Spelling tests composed of made-up or pseudowords are a great way to find out what learners do and don’t know about spelling, and which spelling patterns they need to learn next.

Sometimes learners with poor segmenting and encoding skills can do fairly well on spelling tests containing real words, especially tests including lots of high-frequency words they’ve memorised visually, or learnt via mnemonics (e.g. Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants for the word “because”).

Pseudoword tests strip this masking effect away, and really let you see how well the nuts and bolts of someone’s spelling system are working.

Free, downloadable 100-pseudoword spelling test

If you’re time-poor (and who isn’t?) there is a free, downloadable 100-pseudoword spelling test in my website shop, click here to get it.

It includes information about which Spelfabet workbooks and other materials target the test spelling patterns, but you could apply the information discovered from the test to selection of other teaching materials.

Longer, video pseudoword spelling tests

My longer, video pseudoword spelling tests are still available, if you want to test in more detail or aren’t confident about reading aloud pseudowords correctly. The links in the third column below take you to the spelling test for that level on YouTube. I suggest you do the tests yourself first, to get used to them, before asking anyone else to do them. All you need is a pen and paper. When you’re finished, click on “Answers” to check your answers.

I’ve also recorded introductory videos for both adults with literacy difficulties and parents concerned about a child’s literacy.

Level Word type Administer the test Check your answers If problems, what to work on:
1 1 syllable, 3 sounds, short vowels, some digraphs Level 1 test video L1 answers L1 words
2 1 syllable, 4 sounds, final blends, past tense ‘ed’ Level 2 test video L2 answers L2 words
3 1 syllable, 4 sounds, initial blends Level 3 test video L3 answers L3 words
4 1 syllable, “long vowels” Level 4 test video L4 answers L4 words
5 1 syllable, other vowels Level 5 test video L5 answers L5 words
6 1 syllable, consonant spelling variations Level 6 test video L6 answers L6 words
7 2-syllable, unstressed vowels Level 7 test video L7 answers L7 words
8 still to come, sorry L8 words
9 still to come, sorry L9 words
10 still to come, sorry L10 words

These tests are exploratory in nature, and not a substitute for standardised, professional testing. They can’t tell you whether a learner is keeping up or falling behind their peers, so if you are concerned for any reason, please seek a formal assessment.

Most nonsense words mean something to someone e.g. they’re rapper slang, a surname, a game character, a technical term or an acronym. Try making up nonsense words then putting them into a search engine, and you’ll see what I mean. In these tests I’ve eliminated words Australian learners are likely to know – for example I had “Sitch”, “Pung” and “Cass” in the first version, but removed them because of Australian comedian Rob Sitch, author Alice Pung and politician Moss Cass.

Many of these nonsense words have more than one plausible spelling, so there are no definitive right and wrong answers. However, in general the “yes” column answers are the best ones, the “maybe” column answers are arguable but not likely, and “no” means no. Any answer that does not appear on the relevant answer key should also be assumed to be incorrect, but I’m very happy to revise answer keys in the light of sensible arguments to do so, if you want to email any to me – spelfabet@gmail.com

4 responses to “Spelling tests”

  1. Nick says:

    Do you have an “answer key” for the shorter, paper-based test? I can only find the answer key for the video test and I think that that will be too long for my students.

    • alison says:

      Hi, the answer key for the 100 word test is in the test itself, for example, in the vowel spellings section I have “prave (as in save) or praive (as in waive)” and either would be acceptable, but “prayve” would not be because “ay” is a word/syllable ending spelling. But the point of the test is really to tease out what sorts of patterns a student knows and see what they do, and get teachers thinking about phoneme-grapheme correspondences given various phonotactics/orthotactics and taking positional frequency into account.

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