student results are reported against proficiency standards, which replaced the old band-based NAPLAN assessment scale. This new approach to reporting results is applied whether students complete the assessment online or on paper (As of 2023, the majority of students complete the NAPLAN test online. However, the exception is Year 3 students, who still complete the writing test on paper. This adjustment is made to accommodate their early stage of keyboarding skills), as the same literacy and numeracy content is assessed.

The student report contains diagrams on the second and third pages that depict the student's achievement in each area relative to one of four proficiency levels: Exceeding, Strong, Developing, and Needs Additional Support. The report shows the student's achievement compared to the national average for their year (shown as a black triangle), and the range of achievement for the middle 60% of students in their year level (shown as a light shaded rectangle).

This new format aims to provide clear and understandable information to parents and carers about a student's achievement and areas of potential improvement.

How to prepare for NAPLAN

It’s important to remember that NAPLAN is different to tests of content (such as what your child learns in a science unit, for example). Rather, it assesses literacy and numeracy skills that have been acquired over time through daily learning in the classroom. It is a point-in-time measure of a child’s performance in some specific areas of Literacy and Numeracy.

ACARA advises that the best preparation for NAPLAN is instruction in the literacy and numeracy content of the Australian Curriculum. They don’t encourage excessive drilling or cramming.

In addition to good, effective, day-to-day teaching, your child’s teachers will prepare your child for NAPLAN by ensuring that students understand the format of the tests and that they receive appropriate support and guidance.

Excessive preparation isn’t helpful. In fact, it could make your child anxious, which won’t help their performance. A better way for you to help is to reassure your child that NAPLAN tests are just one part of their school program.

ACARA recommends that parents:

  • encourage their child to simply do the best they can on the day;
  • avoid excessive cramming or coaching in the NAPLAN lead-up; and
  • speak to your child’s teacher if you have questions about how you can help your child prepare for NAPLAN.

How to improve your reading, writing and maths skills and be ready for NAPLAN

Remember, NAPLAN isn’t a test that your child can prepare for like they would for a regular subject exam. It tests skills that improve over time, which are best developed with practice throughout the year. Trying to cram in information prior to NAPLAN will likely only lead to stress and anxiety.

The ideal way to help your child prepare for NAPLAN is to continue to help them develop literacy and numeracy skills. Your child’s teacher can give you individual advice on how best to help your child develop these skills.

There are also several Australian education resources for parents seeking information about how to support the literacy and numeracy development of their children. They are available on the National Assessment Program’s “preparing for NAPLAN” page.

Online practice tests to help students prepare for NAPLAN

Another way to help your child be well prepared for NAPLAN is to ensure they are familiar with what the tests look like. A quick online search or visit to a bookstore will reveal many options for purchasing “NAPLAN-style” tests. However, many of these are not endorsed by the government or education bodies. Also take note of the published year of resources to ensure they are up to date with any changes to NAPLAN.

For the genuine article, check out the free example question booklets on NAPLAN’s website. If you’d like your child to practice on actual tests, ACARA has copies of the 2012-2016 papers on their website.

Are adjustments made for students with disabilities?

If your child has a disability (or a chronic medical condition), adjustments can be made to enable them to access NAPLAN on an equivalent basis to other students.

Adjustments need to be considered on an individual basis, in consultation with school staff and parents/carers. Try to organise this as early as possible, because some adjustments need approval by state or territory education authorities, or to ensure adequate time for the preparation and delivery of alternative test materials.

Any adjustments should reflect the kind of support and assistance provided for assessment in the classroom to enable students to demonstrate what they know and can do. However, some types of support that are fine in a classroom situation won’t be suitable as adjustments under test conditions.

For example, reading the stimulus material and/or questions to a student during the reading test is not permitted, even if this is what normally happens in their classroom context.

This is because adjustments must also be made without compromising the ability to assess the core skills being tested.

A student may have access to more than one adjustment in any test, and different adjustments may be provided for different tests.

NAPLAN Online has made it easier to provide adjustments for students with disability.  

All NAPLAN Online tests are delivered through an online assessment platform. Various types of questions are used, including audio-based spelling questions and some questions that have detailed visual material. Adjustments for students with disability might include alternative format questions that are more accessible.

For example, audio alternative questions may be applied to the conventions of language test, and visual alternative questions to the reading and numeracy tests. Other adjustments, such as increased colour contrast, are also available.

Where a student has been identified as needing alternative questions in these categories, the online platform will automatically substitute those questions.

All questions are keyboard accessible. Students with disability who need access to the questions using a keyboard only will find it helpful to preview the keyboard shortcuts for NAPLAN Online. They are also encouraged to check out the public demonstration site using only their keyboard. This will help them to be more familiar with the type of questions and functionalities available in the online test.

Naplan 2023 results

NAPLAN results are expected to be delivered to schools from mid to end of Term 3. The exact timing, however, may vary depending on your state or territory test administration authority. Individual results are strictly confidential.

Your child's school will inform you when the reports are being sent home. If you don't receive a report and your child participated in the test, you should contact the school.

The National Assessment Program also releases public reports each year. These reports provide a comprehensive national picture of student performance in various demographics and across different assessment areas.

These reports are accessible on the National Assessment Program's official website.

So, there you have it. While there's more that could be discussed, NAPLAN is a significant part of every student's educational journey. If you have any further questions about your child's participation, it would be a good idea to organise an appointment with their teacher.

Sophia Auld

Sophia Auld

Sophia Auld is the Editor of ACC’s blog. Sophia has a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Sydney, a Graduate Diploma of Divinity from Malyon Theological College and is currently completing an MA in Writing and Literature through Deakin University. Sophia has been writing since 2015 across a range of industries. Two of her children completed distance education through Australian Christian College. Sophia is known for her depth of research and accurate, evidence-based approach to writing. On the weekends you might find her scuba diving with sharks, bushwalking or hanging out with family. Sophia can be reached at [email protected].