New low-frequency word spelling test

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I’ve just finished the new version of the free Spelfabet low frequency word spelling test. Click here to download the file and save it to your computer for printing.

It contains 182 words in five levels, and follows the same teaching sequence as the version 3 Spelfabet workbooks. I hope it’s helpful in deciding where to start in these books, or just in identifying the spelling patterns your learners know, and which need attention.

So you can try the test on yourself first, I’ve filmed myself administering it from the wintry depths of Melbourne’s Lockdown 6.0 (yes, I am masking up and fully AZ vaccinated, the vaccine to get is the one you can get). You just need paper and a pen or pencil for this test, and each level takes between 5 and 15 minutes. Check your answers against the download, or with any walking dictionaries you know, perhaps you’re one.

Please don’t ask kids to do all five levels at once, just start with the level you think they can manage, or Level 1 if they’re in their first year of schooling, Level 2 if they are in their 2nd year and Level 3 if they’re in later primary school years. By mid-primary school most children should be able to have a decent crack at most of these words.

Level 1: 12 minutes

Level 2: 11 minutes. As you can see, my camera’s zoom lens has a mind of its own.

Level 3: 15 minutes (sorry, a bit long, I know)

Level 4: just over 4 minutes (phew!)

Level 5: 10 minutes

If you use the program Sounds-Write and/or the Phonic Books, the teaching sequence in this test is probably familiar. It matches the Dandelion readers Units 1-20, but with extra emphasis on word-building/prefixees/suffixes, then the Dandelion Split Vowel Spellings books (but with more ‘short/long vowels’ and prefix/suffix work and a few extra spellings), then the first set of Extended Code books (one vowel digraph at a time), then the Moon Dogs 3: Vowels sequence (revising one vowel digraph and adding a new one). I’m still working on the later levels, and will add these to the test over time.

The printed test is set out in columns with the target sound/spelling at the left, then the word, then a definition and then an example sentence. The last three levels also include words with analogous spellings e.g. for newly-minted it-word ‘rona‘, the analogy words might be ‘sofa’, ‘coma’ and ‘soda’. I won’t put any of the actual words on the test in this blog post, so they’re all fresh to you when/if you try it.

Please note that this test should not be used as a substitute for formal, standardised tests with norms, percentiles etc., though of course schools could gather data from it and work out their own local norms. It’s intended as an exploratory tool to shed light on what learners know about spelling, and help adults decide what to teach next.

I’d love to know what you think of this test, so please leave any feedback or suggestions in the comments.


8 thoughts on “New low-frequency word spelling test

  1. Nikki

    I thought it was interesting that you provided the ‘it’s like…’ examples with words that could have more than one plausible spelling. I’ve had this issue when doing spelling tests with pseudo words (such as the Spell-It materials) and really liked that approach.

  2. Lorraine Hammond

    This is great Alison, thank you so much! I cannot wait to share this with my uni students. We are just about to start spelling!

    1. alison Post author

      No worries, nothing like doing a weird spelling test to make you think about your own spelling knowledge. I just added an afterthought paragraph to the post saying this is not a substitute for formal, standardised tests, but actually when you think about it, today’s standardised spelling tests are even weirder than my test. They treat spelling as an emergent/developmental/biologically primary skill that is somehow figured out during primary school, not a learnt/taught/biologically secondary skill with a clear scope and sequence. One day we’ll have a proper spelling scope and sequence in the national curriculum, and all teachers will be taught how to teach it well. Imagine how much better everyone’s reading would be if everyone could spell. I’ve seen so many miserable children trying and failing to rote-learn high-frequency word lists, because their teachers were never taught how to teach spelling more successfully. It’s so great to have you teaching teachers, love your work!

  3. Kristin Anthian

    Such a valuable resource Alison. Thanks so much! I thought the original was great, but this is so helpful now that it follows your updated workbooks and the SW/Phonics Books scope and sequence as well. I’m sure it will be put to good use by many teachers, parents, and tutors alike, to inform instruction. Bravo!

  4. Courtney Stott

    Thank you so much for this resource. We are currently in the process of developing a scope and sequence and these resources with your workbooks have been extremely helpful. I love the videos that you make as they always provide teachers with extra knowledge and skills.

  5. Joanne Towill

    Hi Alison, we love your low frequency word spelling test. Does it have a student sheet for them to write on and a recording sheet for results?
    Thanks, Jo Towill

    1. alison Post author

      I haven’t made a student sheet for the low frequency word test, or a recording sheet for the results, sorry. I should add that to my list of holiday jobs. Thanks for the nice feedback, all the best, Alison


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