PAT Early Years Maths

The following topics are covered in this article:

Assessment overview 

PAT Early Years Maths is an assessment covering the early development of mathematical skills with a strong focus on number. A range of measurement, space, and statistics skills are also assessed, with limited coverage of algebra and probability. The assessment has been specifically designed for the first two years of formal schooling (Foundation and Year 1), a time when students are building their foundational mathematical skills.

There are four PAT Early Years Maths tests, which increase in difficulty and are accessible across the two-year period. The Start Foundation and Mid-Foundation tests are designed for the first year of school and the Mid-Year 1 and End Year 1 tests for the second year of school. The number of tests provided allows educators to monitor progress of a variety of mathematical skills throughout the year.

As with all PAT assessments, each PAT Early Years Maths test is made up of items – or questions – that cover a spread of difficulty and allow for some overlap in the skills assessed between the previous test and the next test. There is no common content; each test has a unique set of items.

The PAT Early Years Mathematics Framework covers six strands of early mathematics and aligns to the Australian Curriculum.

The six strands are:

  • Number
  • Algebra
  • Measurement
  • Space
  • Statistics
  • Probability

The PAT Early Years assessment data is reported on the same scale as the PAT Maths 4th Edition assessment, enabling longitudinal tracking of students from the early years of school through to Year 10. The PAT Early Years strands are the same as those reported in PAT Maths.

The PAT Early Years tests were developed exclusively for online administration and contain audio support as students in the first two years of school are still learning to read. Most questions and instructions are delivered via audio as well as text. Students can listen to each question or instruction multiple times. The only reading required is where mathematical knowledge is being assessed (for example, recognition of the words for numbers). Students are able to independently navigate the assessment at their own pace.

PAT Early Years Maths is designed to be administered on a tablet where young students can touch the screen to respond, rather than having to operate the ‘moving and clicking’ of a mouse. If only desktop computers are available, teachers should monitor and support young students to record their responses using a mouse. There are two ways to respond to a test item – by ‘touching’ (or ‘clicking’) on an image or text or by ‘dragging and dropping’ objects or digits. Items can be standalone or part of a unit of items having a common stimulus. It is crucial that all students complete the practice program to understand how to navigate and interact with these items.


Choosing the right test 

The PAT Early Years tests have been named 'Start Foundation', ‘Mid-Foundation’, ‘Mid-Year 1’ and 'End Year 1' to indicate a suggested time to administer the tests to students and to communicate the progressive difficulty of each test. A brief outline of the content assessed by each test is included below:

  • Start Foundation – students count, combine and share collections; recognise and order digits under 20; complete simple patterns; interpret positional language; compare quantities, lengths and sizes; and name simple shapes and order objects.
  • Mid-Foundation – students recognise and order digits 0–99; skip count by 5s; solve simple problems involving addition, subtraction and sharing with numbers up to 50; interpret simple graphs; compare volume and mass; and identify common 3D shapes
  • Mid-Year 1 – students recognise and order digits 0–999; identify and represent place value; solve simple problems involving addition, subtraction and sharing with numbers up to 100; represent problems with number sentences; complete 4-element patterns with rotation; skip count backwards by 2s; measure length in centimetres; identify simple features of 3D shapes; and compare data in a simple table.
  • End Year 1 – students recognise and order digits 0–9999 including using number lines; solve simple problems involving addition, repeated addition, subtraction and sharing with numbers up to 100; skip count by 3s; identify 2D features in 3D shapes; insert, compare and combine data in simple graphs; identify the probability of events happening; and make simple interpretations of calendars.

There are some important caveats to this information:

The test names are guidelines only
As with all PAT assessments, the aim is to provide the student with a test that will enable them to answer about half of the items – or just over – correctly in order to establish what the student already understands and ‘where to next’ in their learning. It is strongly recommended that teachers familiarise themselves with the content of the four tests and use their expertise and judgement when deciding which test is most appropriate for each student.

Avoid unnecessary over-assessment of the same skills
Some state education departments in Australia already provide school-entry mathematics tests for Foundation students. These assessments may be mandatory and are usually a one-on-one interview style (with the teacher and student), but can be other tools such as observational records. There is no added value to be gained from running two school-entry assessments with a child in the same time frame; this is likely to just add unnecessary fatigue and stress to both teacher and students. Rather, evidence gleaned from any State-provided school-entry tests can be used to inform the teacher of which PAT Early Years Maths test is most appropriate to use in four to six months’ to see what progress has been made.

Learning progress is accelerated in the first two years
PAT Early Years Maths provides four tests across a two-year period, which aligns to testing times every six months, rather than once a year for other PAT assessments. This is because learning in the first two years of school generally occurs at a faster speed than learning at other times in formal schooling and requires more frequent monitoring of progress and potential gaps.
The assessments are designed to be diagnostic and to pinpoint strengths and gaps early so that monitoring of long-term progress can be better followed. Therefore, administration times of the tests can be adjusted to the needs of the student. For example, by allowing longer than six months between tests for a struggling student (while using other resources and teacher judgement to indicate when they will be ready for the next test) and allowing a shorter period of three or four months for a student who is improving rapidly and working beyond their expected level.

