How to pass and smash the 11 plus exam?

Passing the 11 plus is just like any other test where a structured approach can increase your child’s chances. Using an 11 plus mock test is an essential strategy parents need to consider when supporting their child. The 11 plus is one of the most difficult tests a year 5/6 child can face and without support and a planned approach it will almost be impossible to pass.

Grammar school areas and groups in England (Ref: Wikipedia)

Here is 6-step approach tailored for passing the 11 plus test:

  1. Find online or paper based 11plus mock tests
  2. Do one 11plus mock test
  3. Mark the test or if online submit it for automatic marking
  4. Review the feedback / test results and identify improvement areas
  5. Find exercises / worksheets to practice these areas
  6. Repeat from 2 above until an 80% score is consistently being achieved

Marking these tests is challenging for parents due to the style of questions – some questions measure academic ability and others measure aptitude (intelligence). It’s much easier to either let a tutor do this or use an online 11plus mock test which automatically marks the test and provides a summary identifying areas that require improvement. This saves a lot of time and can be repeated again and again without extra effort.

What is the pass mark for the 11 plus?

The pass mark for the 11 plus is approximately 80% but fluctuates yearly and can be as high as 90% in some schools. There are a limited number of seats so in reality the children with the highest marks are the ones who get offered a place. The test is very challenging and most simply won’t pass. Using a structured approach and revising intelligently, doing practice questions and complete 11plus mock tests will help increase your child’s chances. Understanding the weaknesses of your child and then addressing them systematically ensures you don’t waste time on areas which your child is already comfortable with.

How many children fail the 11 plus?

The 11 plus is designed to select the most able pupils and it does this by failing approximately 85% of pupils and selecting approximately the top 15% of pupils. It seems like a failure but rather it’s more a case of not able to do as well as their peers. Unlike other exams which have a predetermined pass or failure mark, the 11+ tests pass mark is relative to the scores of other students. It is all about “making the cut” – coming in within the top 10 or 15% of students.

How are 11+ test results calculated?

Raw marks go through a standardisation process to allow children to be fairly compared. This standardised score is then used to determine the rank order and what the pass mark is for that particular school and year. 11 plus tests normally consist of a number of tests each with a different number of questions – these marks will then go through a weighting process, and along with the candidate’s age (and possibly postcode, ethnicity and faith), a final standardized score will then be calculated. If the 11plus test being used by the school is from an organization, such as GL Assessment or CEM, the standardisation process will also take into consideration previous years’ 11+ test results and also the different versions of the test and their difficulty. The whole process is quite involved and aiming for more than 85% in any given 11plus mock tests will provide you with high level of confidence that your child passes the real thing.

Does my child need to prepare for the 11 plus tests?

‘Tutor-proof’ 11-plus professor admits grammar school test doesn’t work (Ref: Guardian)

The reasons for children not making “the cut” and coming in the top 15% is many fold and any distraction, domestic problems, or illness should be evidenced and the test postponed. If the pupil is not 100% focused its highly unlikely, he or she will meet the pass rate.

Absolutely, every child sitting the 11 plus will need to prepare, but prepare at the right level and start at the right time. Too much preparation can be just as bad as too little and leave the child overworked and unable to stay motivated leading to underperformance on the day of the exam. Timing is critical and just like an elite athlete a child needs to reach their peak on the day of the exam.

Factors which can effect your child’s score

Some children who naturally have a higher aptitude and academic ability sometimes lose out to other children who may be less able but have had the support required to prepare and practice. The school curriculum does not cover the material required for the 11plus tests particularly the verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning questions are not covered at all in school.

For these questions the right type of preparation is required and its going vary from child to child since reasoning skills may be more or less developed and require nurturing over a period of time. So the fact a child doesn’t pass is not necessarily how difficult he or she found the questions but rather an indication of the lack of preparation and support received.

Right or wrong the 11 plus is not just a test of academic ability but also an indicator of the stability of the environment in which the child lives and how much support a child receives. This could be seen as unfair but it could be justified due to the fact that the same levels of support, or lack of, will continue into later years and leave the child underachieving in a highly competitive environment.


Passing the 11plus test is very possible and does not require spending 100s of pounds (parents are spending on average 1800 pounds on 11+ tutors) rather it requires a simple, straightforward 6-step approach to determine what your child needs to learn and how much progress he or she has made. Take leave your child disadvantaged. If you need any help or advice on what the best approach simply contact me in the comments below or send me a message on the contact page by clicking here. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Try a 11 Plus Practice Test

The practice tests on this site are not official tests but use a similar format that can be used to help identify gaps in knowledge and exam taking technique. To try an example of the format and types of questions that may come up click below.


