Phonics Screening Test Explained
25 September 2020

Phonics Screening Test Explained

What is Phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skillfully. Children are taught how to recognise the sounds each individual letter makes and to identify the sounds that different contributions of letters make such as ‘sh’ and ‘oo’. Children are taught to read by breaking down words into separate sounds or ‘phonemes’ (segmenting). They are then taught how to blend these sounds together to read the whole word. The whole process of segmenting and blending is called decoding.

Why Phonics?

Studies have shown that when phonics is taught in a structured way, starting with the easiest sounds and progressing through to more complex sounds, it is an effective way of teaching children to read. Especially for children aged 5‐7.

What is the phonics screening check?

The phonics screening check is a test that is set for children in year 1. It is normally taken in June in a 1-2-1 situation. Your child will read one‐one with a teacher. It will either be your child’s current teacher or another face familiar to your child. Your child will be asked to ‘sound out’ a word and blend the sounds together. The check is very similar to tasks the children already complete during phonics lessons.

Phonics lessons will help children with their reading and spelling skills, but for the Phonics Screening Check, they will only be tested on their word reading skills – decoding. The test comprises of a list of 40 words and nonsense words. It will assess phonics skills and knowledge learnt through reception and year 1.

The test is split into two sections, with section 1 being the easier of the two. The children will be asked to read words from the earlier phases of the phonics curriculum – chop, bell, feel etc.

The second part of the test is slightly more challenging as the words to be read will come from the later stages of the phonics curriculum e.g. words containing sounds like ea (head, meat etc.)

Although there is no set time for the test, it usually lasts no longer than 10 mins. If a child does not meet the required standard, they would retake the test the following year.

The test will also include ‘pseudo’ words.

What are Nonsense or Pseudo words and why are they included?

These are words that are phonetically decodable but not actual words with an associated meaning e.g. brip, snorb. These words are included in the check specifically to assess whether you child can decode a word using phonic skills and not their memory. The pseudo words will be shown to your child with a picture of an alien. The children will be asked what the aliens name is by reading the word. This will make the check a bit more fun and provides the children with a context for the nonsense word. Crucially it does not provide any clues, so your child has to be able to decode it.

The Phonics Screening Check is a way for teachers to keep track of the children’s’ reading progress with respect to their phonics skills. This is to ensure they are on track to becoming the super readers who will enjoy reading and go on to excel in other areas of learning as a result.

How can you help your child?

There are a number of things that parents can do to support early reading development:

  • Let your child see you enjoy reading yourself.
  • Children are influenced by you and what you do! Immerse your child in a love of reading.
  • Make time for your child to read their school book to you.
  • With all books, encourage your child to ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words and then blend from the left.
  • At leaders are Readers, we offer a very robust, award-winning Reading Programme, which is guaranteed to have your child reading well before he/she starts school.
  • In addition to our Reading Programme, your child will be given activities to use at home which will further facilitate their learning efforts.  will send home practice materials with your child. The games are meant for you to practice with them at home in a fun way. Don’t worry if they find it difficult, it is important not to put pressure on them.

More info on our Reading Programme can be found here:


The Phonics Screening Check is normally taken by year 1 children in June. However, due to the schools’ closures, they were unable to take the test. The Children (now in year 2) will take the tests in Nov or Dec 2020.


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