A small amount of content is beyond the F–1 curriculum
Many important factors were taken into account when designing the content and structure of the four tests. They needed to capture the skills of as many students as possible, without containing too many items that would cause fatigue and stress. It is important to identify the skills of lower-performing students to establish a starting point for teaching and planning. For this reason, some test content is pre-Foundation level. It is just as important to identify how far ahead high-performing students are so that they are also given the appropriate learning path and do not become disengaged with content that is too easy for them. Therefore, there is some content that goes beyond the recommended year level, appearing sparingly in the first set of tests and increasingly in the final test. The End Year 1 test includes some questions at a Year 2 level. Teachers should use their own expertise and evidence to decide which students are capable of this test, remembering that they do not need to get everything correct in a PAT test for good measurement purposes.

Administering the tests 

Test administration instructions

The practice program

All students (even the very tech savvy) should complete the practice program prior to sitting a PAT Early Years Maths assessment for the first time. This can be assigned to students in the same way the tests themselves can be assigned.

It is strongly recommended that the teacher first models the practice program for students and then gives students the opportunity to complete the practice program by themselves. In particular, students need enough practice to ensure that they understand how to navigate the digital stories within the tests.

Students are not able to return to previous questions once they have clicked Next. The test questions are designed to be attempted in sequential order, so students should practise clicking Next only once to avoid accidentally skipping questions.

The practice program can be done at any time in the year and is recommended to be done at least twice in the week leading up to the assessment, but not immediately before the assessment itself, as this makes for an overall longer test time for very young students.

The practice program is designed to model all the navigation and question formats that appear in the test. The practice questions are intentionally easy, so that students are not distracted by the content and are able to focus on becoming familiar with the navigation.

Students can have unlimited teacher support for the practice program. Response data is not part of the final score.

The role of audio

Audio support is embedded in the PAT Early Years Maths tests and so headphones or a quiet space is needed for each student, but it is important to note that the students do not all need to complete the assessment at the same time. The audio ‘button’ that appears onscreen is used to hear instructions. This means that once a student has worked through the practice program and is confident with navigation, the teacher is not required to read out instructions or questions for the student. It is crucial that students are given time to work through the practice program to make sure they understand how to activate the audio and navigate through the assessment correctly.


The PAT Early Years Maths tests have been designed so that calculators are not required. It is recommended that students do not use calculators so that teachers can monitor students’ ability to perform simple calculations.

Students with additional needs

Teachers are able to support students with additional needs by providing help with operating the device/desktop to record responses. The embedded audio feature already provides an extra level of support for a number of needs including some levels of visual impairment. Any significant changes to the testing conditions should be recorded for future reference and consideration when looking at test results.

How long will it take?

These times are only a guideline provided for teacher scheduling. The assessments are not timed and students are encouraged to go through them carefully and at their own pace.

  • Maths practice program: 4–8 minutes
  • Maths assessment: approximately 20–35 minutes

Each test is made up of 30 questions. Students need to complete one test in one sitting. The time students spend on the test may vary considerably depending on their level of skill and the pace they prefer. Once logged in, students can complete the assessment independently. Students with no previous computer experience are likely to require some ongoing support. ACER recommends small group administration of between 6–10 students who can be supervised by a teacher aide.


Using the results 

Scale scores are the best way to track growth over time in the PAT Early Years Maths tests and continuing on into the PAT Maths 4th Edition tests from Year 2 to Year 10, which report on the same PAT mathematics scale.

Not all relevant content and skills can be included in the four PAT Early Years Maths tests and still keep them within a 30-minute time frame for each. The data generated should be regarded as indicative and teachers should always follow up with individual students if the data does not match other evidence that the teacher has gathered. Evidence derived from various sets of data (for example, strong counting skills but weak spatial skills) can be compared and recorded to build a rich student profile.

Determining students’ current levels of achievement within the PAT learning domain
PAT student achievement is measured in PAT scale scores. PAT tests within a learning domain are all equated onto a common scale using Rasch scaling methodologies.
The student’s PAT scale score establishes where they are on a learning continuum.

Observing differences in ability between students and inferring learning progress over time
Using the common scale, PAT scale scores within a learning area can be directly compared within and across tests and year levels.
PAT scale scores can be used over years of schooling to monitor progress. The PAT scale describes what typical progression looks like in the learning domain.
The PAT Maths achievement band descriptions provide a detailed outline of the abilities that learners typically demonstrate as they progress along the scale, indicating those skills that students have likely mastered and those they are still consolidating.

Identifying particular areas of strength and weakness for individual students and groups
The Group and Individual Reports allow teachers to diagnose student achievement within a particular strand, such as 'number' or 'measurement'.

Supporting and supplementing the results provided by other standardised assessments
PAT scales are unique to PAT assessments and do not align with any other standardised assessments. PAT results can be used in conjunction with evidence collected from other formal and informal assessments to form a clearer understanding of student ability in the learning domain.


Supporting documents 

Test administration instructions
Instructions for teachers and staff members responsible for administering and invigilating PAT Early Years Maths tests. 

Strands and achievement band descriptions
Descriptions of the strands assessed by tests on the PAT Maths scale and the typical skills associated with each PAT Maths achievement band. 

Test and item difficulty
Outline of the relative difficulty of items in each PAT Early Years Maths test, as measured by the PAT Maths scale. 

Reference groups
Technical specifications of the PAT Early Years reference groups.
Note that the schools and students are self-selected and the reference groups do not form norms or Australian representative samples.

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