PAT Spelling Skills

PAT Spelling Skills is a set of online spelling assessments that allow you to identify the extent of students’ English spelling skills, to diagnose gaps, identify strengths and weaknesses, and to monitor student progress over time.

The following topics are covered in this article:

Related article: PAT Spelling Skills validation and updates 2024


PAT Spelling Skills (2022) comprises twenty audio-based tests organised into five sets. Multiple tests of similar difficulty within a set provide flexibility to monitor spelling development before and after instructional interventions and allow teachers to conduct annual testing to measure longitudinal progress.

The five sets of tests are of increasing difficulty, allowing teachers to select the tests that are most appropriate for students’ level of spelling skill. The construct further expands the kinds of skills that are likely to support students’ improved spelling.

PAT Spelling Skills is recommended for students from Foundation to Year 10. Very basic computer skills are required – use of a mouse or touchscreen for Early Years students, while some test items in higher sets require older students to correctly type words. The easiest tests suit students who have started to learn to spell, while the hardest tests have many words with challenging spelling.

PAT Spelling Skills is a substantially revised and improved set of spelling tests and the expanded scope of the new tests means a new spelling scale is required. The older PAT Spelling (2011) is still available for schools choosing to continue tracking student progress on the previous spelling scale.

When to assess

As a school, you should be clear on your purpose for using PAT assessments and carefully plan your assessment approach, especially when monitoring of student learning progress over time.

Most schools administer their PAT assessments towards the end of each school year to identify the skills students have attained, to identify specific areas where students need support in their learning and to measure growth from the previous year. This also corresponds with the time of year that the Australian norm or reference group data are typically collected, allowing for more meaningful comparisons.

Some schools choose to use PAT at the beginning of the year, placing a greater emphasis on teachers acting on the diagnostic information. Others use PAT both at the beginning and end of the year in order to maximise the diagnostic information available to monitor growth throughout the year.

Monitoring progress

For the purpose of monitoring student progress, a gap of 9 to 12 months between PAT testing sessions is recommended. Learning progress may not be reflected in a student's PAT scale scores over a shorter period of time. Longitudinal growth should be measured over a minimum of two years of schooling, or three separate testing sessions, in most contexts. This will help account for possible scale score variation, for example where external factors may affect a student's performance on a particular testing occasion.

If students are making great strides in their learning, more frequent testing may be warranted. Spelling is a discrete skill that can be improved with sustained intervention, so multiple tests are provided within a set to allow you to assess students more frequently – up to twice a year. This is only recommended where there has been a focused spelling program.

Choosing the right test

For an assessment to produce valuable information about students’ abilities, it needs to be able to demonstrate what students can do and understand, as well as what they cannot yet do and understand.

When a student can answer around 50% of the questions correctly, the test is well targeted and provides considerable information about the skills a student is demonstrating, and those she or he is still developing.

To make decisions about which test is most appropriate for a particular student or group of students, it is essential that you preview the test content:

  1. Click Students
  2. Click Tests
  3. Click Preview

The difficulty of a test and your knowledge of each student should be taken into consideration when selecting an appropriate test form. Curriculum appropriateness and the context of the classroom also need to be taken into account when making this decision.

There is often a wide range of ability within the classroom, so it is not necessary to provide all students in a class with the same test. Instead the focus should always be each student’s ability at the time of the assessment, not where they are expected to be.

The five PAT Spelling Skills sets each target a general stage in spelling development. The sets are not aligned with year levels as the range of spelling skills in any year level can vary widely. Choosing the right test is necessary in order to ensure that students’ results provide useful information about their current ability in the learning domain.

The sets are designed to support you to select appropriate tests that match students’ current spelling skills. This structure also helps to give teachers a broad understanding of the spelling needs of their students.

There are multiple tests within each set. This recognises that after Set B, students’ spelling progress is likely to be slow as there are many complexities to learn in spelling words in these sets. Tests in Set C are likely to be appropriate for the same students for several years. Tests in Set D are also likely to be appropriate for several years. Within each set, the 1 and 2 tests are the easiest, and the 3 and 4 tests are more difficult.

