PAT Vocabulary Skills

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

The following topics are covered in this article:


PAT Vocabulary Skills (2019), comprises five test forms recommended for students in Years 2 to 10. It is offered alongside PAT Vocabulary (2007), comprising five test forms recommended for students in Years 3 to 10. PAT Vocabulary assesses word knowledge through identification of synonyms. PAT Vocabulary Skills assesses a broader range of vocabulary skills. The construct expands the kinds of processes that are likely to support students’ improved vocabulary beyond the identification of synonyms.

Results cannot be directly compared between PAT Vocabulary Skills and PAT Vocabulary assessment.

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.

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.

Students may be given easier or harder tests if they have limited or extensive vocabularies for their year level. For all tests, students require sufficient reading skill to independently read the questions. Because reading and vocabulary skills are closely associated domains, other test data from reading comprehension assessments such as PAT Reading can be used as evidence to guide the assignment of tests of the appropriate level.

Test level Generally suitable for Indicative content
and skills assessed
No. of questions Time allowed
Test 1 Lower primary
(year 2)
Recognise and sort familiar and common
vocabulary in familiar and everyday contexts
27 35 minutes
Test 2 Middle primary
(year 3, year 4)
Apply knowledge of common words and a
few familiar prefixes and infer the meaning of some uncommon words in everyday contexts
30 40 minutes
Test 3 Upper primary
(year 5, year 6)
Apply, categorise and infer the meaning of common and uncommon words and familiar prefixes in a range of contexts 33
Test 4 Lower secondary
(year 7, year 8)
Apply knowledge of many uncommon and
some rare words and recognise some Latin and Greek roots
35 45 minutes
Test 5 Middle secondary
(year 9, year 10)

Recognise, differentiate between, infer the meaning of, categorise and order many rare words including words with Latin and Greek roots


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 Vocabulary Skills

For more detailed information about the assessment, refer to the PAT Vocabulary Skills Assessment Framework.

Vocabulary is central to comprehension and learning with understanding. Students with limited vocabularies will inevitably have limited comprehension skills and consequently little understanding of what they are learning. All students need to be continually expanding and enriching their vocabularies as they move through school in order to meet the increasingly complex intellectual demands of higher year levels. Teachers at all year levels need to identify the extent of students’ vocabularies in order to support them to improve.

PAT Vocabulary Skills is based on research evidence about the importance of a vocabulary that is both broad and rich in interconnections between known words. Also important is an understanding of the contexts in which words are used and how words might be associated, and of how roots and affixes can influence the meaning of words. PAT Vocabulary Skills was developed in recognition of the critical importance of vocabulary skills to student learning and progress.

The PAT Vocabulary 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 needs.

There are four process strands in PAT Vocabulary Skills that describe some key ways that students know and understand vocabulary:

  • Knowing – knowledge of meaning and definitions
  • Applying – identifying synonyms and inferring meaning from context
  • Categorising – sorting words into conceptual categories and ordering words within a category by degree
  • Morphology – understanding and use of morphemes

At lower levels of the progression, students know fewer words and their knowledge of the meaning of those words is frequently superficial. As students progress, the number of words they know expands and the depth of their knowledge about those words increases.

Supporting documents


Was this article helpful?
0 out of 0 found this helpful

Articles in this section

See more