How do CAT4 results help your child do better

CAT4 is the new edition of the Cognitive Abilities Test and is the UK’s most widely used assessment of ability. It’s available on demand throughout the year.

It provides teachers with essential data to help personalise learning, engage with parents, and monitor progress. It supports measuring student abilities and the admissions process into selective schools. There are 4 areas of reasoning which are measured; quantitative, verbal, non-verbal and spatial. The last skills is extremely important for science, technology, engineering, and maths. This is an ability not measured by other tests at school such as the 11+ or SATs.

Individualised Learning

By understanding a child’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning preferences teaching can be adapted accordingly and talented pupils can be pushed ahead while pupils with low ability can be provided learning support or screened for learning difficulties.

Identifying Learning Styles

From a child’s ability profile it becomes clear if they have a bias towards spatial skills and will learn better through flow charts and diagrams but may struggle with verbal based subjects. Pupils with an extreme verbal bias will learn well through written texts, writing and discussion but may struggle with STEM subjects. Pupils with a balanced profile will respond to all types of teaching styles.

Helping Students

Underachieving pupils can be provided with targeted measures to remove barriers to learning. Appropriate goals can be set and monitored, with progress indicators. The results are good indicators to GCSE, A-level and IB course success and the individual student report for teachers provides data that helps to understand a pupils learning profile. The implications for teaching and learning arre profound and base deicisions on objective not subjective opinion.


CAT4 supports personalized learning and improves parental engagement, provides direction for informed intervention strategies. Specialized reports are available for senior school leaders to help provide strategic direction to areas where the school or class as a whole can improve. The CAT4 is not about knowledge recall and requires no preparation, although I argue that familiarity of the question format and online delivery helps. There are three ability batteries that are not dependent on language so it is highly suitable for second language students too. CAT4 is available throughout the year and results are available immediately. The CAT4 tests attempt to offer all pupils the same opportunity to show their underlying ability – at least that’s the theory!

CAT4 love it or hate it let me know in the comments section below.

How to improve your child’s vocabulary for the 11+

Having a better chance of scoring highly in the eleven plus you need to focus on vocabulary, an area that many children find difficult.

What to expect during your 11 plus tests?

The 11 plus test is designed to assess whether grammar school is a suitable choice for your child. More importantly whether or not if it is the best place for your child to thrive. The test is broken up into four main areas so in the assessment you can expect questions based on English, Maths, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning.

Improving Vocabulary Skills for the 11 Plus

Vocabulary can account for 10% to 15% of the marks in the 11+ exam so your child really needs to make sure they do well in these questions. You’ll need a good quality children’s dictionary – children nowadays use the internet to look up definitions but sometimes the definitions online are confusing. A lot of times they don’t know what they are reading so its better to use a dictionary that uses language they can easily understand.

Probably the most important way of teaching a child new vocabulary is to first introduce the word and then place the word into context and then repeat this a few times so they really get the meaning. This is generally the way we learn when we are very young and continues to work even when we are older. If your child asks you the meaning of a word its a perfect opportunity to provide an explanation but normally just by hearing the word in context the meaning will become obvious. If they do ask you the meaning get them to look it up in the dictionary as a first step.

Varying the Teaching

Of course to make it more fun sommetimes you can ask them to use tools like Siri on your phone. Kids really like using technology and it adds a bit of variety so that learning new words isn’t too boring. Another way of improving vocabulary is by using flashcards and colours to help your child recommend difficult words. Your child should help make them and will definitely remember many of the words because of this. Try to vary the way you make the flash cards to again trigger your child’s memory; you could use felts, crayons and paint. On the reverse of the card put the definition so that when you test your child the answer is readily available.

To further expand your child’s vocabulary you could use a thesaurus and also write the synonyms too. I suggest you write one or two words that your child already knows the meaning of and then write the new words next to it to help expand their knowledge. Flashcards should become part of your daily routine so stick them on your fridge and get your child to look at them at meal time and test them in the morning while having breakfast. You could even test them on the way to school in the car or as you walk along. Don’t do this all the time because you can go overboard but a couple of times a week will help your child’s recall.

It’s also a good idea to put some words away for a few weeks before pulling them out again to see what has been remembered. It is particularly important to point out prefixes and suffixes in words and any other clues that a word has in order to determine its meaning.