Set A is appropriate for students who have started to spell some simple words with three letters or fewer.

Sets B to D are appropriate for primary and secondary students depending on their level of spelling skill and the extent of their vocabularies.

Set E targets students with good spelling skills and wide vocabularies, typically mid-secondary and higher. It focuses on complex spelling including unfamiliar words and many words considered to be ‘spelling demons’.

Sets and tests and words

The following table presents examples of words assessed by tests within each PAT Spelling Skills set. This information can be used to assist you assigning appropriate tests to your students according to their current spelling abilities.

Set A Set B Set C Set D Set E

Letter skills

These letters join together to make all the words in the English language.

Short, high frequency words

These words are like keys – they unlock all the other words in the list.

Polysyllabic, everyday words

These are the most helpful words in English because they are used all the time.

Polysyllabic, less common words

These words are not used in everyday speech, but are used in literature, science and journalism.

Challenging and unusual words

These words might be quite common, but people make lots of mistakes with them.

  • dog
  • at
  • stop
  • met
  • cap
  • of
  • in
  • sleep
  • trip
  • crack
  • tie
  • may
  • bank
  • net
  • splash
  • an
  • best
  • will
  • shy
  • lane
  • link
  • lose
  • stole
  • trucks
  • mash
  • heat
  • dress
  • trust
  • north
  • blew
  • begin
  • many
  • until
  • squeak
  • money
  • people
  • finally
  • across
  • speech
  • manager
  • without
  • community
  • somebody
  • becoming
  • describe
  • unusually
  • varnish
  • climate
  • soldier
  • truly
  • deposited
  • unique
  • bacteria
  • groaned
  • enormous
  • susceptible
  • privilege
  • influences
  • sequential
  • composition
  • grievance
  • intelligent
  • sphere
  • thistle
  • cemetery
  • indict
  • efficacy
  • occurring
  • intelligence
  • silhouette
  • minuscule
  • pronunciation
  • acquire
  • colloquial
  • accommodate
  • schism
  • incomprehensible

Administering the tests

The Test Administration Instructions linked at the bottom of this page provide further detail, including teacher scripts and troubleshooting tips.


The following steps need to be completed ahead of time:

  • Check the technical requirements and run the browser exam from a student device to identify any potential technical issues.
  • Schedule your testing date and time. It is best to administer tests in the morning and not immediately before or after an exciting school event.
  • Ensure that all students are listed within your school's online assessment account and have been assigned the necessary tests.
  • Review and assign appropriate test levels to all students according to their ability (non-Adaptive tests only).
  • Download or print a list of your students' login details.
  • Make note of your school's online assessment login page, or make sure that the URL is saved on student devices, or available to your students as a link. The address will be similar to


  • Tests should be administered under standard testing conditions with invigilation.
  • Students' screens should be monitored as part of test invigilation.
  • Students are permitted to use pen/pencil and paper to make notes during the test.

If you determine that some students require changed testing conditions due to specific learning needs, these changes should be recorded for future reference. The process for determining and implementing any changes to test conditions should be consistent between classes and across the school.


  • Students will not be automatically locked out of the tests after the allowed time passes. You must monitor and manage the time, including accommodating toilet breaks or other interruptions that may occur.
  • Student responses are automatically saved each time they navigate to another question.
  • If technical problems cause the need to postpone the completion of the tests, students may close the browser without losing their progress.
  • iPads and tablet devices must be held in landscape orientation.

Using the results

The information provided by the PAT reports is intended to assist you in understanding students' abilities in the learning area, diagnosing gaps, strengths and weaknesses in students' learning, and measuring learning progress over time.

Scale score

A scale score is a numerical value given to a student whose achievement has been measured by completing an assessment. A student's scale score lies at a point somewhere on the achievement scale, and it indicates that student's level of achievement in that particular learning area — the higher the scale score, the more able the student.

Regardless of the test level or items administered to students, they will be placed on the same scale for the learning area. This makes it possible to directly compare students' achievement and to observe students' progress within a learning area by comparing their scale scores from multiple testing periods over time.

