UPDATED 2021

Spelling Test Guide

Spelling Test Summary
What: Spelling tests for students in grades K-5.
Who: All students in elementary school are tested.
Where: Tests are administered in all primary schools.
When: Tests are administered throughout the school year.
How: It is common for students to be tested weekly on their ability to spell a given list of words.
Type: Pencil and paper.
Why: Students are tested in order to build foundational spelling knowledge that is employed to build larger and more complex words as the curriculum progresses.
Time: Varies by test.
Language: Depends on the school.
Preparation: Some of the many ways students can prepare for spelling tests are studying with a parent, writing words out multiple times and participating in spelling bees. Many workbooks and other materials are available for purchase.
Cost: There is no cost to the student or parent.
By Giles Howard, Tests.com

Spelling is a foundational skill that plays a major role in a child’s elementary education and affects the rest of his or her academic life. Success in spelling is necessary if a child is to be successful in later English, social studies or science classes that often involve writing. A student that learns strong spelling skills in elementary school will also be better positioned to do well on standardized exams like the SATs that determine college admissions and include essay questions as part of the test battery.
In order to achieve success in elementary spelling and future academics, it’s important to understand the curriculum, methodology and test prep strategies of elementary spelling. By understanding the curriculum and making use of test prep strategies, you and your child can tackle spelling tests with ease.

The Curriculum
The bulk of the elementary spelling curriculum takes place between grades K-3 with students learning foundational sounds and patterns during these grades. Grades four and five then focus on less intuitive areas of spelling such as prefixes and suffixes.

Students begin the spelling curriculum by learning letters and the sounds they make in kindergarten. Today, students in kindergarten are often encouraged to spell words as they sound and worry about the proper spelling in later grades. Spelling in kindergarten is regarded as an “experiment” where children are taught to combine sounds to form words already in their oral vocabulary. A regimen of weekly spelling tests begins in kindergarten with simple two, three and four letter words such as “an,” “cat” and “tree.” Kindergarteners learn these words in groups such as “cat,” “mat,” “sat,” “bat” and “rat” in order to establish foundational sounds from which to build larger words later in the elementary spelling curriculum.

Beginning in 1st grade, spelling words become longer and more complex. Students transition from learning foundational, two-letter sounds to studying consonant blends such as “tr,” “fr” and “gr.” This process begins to expand students’ understanding of formal spelling and moves the curriculum away from experimental spelling. Because of this shift in focus, 1st grade spelling lessons and tests can be drastically more challenging for students than they were in kindergarten. For this reason, it’s important to begin developing strong study skills in the 1st grade with in-depth reviews of spelling lists before each test.

Second grade spelling lessons continue the move away from experimental spelling and introduce students to spelling based on consistent patterns. Words are still grouped into word families but these families are more complex and organized around a common end sound such as “ight” or a consonant blend such as “tr.” Students in the 2nd grade are also exposed to compound words such as “newspaper” or “ladybug.”

Students in third grade learn more compound words, some common homophones and begin to learn contractions. Third grade is the last year of elementary school in which students learn foundational spelling information with the introduction of homophones and contractions rounding out their knowledge of formal spelling. The weekly spelling test format is still present in 3rd grade and will continue to be a fixture of spelling lessons throughout elementary school.

During 4th and 5th grade, students have finished learning the basics of spelling and are prepared to broaden their vocabulary through spelling. The only new spelling material that students in 4th and 5th grade are expected to learn is the use of suffixes and prefixes.

Spelling Skills
Spelling is largely dependent on student recognition of foundational patterns but it does involve one key learned skill.

Dictionary use becomes important to the spelling curriculum around the 2nd and 3rd grade when students are introduced to things such as compound words and homophones. Dictionaries give students an independent resource to consult outside of the classroom as they learn to incorporate these new words into their vocabulary. Because it makes students independent spellers, dictionary use is an important skill in elementary spelling.

How to Study
Studying for spelling is crucial because students are typically introduced to a new set of words every week and then tested on them after only days of being exposed to them. A student’s initial reaction to studying spelling words is to attempt to memorize the new word simply as a string of letters. This impulse must be fought during the studying process so that students approach spelling as a matter of learning patterns and applying them to each word rather than simple memorization. While memorization may get students through the first rounds of spelling words, it will become an unsustainable technique as the curriculum becomes more complex.

In order to help students recognize and apply patterns to the study of spelling words, it’s important to employ study tactics that go beyond repetitive writing out of lists. One creative way to do this is to participate in spelling bees where, because of the sheer volume of words, it is necessary to learn the patterns and apply them to spelling unfamiliar words that appear in the bee. A more standard approach is to study with a parent or friend who reads a word aloud which the student then spells. This helps the student by making them study words as sounds rather than collections of letters. It downplays memorization and promotes an understanding of the foundational patterns.

Need help studying? Our Spelling Test Directory includes information and test prep materials for spelling tests from across the nation.

Sources: Time 4 Learning – time4learning.com, National Council of Teachers of English - ncte.org/, Ohio Department of Education - ode.state.oh.us.