Why are students’ inference skills important?

Inference is a difficult skill to learn, but it is an essential one for all students sitting written exams. With that in mind, over next couple of weeks, I am going to share some straightforward techniques you can use to develop students’ inference skills – not just in English, but across the curriculum.

To start with… “I’m not an English teacher, I don’t need to worry about inference, right?”… Wrong.


How to develop inference skills:
Developing inference skills through numeracy


I put some of last years exam papers through the ATOS Reading Age Analyser on the Accelerated Reader website. This is the tool Accelerated Reader use to test how difficult a book is to read. They test the vocabulary and the sentence length among other things. You can use that yourself by following the link above, (to calculate the reading age add 10.2 to the ATOS book level). 

Here’s what I found:

  • AQA Chemistry 2018 specimen – 14.3
  • AQA Dance 2018 specimen – 13.6
  • AQA English Language paper 2 insert – 12.6
  • AQA Geography paper 1 specimen 2018 – 13.7
  • AQA History paper 1a specimen 2018 – 13.7
  • AQA Music component 1 speciment 2018 – 12.8


These exams can include very complicated texts that students need to read and understand on their own. 

For example, this text from a GCSE History text has a reading age of 15.6!

“There is a great need for a parliamentary committee, to inquire into the disease called cholera and with power to call witnesses. It is to be hoped that this committee will call for the removal of the Quarantine Laws which restrict the movement of shipping, harming the trade of this country. I believe that cholera is not contagious, and I reject the false ideas that are gripping this country about cholera.”

This is a non-tiered exam, so all students sitting GCSE history will need to take it. There’s some very complicated vocabulary there, the sentences are long and confusingly structured, and it there is no real modern day comparison.


The questions are asked in a complicated way. 

This example is from a science test which a colleague gave me. Look at the phrasing of the question: “None of the bulbs is broken”, “the batteries are not flat”. Reading this quickly students could easily make mistakes. And all for 1 mark!

science example

Or this one, there’s a load of contextual vocabulary students would need to understand – what are ear defenders? And after all that reading – again only one mark.


science example 2

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the techniques I use to improve students’ inference skills and prepare them for these sort of complicated questions.

Can you think of any more examples where students’ inference skills are tested by strangely worded questions or examples? Let me know.

Photo by Ahmed Saffu on Unsplash

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