A score on a Reading scale, for example, has no meaning on the Maths scale. In fact, the units of the scale will have different meanings for each scale. This is because these units are calculated based on the range of student levels of achievement, which vary widely between learning areas.

Achievement bands

Students in the same achievement band are operating at approximately the same achievement level within a learning area regardless of their school year level.

Viewing student achievement in terms of achievement bands may assist you to group students of similar abilities. By referencing the achievement band descriptions, you can understand the types of skills typical of students according to their band.

Item difficulty

Item difficulty is a measure of the extent of skills and knowledge required to be successful on the item. This makes it possible to allocate each test item a score on the same scale used to measure student achievement. An item with a high scale score is more difficult for students to answer correctly than a question with a low scale score. It could generally be expected that a student is able to successfully respond to more items located below their scale score than above.

Item difficulties are estimated based on the performance of individuals with a range of abilities who respond to that item, first at the item trial stage and later verified in real test results. The concept being assessed in the item is one aspect of item difficulty. Other factors may combine to make an item more or less complex. For example, the level of abstraction, the number of steps required, whether the question involves problem-solving or computation, the question context, the required precision of response, cognitive load, etc. An item assessing a concept that is introduced earlier in the curriculum may still be quite complex. Conversely, an item assessing a concept introduced later may be simpler.

By referencing the difficulty of an item, or a group of items, and the proportion of correct responses by a student or within a group, it may be possible to identify particular items, or types of items, that have challenged students.

Australian reference groups

PAT reference group data are available as a sample against which student achievement can be compared.

Like the nationally representative norm samples available for other assessments, the data are drawn from the available database of Australian test takers, but there are typically fewer cases spread out over a range of schools. Results are therefore not a comparison with a well understood population.

The comparison between a student's scale score achievement and the Australian reference group sample can be expressed as a percentile rank.

The percentile rank of a score is the percentage of students who achieve less than that score. For example, a student with a percentile rank of 75th compared to the Year 3 reference group has a scale score that is higher than 75% of Australian Year 3 students in the reference group.

About PAT Spelling Skills

The PAT Spelling Skills construct is the organising principle of the assessment; it is used to guide test development and structure the PAT reports. This structure is also part of the Progressive Achievement approach because the knowledge, skills and understanding represented in the assessments is designed to support educators in identifying student learning needs. The PAT Spelling Skills construct is based on research about the typical development of spelling skills and the identification of useful diagnostic information that can help teachers to improve students’ spelling.

The PAT Spelling Skills Assessment Framework document linked at the bottom of this page provides further detail about the construct.

Most literature related to spelling skills refers to phonological, orthographic and morphological aspects of spelling, even though these terms are often loosely defined.

PAT Spelling Skills is based around these three aspects and uses the following definitions:

  • Phonological aspects refer to students’ ability to hear all the phonemes in simple words and represent them with straightforward grapheme–sound relationships. It is concerned with plausible spelling based on hearing all the sounds in a word and knowledge of common, regular letter–sound relationships (mainly consonants and short vowels).
  • Orthographic aspects refer to knowing irregular word spelling, knowing a range of spelling rules for base words, knowing irregular forms of words and their spelling (eg irregular plural, past tense), recognising legal and illegal letter combinations, and knowing a range of more complex phonic letter–sound relationships relevant to spelling.
  • Morphological aspects refer to knowing how the morphemes (elements of meaning) in a word affect spelling as well as the word form or meaning. This includes knowing affix juncture rules, and recognising how root words support spelling.

Recent findings have highlighted the important role of morphology in supporting spelling development along with phonological skills and understanding orthographic aspects of words.

PAT Spelling Skills distinguishes four word types:

  • Simple base
  • Simple base with affix
  • Complex base
  • Complex base with affix

Students' spelling skills are assessed using four different item types:

  • Complete the word
  • Listen and spell
  • Selecting the correct spelling
  • Correcting the misspelled word

Apart from 'selecting the correct spelling', which is multiple-choice, all other item types require students to generate the correct spelling using their keyboard or touchscreen. This provides a range of authentic spelling contexts.

Supporting documents

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