There are also a number of Bond and CGP books with verbal reasoning questions that can help your child pickup on patterns, synonyms or antonyms. Spread out all these techniques, there’s no need to do all of this in one week. The 11 plus is all about having understanding as well as recall. One week you might want to focus on new words and cut back on some of their other homework.

If they don’t know how to pronounce the word then they need to practice saying the word out loud by reading story books or following audiobooks which can add a little more context around the word. Reading out a word can help them to grasp the definition as well.

Some more tips on increasing vocabulary

1. Conversation, conversation, conversation

Speak to your chldren all the time and most critically don’t overly dumb down your language. Young children will learn the most difficult of words so itis important to immerse them in new vocabulary from the start. It is truely amazing the amount of words a young child learns and the wider the vocabulary the better a child can score on the 11+.

2. Read and listen to your child

You should has regular reading time with your child where you not only read to your child but also listento your child reading. Firstly the interest you show to reading will help your child love reading, secondly you will be modelling the correct reading style with appropriate intonation and pronounciation, thirdly you will provide feedback when your child is reading. It also gives your child an opportunity to immediately ask about vocabulary they do not understand.

The above routine should not stop even after your child can read independently. Children enjoy listening to stories especially from books which they find too difficult. Find books and material which interest them and use non-fiction too. You’ll be surprised at how interested they are when you read an article on the first Space X launch !!

If you do the above religiously you will be amazed at how quickly reading skills, vocabulary, and comprehension develop.

3. Play word games

As well as playing the traditional eye spy and scrabble types games you can try something like going through the alphabet and providing a word for each letter in turns. Another variation is the last letter of the word as the first letter of the word you need to think of or simpy as many words as possible for one randomly chosen letter in the alphabet.

All these games will provide your child with useful skills that will be helpful when its time for the 11+.

4. Make sentences for new words

Make new sentences of the word – this really helps your child understand how the word can be used. Also if the word has multiple meanings it can help your child understand the subtleties of English. It’s one thing knowing how to say a word another knowing what it really means and using it in your own context. Weekly spelling tests are excellent way of introducing new vocabulary but an added exercise it to create new sentences using the words ! This proves that the child really knows wha the word means – an invaluable skill that is very useful for the 11+.

5. Write, write, write and write some more.

Writing is difficult for most adults, only because they didn’t do enough of it when they were children. The first step in writing is to just write ! It doesn’t matter what the topic is, it doesn’t matter about spelling and sentence structure, children just need to start writing. Everything else can be fixed later. Although there is no set 11+ section that requires a written piece of work – if your child can write they can read and understand words better. Have a weekly journal, choose topics for your children or simply ask them to write about their day. Review their work and provide feedback to help them improve, but don’t be overly critical about grammar and punctuation – it takes time to develop a plot and technical details are the last thing on a child’s mind. The bottom line is to just write.

6. Create a daily word

This tip is something I did with my kids and it worked wonders. Use letter magnets to make new words every day. Use your fridge as the wall or a magnetic white board which is visible from the place at which you eat your breakfast. The word can then become a topic of conversation and can be used in sentences to help understanding. An easy but very effective way to help your child learn new words. You could even reward your child for using the new word during the day !

7. Have a dictionary and thesaurus

It is essential that these two books are accessible to your child at home. You will be amazed at how they’ll just start looking up words for fun. You could also reinforce their use by asking for synonyms of new words you’ve introduced or ask them to expand their writing a little by using richer adjectives and adverbs. Reinforcing the use of new words by simply being a part of your child’s learning journey will help your child to grow their vocabulary and hopefully pass the 11+with flying colours.

If you have some tricks please let me know in the comments below…

What are the effects of COVID-19 on the 11 plus?

Should the 11+ be pushed back as suggested by the government to as late as November? The guidance which is only advisory indicates that children are not “likely to perform to their utmost ability in a test at the beginning of September” because of school closures during coronavirus. This raises “the elephant in the room” – with current restrictions in schools will children actually get enough education in the extra few months to make up for all that was lost before the summer holidays?

Generally grammar school entry tests are held in September but the guidance from the Department of Education has advised selective schools to move the 11+ back to “late October or November”. The problem is parents will be choosing a school they would like their child to attend without knowing if they qualify and that their child can pass the school’s selection test – the 11+. The Department of Education continues further and advises parents to use their final preference for a local non-selective school since they probably won’t know the results of the pre admission 11 plus by 31st October.

