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Primary School Assessments: What is my child really expected to do?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Hundreds of four year olds are gathered in the school hall, holding onto their parents’ sweaty hands tightly. They are dressed up in their Sunday best listening to an adult waffle on and on. Then, all of a sudden, they are shuffled in the direction of another adult and ushered away with a bunch of other four year olds. At least one of the children starts to wail and refuses to go.

Depending on the school and the parents, the assessment process may be a lot more relaxed than this, but not always.

Either way, your child is gone for up to an hour. What happens during that hour?!!

If your child is hoping for a primary place in Sept 2023, you’ll find yourself in a similar scenario later this year or early next.

Over years of experience of these assessments in many schools, we summarise here what your child may be expected to do during these assessments.

Motor Development: Gross Motor Skills

These are skills requiring whole body movement which engage the large (core stabilising) muscles of the body to perform everyday functions. Your child should be able to:

• run: start, stop, and turn; hop on one foot; gallop

• walk in a straight line forwards, backwards and sideways

• walk up and down stairs with ease

• catch, throw, kick and bounce a ball easily

Children may be invited to the playground to “play”. In fact, they are being assessed on their gross motor (physical) skills.

Motor Development: Fine Motor Skills

Your child should be able to:

  1. Build blocks

• trace or draw shapes

• demonstrate proper pencil grip

• trace or print some letters (will likely be asked to write whole name)

• cut on straight lines and curvy lines using scissors

English Language and Thinking Development

• describe a picture of a family/group of animals in a scene using relatively complex sentences (“Mommy is shorter than Daddy but has longer hair.”)

• identify objects in a group (i.e all round/square objects or items of clothing, etc)

• identify colours, animals, shapes

• make sounds associated with letters of the alphabet

• read at least some of the first 100 high frequency words

• use acceptable social formulae (e.g. please, thank you, excuse me)

• use learnt formulae, well-rehearsed patterns and short simple utterances

• give some basic personal information on request

• follow simple instructions (relying on key words and context)

• extend answers to questions beyond single word responses (i.e. phrases and simple sentences)

• use simple adjectives to describe or add emphasis

• use comprehensible pronunciation, stress and intonation when speaking

• sustain concentration for a group story and be prepared to participate in answering questions and prediction activities demonstrating understanding of real/fantasy; past/present/future; cause and effect.

• communicate with other children in the group (usually 6-8 children) using English

• indicate when they don’t understand and ask for repetition

• use questions to elicit help

Children from non native English speaking families will not be given any allowance. Most schools are looking for native proficiency.


• recognise numbers 1 – 10 and/or  count to 10, possibly forwards and backwards

• continue to write numbers 11-20

• recognise shapes, copy basic shapes and identify the number of sides

Social and Emotional Development

• can separate from parents easily

• takes turns, shares, and cooperates

• Interacts comfortably with peers without adult intervention

• follows instructions

• Perseveres on challenging tasks without becoming frustrated

• Waits patiently for an adult’s attention

• Shows empathy or compassion for others’ feelings

Cooperation, flexibility, a “can do” approach are all highly regarded.

Dos and Don’ts


• Ensure your child isn’t tired, sick, hungry or needing the toilet

• Arrive 10 minutes early

• Bring any and all documents requested, but ONLY what is requested

• Dress appropriately. Parents – smart; children – smart casual.

• Prepare your child to separate from you on arrival at the school

• Tell your child they are going to play with children and teachers

• Talk about having a playdate at the school – it will be just like kindergarten

• Talk about what you need to do when your child is playing

• Tell your child you will be waiting for them when s/he finishes playing

• Be polite and completely honest with school staff. Full disclosure is always much better than discovery!

• Consider a treat and be sure to praise your child for their effort


• Hover over your child or answer questions on their behalf

• Get distracted. Turn off phones and Blackberries.

• Stress out – your child will pick up on your anxiety.

• Ask questions that are easily answered by a visit to the school’s website

• Park illegally or have your driver obstructing the area around the school

If your child is attending a reputable preschool, you can relax and trust that the preschool has a good track record of preparing their children for primary and that they are doing all of this in class.

This article was published in Playtimes in September 2017.

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