BEGINNINGS and endings flowed easily off the pens of seven-year-old creative writers in this year's national curriculum tests.
But what went in between lost them crucial marks, according to a new analysis of the test papers of all seven, 11 and 14-year-olds.
It also revealed that just a quarter of seven-year-olds can tell the time. Only one in four correctly drew the hands on a clock to show how it would look an hour later.
But spelling proved the biggest problem for pupils of all ages. Eleven-year-olds misspelt one word in every 20 while, surprisingly, 14-year-old high-achievers were worse spellers than their classmates who did only averagely well in the tests.
In maths, pupils' main mistake was rushing in without reading the question properly, according to the report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government quango which runs the tests.
The report found many seven-year-olds could not hold the thread of a story and very few used paragraphs. Only the highest achievers managed to write in the third person - the majority preferred to make themselves the centre of the action.
Poor test technique is hindering many children who manage their time badly and leave questions unfinished. Children's spelling was also poor, and rules about word endings and doubling of consonants defeated many pupils.
This year in English, 65 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the required standard, a slight increase on 1997. Unless the rate of improvement increases, the target of 80 per cent attaining "level 4" by 2002 will not be reached. The analysis also confirmed that boys made no progress at all.
The maths results, down 3per cent this year, were only slightly deflated by the introduction of a mental arithmetic test which lowered scores by around 1 per cent, according to the QCA analysis.