The government also recommends local councils where selective schools are avialable provide at least one extra preference – but appreciate some software used to track results can’t handle the change. The whole situation has left the 11 plus hanging with the possibility that parents won’t know which school their child will go to until early November.

However the guidance is only advisory and will not “prescribe a single course of action”. This will be for admission authorities to decide. The governement has also said written tests should continue to be run under exam conditions, but schools should follow “stringent health measures”. Does this mean cubicles? More cost and delay for schools…

What happens to at risk students?

Children that are at risk will not be able to attend due to shielding and quarantine. No clear plan for their tests to be completed at home. Does the test at home also makes it unfair and the conditions will differ from child to child with a risk of invalidating the tests as fair and equal.

A list of changes along with links is available on this page;

The 11+ was suppose to be a test of a child’s knowledge from year 1 to year 5 but with COVID the final months of year 5 were possibly not taught well online. Furthermore the revision of the material before the 11+ was probably not done. In these circumstances how valid and fair are is the 11+? Let me know your thoughts.

You can try a few questions right now, which are similar to a real 11+ (click here).

What Skills Do You Need To Pass The 11+?

The 11 plus is an entrance exam used by grammar schools and private schools all around the country. As a parent who can’t afford to pay for a private school we have to hope that our child can pass and get into one of the grammar schools. As a parent we want the best for our children and want them get a good start to life and not to be disadvantaged. We all know the school your child goes to will have a direct impact on their future.

Areas Tested in the 11 Plus

Not all tests are built equally and different counties will use different versions – there are two exam boards which design tests (CEM and GL) and its worth asking the school which one your child will be sitting. Generally the areas (or disciplines) being tested are Maths, English, Verbal Reasonining and Non-verbal Reasoning.

11 Plus Exam

Maths and English in the 11+ test check a child’s understanding of these subjects up to the end of year 5 but its worth covering a lot of year 6 too. The questions stretch the material and assume your child has gone to the best school which has pushed up to the edge of the curriculum – its definitely worth covering this material and practicing at a year 6 level.

Non-verbal and verbal reasoning are a little different and don’t directly cover the material your child has covered at school. What they do test is your child’s vocabulary and ability to see patterns, sequences and connections in words and symbols. It’s unlikely your child will ever have done these types of questions at school so its definitely worth practicing 11+ questions in these areas.

English 11+ Practice Questions

The English skills being tested during the 11 plus test is essentially the same as the work done during KS1 and KS2. The problem is the type of questions being presented are different to what the student is accustomed to. Practice, practice, and more practice is key.

Some of the topics which will come up in he 11+ English section are shown below. A complete set of exercises area available on this site;

Adjectives, Adverbs, Alliteration, Ordering Alphabetically, Antonyms, Apostrophes, Questions, Capital Letters, Commas, Compound Words,Comprehension, Connectives / Conjunctions, Direct Speech, Fact and Opinion, Vocabulary, Indirect Speech, Metaphors, Negatives, Nouns, Onomatopoeia, Paragraphing, Prefixes, Prepositions, Pronouns, Punctuation, Rhyme, Sentence Openers, Similes, Spelling, Suffixes, Synonyms, Their, They’re and There, Verbs, Your and You’re

Maths 11+ Practice Questions

The Maths skills, just like English, tested during the 11 plus is essentially the same as the work done during KS1 and KS2. The problem is the type of questions being presented are different to what the student is accustomed to. Practice, practice, and more practice is key just like before !

Some of the topics which will come up in he 11+ Maths section are shown below. A complete set of exercises area available on this site;

Addition and Subtraction, Compare and Order Numbers, Decimal Numbers, Fractions, Handling Data, Measures, Multiples, Multiplication and Division, Negative Numbers, Number Sequences, Percentages, Perimeter and Area, Place Value, Position, Properties of Numbers, Ratio, Rounding Numbers, Shapes, Solving Problems, Time

Verbal Reasoning 11+ Practice Questions

This section of the 11 plus is something new to students. Its tests the students ability to see patterns between words and a wide vocabulary is essential. Synonyms, antonyms, and other such word matching skills are critical. Below are some of the areas which generally will appear in the 11 plus test;

Anagrams, Similes, Complete Sums and Words, Compound Words, Follow Logical Instructions, Find Hidden Words, Insert Letters, Connect Letters / Words / Numbers / Symbols, Make Words, Make Larger Words, Move Letters, Number Series, Grouping Words, Opposite Meetings, Words Questions, Related Numbers / Words, Same Meaning, Odd Words Out, Word Connections, Word-Number Codes, Words with Multiple Meanings

Non-Verbal 11+ Practice Questions

Non-verbal skills are the least familiar questions for students and parents. The questions are very similar to what you would see in a IQ test with lots of shapes and patterns which need to be completed or grouped. The test is designed to determine a child’s intelligence and aptitude. The ability to learn new subjects is incredibly important and goes hand in hand with subject specific knowledge. Although this area is difficult to revise for there are still strategies and exercises that can be used to develop certain skills ad abilities which will help.

