Love it or hate it, NAPLAN is a reality for about one million Australian students every year.

For parents, NAPLAN can seem confusing. In many ways NAPLAN is complicated, so this overview sets out to cover all the essential information you need to know, including what is assessed, how the information is used, and how to help prepare your child for the tests.

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 of the 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.

Numeracy

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.

Writing

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.

NAPLAN Online

While NAPLAN tests were originally all paper-based, from 2018, schools were able to opt-in to online testing. 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.

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

How NAPLAN measures student performance

It’s important to remember that NAPLAN is not like your typical pass/fail test. Instead, test results are reported on scales which demonstrate how students have performed compared to established standards.

Scales

The scales span Years 3 to 9 and are divided into 10 bands. The scales also allow a student’s progress to be mapped throughout their schooling. This short video offers an overview of the NAPLAN common assessment scale.

Standards

A national minimum standard has been defined for each year level. On the assessment scale, the minimum standards are:

  • Year 3 – band 2 of bands 1–6
  • Year 5 – band 4 of bands 3–8
  • Year 7 – band 5 of bands 4–9
  • Year 9 – band 6 of bands 5–10

These standards represent increasingly challenging skills and require increasingly higher scores on the NAPLAN scale.

The NAPLAN student report

All students participating in NAPLAN tests receive an individual report of their results, which provides information on how they have performed compared to the national average and in the specific testing areas (i.e. reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy).

Students completing the assessment online or on paper are assessed on the same literacy and numeracy content, so results can be reported on the same NAPLAN assessment scale.

The student report contains diagrams on the second and third pages that show the relevant part of the assessment scale in bands for that year level. A student’s result in each area are marked on the scales, as are the range for the middle 60 percent of students, the national average result, and the national minimum standard for each year level.

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

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.

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 have 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.

When are NAPLAN results received?

NAPLAN results are delivered to schools from mid-August to mid-September, depending on your state or territory test administration authority. Individual results are strictly confidential.

Your child’s school will let you know when the reports are being sent home. If you don’t receive a report and your child sat the test, you should contact the school.

The National Assessment Program also releases public reports each year. One, released in August, provides preliminary results from each year level and test domain by state and territory and nationally.

The second is a national report that includes results according to gender, Indigenous status, language background other than English, parental occupation/education, and geolocation at each year level and for each test domain.

If you’re interested, they are available here.

So, there you have it. While there’s lots more that could be said, NAPLAN is likely to be a part of every students’ school 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.