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7 NAPLAN facts every parent must know

It seems NAPLAN is here to stay. While it might inject stress into the lives of students and parents, understanding it will help to allay any fears.

Here are seven facts about NAPLAN that every parent should know, so you can be well-prepared when the “dreaded tests” roll around.

1. What is NAPLAN?

NAPLAN stands for “National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy”. It started in 2008 as an annual assessment for all Australian school students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. 

It measures student achievement in literacy and numeracy against a national standard at particular points in their progression through school.

NAPLAN is one arm of the National Assessment Program (NAP), which monitors and reports on student achievement across Australia in a consistent way that allows comparisons to be made over time and between groups.

The NAP includes all the assessments (both domestic and international) that the Australian Government and state and territory education authorities have agreed Australian students should sit. 

All NAP tests are developed and delivered by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). ACARA collaborates with state and territory education bodies and representatives from the non-government school sector to administer the tests. 

2. Why do NAPLAN?

You might be wondering why so much emphasis is placed on NAPLAN. The results can be helpful in tracking students growth over time but it’s more than a measure of individual student progress. NAPLAN results are important because they measure how well our education system is equipping Australian students with vital literacy and numeracy skills.

NAPLAN results are important to:

  • governments and education bodies – the results help to find strengths and weaknesses in education programs and to set goals for any needed changes. Data from NAPLAN indicates areas needing greater resourcing, which can help to direct funding where it is needed or will be most effective. School systems use NAPLAN results to guide quality teaching and learning and school improvement.
  • Teachers – NAPLAN results help teachers evaluate the effectiveness of their classroom teaching programs. They can also help identify higher-performing students and those who are not performing as well as expected so that appropriate challenge and support can be provided. Teachers have access to student results for every question, so they can work on strategies to improve outcomes where necessary.
  • Parents – results give you information about how your child is performing against national standards, not just against other children in their class.
  • Students – NAPLAN assesses competence in skills that are essential to everyday life, for tasks such as completing forms, getting a job, and knowing how to do calculations. It gives students an opportunity to show what they have learned.

3. Who does it?

All students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9 enrolled in  Australian schools are required to sit NAPLAN. However, some students may be exempted from one or more of the NAPLAN tests. These include students with a significant or complex disability, or those from a non-English-speaking background who arrived in Australia less than one year before they are due to sit the tests. 

It’s important to note that exemption is not automatic, and parents should liaise with the school regarding their child’s participation. Support for students with disability can be provided to help them sit NAPLAN tests. Signed parent/carer consent forms are required for students to be exempted from the tests or for them to receive certain types of support..

Students may also be withdrawn by their parent/carer if they have religious or philosophical objections to testing. In this case, a formal application to the principal, in the manner required by each state or territory, must be received prior to the test dates. Your principal can provide further information about the withdrawal process.

If your child gets sick on a testing day, the school can organise for them to complete missed tests at another time during testing week.

Read more on this post about how to help your student prepare for NAPLAN.

4. What does NAPLAN measure?

NAPLAN tests are based on the Australian Curriculum and include tests across four learning areas. They are:

  • Reading 

These tests measure literacy proficiency in the written English learning area. They measure how well students can apply language conventions (such as comprehension) in a reading context. 

Tests require students to answer questions based on reading a range of texts from a magazine. Because reading ability varies widely within each year level, the tests start with simple, short texts and get progressively longer and harder.

  • Language conventions

These tests cover the key literacy areas of spelling, grammar and punctuation within the English curriculum. These skills are crucial for reading and writing. 

They complement the writing task, which assesses these skills in context, but also recognise that students’ understanding of language conventions is needed for reading.

  • Writing

The writing test requires students to write a continuous text in response to an idea or topic they are given as a prompt. This response must be in a specific text type (or genre), which to date have included narrative writing and persuasive writing. 

Responses are marked by assessors with comprehensive training in how to grade using the ten writing criteria. Australia-wide, markers use the same criteria, receive the same training and are subject to the same quality assurance measures.

  • Numeracy

Numeracy tests measure a student’s mathematical ability in the areas of understanding, fluency, problem-solving and reasoning. They are tested across three domains – number and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability.

For years 7 and 9, numeracy tests have a short calculator-free segment, but calculators can be used for the rest of the test. 

The tests become more complex with advancing Year levels. They use familiar response types such as multiple choice or short written answers. Tests may be done on paper, but the aim is for them all to be delivered online by 2021. 

5. How NAPLAN is assessed

Unlike many tests, there is no pass or fail with NAPLAN. Rather, results show where individual students perform on scales that are referenced to national standards


Scales covering Years 3 to 9 and are divided into 10 bands. Because they span all the testing years, they allow a student’s progress to be mapped across their schooling. Learn more on this short video about the NAPLAN common assessment scale.


The scales show the national minimum standard for each test at 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 difficult skills and require progressively higher scores on the NAPLAN scale.

6. How it is reported

All students who do NAPLAN will receive a NAPLAN student report. This provides individual results and information about how they have performed compared to the national average in each testing area.

On the second and third pages of the report, diagrams show the relevant part of the assessment scale in bands for your student’s year level. Your student’s result in each testing area is marked on the scales. You’ll also see the national minimum standard, the national average result, and the range for the middle 60 percent of students.

Whether students do the assessment online or on paper, they are assessed on the same content, so results can be reported on the same NAPLAN assessment scale.

This video has further helpful information about interpreting NAPLAN results. 

7. When is NAPLAN?

Australia-wide NAPLAN testing happens in the second full week of May across three school mornings – most commonly a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All Australian schools are required to complete the same tests on the same days.

Schools receive NAPLAN results between mid-August and mid-September and your child’s school will inform you when reports are being sent home. 

For anything else you need to know, check out the NAPLAN website

About the author

Brendan Corr has been working in the education sector – initially as a secondary school Science Teacher, then as a Principal – for more than three decades. He is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).

Author: Brendan Corr

Brendan Corr

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