Here are some areas which can be reviewed and practiced to help improve and develop the skills required to do better in this area;

Similar shapes and figures, Breaking Codes, Completing Series of Shapes, Matrices, Find the Odd One, Analysing Shapes and Letters,

Practice Questions

Watch this space for some practice exercises and quizzes which we’ll soon be adding to the site. If you think of anything that you need to be included please don’t hesitate to comment with details. I’ve put together a short online quiz which you can try now (click here).

What type of questions are in a CAT4 test?

The CAT4 consists of 8 individual tests to evaluate a student’s Verbal Reasoning (VR), Non Verbal Reasoning (NVR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Spatial Awareness (SA).

Individual tests are between 8-10 minutes and consist of the following;

  • Figure Classification
  • Figure Matrices
  • Verbal Classification
  • Verbal Analogies
  • Number Analogies
  • Number Series
  • Figure Analysis
  • Figure Recognition

Verbal Reasoning (VR)

Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand, classify, and identify patterns in words. The CAT4 measures a child’s ability in this area using a verbal classification test and a verbal analogies test.

The verbal classification test presents the student with a number of words which are related in some way. The student then needs to select another word from five other words which is associated in a similar way with the group presented.

Verbal Classification Example from GL Assessment

The verbal analogies test requires the student to determine the relationship between a pair of words. A third word will then be presented and the student needs to use the relationship from the first pair to select a fourth word. This helps to assess the ability to determine verbal connections, relationships, and patterns.

Verbal Analogy Example from GL Assessment

Quantitative Reasoning (QR)

Quantitative Reasoning is the ability to apply mathematical skills to real world problems. It requires the identification of similarities and patterns in numbers to help analyse and determine conclusions which are based on logical relationships. The CAT4 measures a child’s ability in this area using a number analogies test and a number series test.

The number analogies test provides pairs of numbers which are linked together in some way using a logical rule. The third pair needs to be completed by selecting from five options presented. The relationship determined by analyzing the first two pairs needs to be applied to the third third number to select the correct answer.

Number Analogy Example from GL Assessment

The number series test presents a series of numbers which are related using a rule or function. The student needs to analyze the numbers and determine the function / rule and calculate the next number in the sequence. This number needs to be selected from the five options presented.

Number Series Example from GL Assessment

Non Verbal Reasoning (NVR)

Non-verbal reasoning is the ability to visually understand shapes, their relationships and patterns, differences, and similarities. The CAT4 measures a child’s ability in this area using a figure classification test and a figure matrices test.

The figure classification test presents a group of shapes which are similar in some way. The student then needs to select one of the other five shapes presented that also belong to the group due to the shared characteristic.

Figure Classification Example from GL Assessment

The figure matrices test is about recognizing the way shapes change and how to apply this change to other shapes. The student will be presented with three shapes in a square with a fourth shape missing. The change between the first two shapes will need to be applied similarly to the third shape to decide which shapes from the five options is the missing fourth shape.

Figure Matrices Example from GL Assessment

Spatial Awareness (SA)

Spatial Reasoning is the ability to solve complex three dimensional problems by mentally visualizing, manipulating, rotating, and transforming images. The CAT4 measures a child’s ability in this area using a figure analysis test and a figure recognition test.

The figure analysis test presents the user with a square that has been folded and hole punched a number of times. The student needs to visualize how the square would look unfolded and select the correct option from the five presented.

Figure Analysis Example from GL Assessment

The figure recognition test evaluates the students ability to recognize shapes within other shapes. The user is asked to simply identify the presence of a shape in one of five complex pictures.

Figure Recognition Example from GL Assessment

What Are The Changes To Exams For 2020-2021?

Impact of Covid-19 on Education

This post was written in August 2020 – just after the government started to ease the lock down.

After consultation the UK government has provided a report on the proposed changes to GCSEs, AS and A-Level assessments in 2020/2021. Click here to check out the PDF – keep reading to get a quick summary so you know what to look for. There’s a lot of technical jargon in there so it is quite a difficult read.

What are the effects of COVID-19 on your education and exams?

