This book is aimed at pupils in Year 9 at secondary schools in England and Wales. At the end of Year 9, when pupils are on average aged fourteen, they sit the National Tests for the end of Key Stage 3 before embarking on the GCSE syllabus in Year 10. There are now some schools who enter more able pupils for these tests at the end of Year 8, so the book may be of interest for them as well.
As with the other two books, this one comprises a set of six test papers, the first four of which contain three reading passages followed by comprehension questions and also a writing assignment that is linked to the topic of the reading texts. The topics of the test papers are London, Pigeons, Food, Farms, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. These last two are included because pupils study a Shakespeare play in Year 9 and are questioned on it in the National Test. The problem, however, is that the syllabus has recently changed; whereas the majority of pupils used to study Macbeth, most of them are now studying Much Ado About Nothing. The Shakespeare component of this book is therefore now sadly out of date, and the two test papers presented at the end of the book have no real relevance for pupils preparing for the Key Stage 3 tests. If you buy this book for your child, you should be aware that only the first four test papers will be of use.
So, are these four test papers worth their salt? There is certainly a good variety, with twelve texts in all, ranging from non-fiction to fiction and poetry and including passages by some of our greatest writers such as Dickens, Orwell and Wordsworth. As well as Wordsworth’s ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’, we have contemporary Roger McGough’s delightful poem ‘Pie in the Sky’ in the Test Paper on Food. Here we also find an excerpt from ‘David Copperfield’ where David as a young man finds a waiter in an inn taking advantage of him and eating his dinner for him. The Test Paper on London has a text on the history of London as well as a modern description; the Paper on food has an unusual item in the form of a recipe for green pea pottage from The Medieval Cookbook. There is an interesting extract on organic farming in the fourth Test Paper, alongside a passage from ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, whom pupils may remember from the extract from ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ in the Year 8 book. Plenty of exposure here, then, to different types of writing.
The questions on these texts attempt to mirror the type of questions that pupils will encounter in the National Tests. They range from pointing out reasons for using hyphens and dashes (differentiating between the two) to explaining similes or selecting and copying phrases that say which parts of a farm are safe for children to enter. There are, in addition, questions that require fuller, detailed answers that would carry several marks in the National Tests. As an example, for the pottage recipe, pupils are asked to explain the purpose of each of the four paragraphs and ‘comment on the features of the language used’. This is quite a demanding task, but the book gives advice on answering all of the questions, and for this particular one it suggests (and shows) how information could initially be collected in the form of a chart with entries for verb tenses, incomplete sentences, use of the imperative, and so on.
As for the writing assignments, each one is intended to take about forty-five minutes. Topics range from writing a discussion on what can be done about animals that are a nuisance (in the paper on pigeons) to writing a real or imaginary restaurant review. Each writing task is followed by a list of bullet points suggesting ideas and then a section that demonstrates how to make a preliminary plan.
In case anyone is interested, I will mention that the excerpts from Macbeth are from Act 1 Scene 7 and Act 5 Scene 1. For Twelfth Night, they are from Act 2 Scene 4 and Act 3 Scene 1. For both plays, the extracts are followed by a series of ‘Points to think about when reading the passage’ with quite a number of basic questions to prompt an analysis of the scene. Then there is a thirty-minute writing task which is loosely tied to the play in question (for Twelfth Night it centres on the idea of disguise) and finally a ‘Reading and Understanding task’, which for Macbeth requires the pupils to show an understanding of how the character of Lady Macbeth changes during the play. These two Test Papers could perhaps be of use to someone studying the plays at a fairly low level.
You can of course find several books in local branches of W H Smith or Waterstones that are specifically aimed at giving pupils practice in preparing for the KS3 National Tests and that will have been updated to cover the syllabus’s current Shakespeare plays, one of which has to be studied. It may make more sense to buy one of these, but I do feel that Testing KS3 English Skills and Practice Year 9 is a worthwhile addition if you are still looking for extra reading and writing tests. I use these tests on a one-to-one basis with pupils who are usually not the most able. I do not carry them out under timed conditions, but I find it extremely worthwhile to spend as much time as is necessary on reading and then talking through the kind of answers that are required before the pupil is expected to write them down. I do like the varied range of texts here that give pupils an introduction to some of our most famous writers as well as the chance to read fiction and non-fiction passages.
The book is currently available at a low price on Amazon Marketplace, but remember of course that postal charges will be applied on top of this. If you are not satisfied with the run-of-the-mill revision books that you find in your local bookstore, or if you have exhausted these and still require more practice, I would recommend Testings KS3 English Skills and Practice Year 9. I have only awarded three stars, but this is because the Test Papers on the Shakespeare plays are now not relevant for Year 9. The first four Test Papers are of an excellent standard and should prove extremely helpful.
Testing KS3 English Skills and Practice Year 9
Ray Barker and Christine Moorcroft
Nelson Thornes 2003
Paperback, 64 pages