How Does NAPLAN Work? Busting the 5 Biggest NAPLAN Myths

Before I jump into this myth busting, let’s outline how NAPLAN works.

The National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an annual standardised assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The test focuses on four core areas within a child’s learning:

  • reading
  • writing
  • language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and
  • numeracy.

In the second week of May, if your child is in Years 3, 5, 7 or 9, they will sit four tests for each of the core areas listed above. For the reading, language conventions and numeracy tests, students have the benefit of multiple-choice answers to select from or provide a short answer response. The writing task requires students to write a text (usually a persuasive piece or a narrative) based on a stimulus. The responses to these tests are then compiled and analysed.

The question that I hear quite frequently is, “How is it analysed?” Or “What is it used for?”

Well, between May and September, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) compiles the data from each state and territory and assesses this data against the minimum national standard. The NAPLAN results are then presented using 5 scales (reading, writing, and numeracy and then the language conventions test is split into two domains; one for spelling and one for grammar and punctuation).

This data is also presented through a number scale of ‘bands.’ There are 10 bands; whilst technically Band 10 is the highest and Band 1 is the lowest, the actual constraints varies depending on the year level.

Figure 1: NAPLAN bands per year level, retrieved from National Assessment Program website.

A bar is then displayed across the bands indicating the lowest, highest and average scores of students around the country and where your child is situated within these bars.

Now that we’ve got the basics down pat, let’s bust some myths!

Myth 1: It is a high-stakes test

NAPLAN is not a high-stakes test!

Unlike the High School Certificate (HSC) test or the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test, which affect a students’ access to tertiary education, NAPLAN’s primary purpose is to collect data to give to parents and schools to identify students’ weaknesses.

It is not an entry test into the next year level, nor is it an entry test into secondary schooling.

Myth 2: It measures your child’s intelligence

NAPLAN results do not determine your child’s intelligence!

While NAPLAN does identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses, it does not test higher-order/critical thinking, creativity or cognitive abilities such as memory! This is particularly evident depending on your child’s learning language. If your child is a visual learner then they’re most likely going to do better on NAPLAN than an auditory or kinaesthetic learner.  This is because NAPLAN is a standardised test, meaning that the questions are presented in the same format to every student (exceptions are made for students with a disability).

So if your child explains a concept better verbally, rather than in written format, their scores for the writing test will be affected. This is why it is paramount that parents are aware that this is not an intelligence measure!

NAPLAN merely identifies your child’s strengths and weaknesses as a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner. A famous quote by Albert Einstein is relevant here:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,

it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

The same can be said for an artist. If you ask an artist to calculate the volume of a cylinder, they’re probably going to get as far as drawing the shape. But, if you ask the same artist to grab a tin of paint and pour it into a cup and then calculate how much paint is in the cup, they’re probably going to have a better chance of finding the answer.

Myth 3: The delayed data release does not help my child

The data retrieved from NAPLAN testing does help your child at school!

Despite the fact that the school receives the results from NAPLAN three quarters into the school year, that information is still useful. Each child is issued with their own individual report which shows their individual performance in the five core areas, as well as how their individual results compare to those at their school and in all of Australia.

This information is also provided to the school and allows them to assess where each child sits in terms of the five criteria. By providing the school with this information, the school is able to alter their teaching methods to try different techniques to improve any of the areas.

For example, NAPLAN could show that weak spellers are relying mainly on phonics (word sounds) rather than actual spelling rules. Using this information, the school is able to allocate more time to learning spelling rules and shift away from a sound-only focus.


Figure 2: An example student result, retrieved from the National Assessment Program website.

Myth 4: You must prepare for NAPLAN to do well

Students are not expected to study for the NAPLAN tests.

NAPLAN is aligned with the Australian Curriculum, so it is an assumption that students will have already learnt most of the content that they are being tested on. ACARA does incorporate questions typically normal for students in the year above into NAPLAN tests to assess a child’s capability. With these questions, you definitely can’t prepare for them.

Excessive test practice and schools refining their core curriculum to ‘teach to the test’ is not the point of NAPLAN. Making students prepare for it by using NAPLAN practice tests is not recommended, as making it a big deal may cause students higher levels of exam stress and anxiety than necessary.

Rather, focus on viewing the tests as what they are: an assessment of my child’s strengths and weaknesses, for the purpose of shaping their learning to their needs.

Myth 5: NAPLAN does not help students develop life skills

While it is true that NAPLAN may not necessarily teach your child how to manage a piggy bank, it does help them develop the fundamental skills which are essential for day to day activities. NAPLAN identifies whether your child is a weak speller, whether they can add or subtract sums, and whether they can comprehend what they’re reading.

These skills affect how you write a resume, how you calculate a customer’s change, and how you interpret instructions to building a cubby house.

It is paramount that schools receive feedback on their students’ understanding, so that learning can be tailored to teach them those exact skills!

So if your child receives a low score in reading on NAPLAN, don’t automatically assume they’re not intelligent. Chances are, they may not be familiar with the vocabulary in the test or are probably not a visual learner! Instead, use the results from the NAPLAN test to find what their weaknesses are and build on their strengths.

If you would like any help with figuring out your child’s needs, learning language, and the possible effect it will have on their NAPLAN process, feel free to get in contact with us! All of our Academic Personal Trainers (tutors) are specifically trained to identify a student’s learning language, and would be able to help tailor your child’s work to it, thereby setting them up for greater success and understanding when it comes to the areas that are assessed!