The results of a very haphazard approach to delivering online instruction will mean a significant variance in education across the country which ultimately will manifest itself in poor academic performance. The financially challenged and disadvantaged will be impacted the most. Furthermore exams and tests will be delayed and grade boundaries will have to be lowered for national or entrance exams such as; CAT4, 11+, GCSEs, A-Levels. The government has recommended that the 11 plus in particularly be delayed until October / November.

Most schools were closed and conducting online learning for the better part of the third term in the academic year 2019-2020. Teachers needed to come up to speed very quickly in providing online education to all of their children – an almost impossible feat. Most had never taught online so did not understand the pedagogical implications of not being face to face with their students. Handing out a few links and worksheets is simply not good enough and motivation suffered with children not bothering to login and attend. Online pedagogy is in its infancy but most teachers are not aware of how to use the various tools afforded to them.

Secondly children needed to have access to computers, laptops, printers etc.. Many families who struggle financially simply can’t afford to spend 500 pounds for a laptop, printer, along with other consumables such as ink and paper. All this means that learning has suffered with children either not covering the curriculum or not understanding the material.

A lost generation has been created with its effects to last far into the future. This generation has lost out on a third of a year and more than likely will receive below standard instruction for much of 2020 / 2021. Will this be the same for everyone? Of course not, those who are privileged and have the financial ability to do so will have all the equipment required. Others will have online tutors to provide 1-1 tuition. Parents who are capable will have taught and supported their children to ensure they keep up.

What will happen to A-Levels and GCSEs?

The picture below provides a summary of the subjects that will be effected but it is advised to also contact your exam board.

GCSEsAS and A-LevelsAS and A-Levels
Classical Civilization
Classical Greek
Religious Studies
Ancient History
Classical Civilisation
Classical Greek
Computer Science
English Language / Literature
Futher Maths
Religious Studies
Summary of Subjects Effected – ( See Appendix of Report click here )

We are not going to return to the way things were before the pandemic so expect a reduced level of face to face teaching. The implications of this is that practical lessons are going to be difficult to conduct and assess – but what you learn will remain the same. The government has decided that although conducting practicals will be difficult this does not mean a reduced curriculum and all students will be expected to have covered the same material as previous years.

Practicals will be conducted through video demonstrations and many teachers this year will have to create these for physics, biology, and chemistry. It’s a good idea to read through the document to be sure of exactly how your course will be effected. There are details of each of different subjects and the changes that will happen – summary below.

The video below from the OCR Exam board – an excellent summary with a good overview of what we know at the moment.

Exam papers are not going to be effected and will be similar in difficulty in both breadth and depth as previous years. The length and timings of the exams also will not be changing. This approach will actually avoid the difficulty of training teachers on a new approach but will put some pressure on students.

Blended Approach

The positives are teachers are already accustomed to the material although they will need to work on how best to deliver the material – the coming year looks unlikely to be 100% online or face to face so a blended approach is needed.

How are practicals going to be conducted for GCSE, AS and A-Levels?

Observation of demonstrations and or simulations to cover the required apparatus and techniques will now be permitted. Students will not need to do the required practicals themselves. Not quite sure how this will be implemented but the skills you learn are just as important so some form of practical would still be a good idea.

Subjects such as Maths which do not have any practicals, are not effected but sciences have practicals as an integral part of the course. Observing these practicals will be required for the A level course where the Common Practical Assessment criteria needs to be fulfilled. This practical endorsement is given at the end of the course and implies you still need to do some sort of practical but it will be a minimal level to demonstrate the skills required. What form this will take is unclear.

Students in Lab from Previous Years

Most students, as of writing, in Year 12 going on to Year 13 will have already done practical work which will cover most of the requirement. Students starting A Levels will have the most disruption to practicals but there is two years to get some hands-on practical experience so it shouldn’t be too much of a worry. In the end you need to know the same amount of content be it A-Level or GCSE which is important when you move on to further and higher education.

How can students revise for the 2020/2021 Exams?

For some subjects like History, English Literature, and Drama there are a lot more changes but for the Sciences its basically just the practicals. The important thing is they are not going to change the length, number or format of the exam papers, so you can still revise using past papers from 2019 and 2018. Your teachers are already familiar with how to prepare for these style exams and the past papers which are all over the internet are still going to be very useful. For English Literature there will be more choice of questions and for field work in subjects like Geography there’s no requirement to do the field work for Geography. Again check the document for the exact details for your subjects.

Will the Exam Timetable Change for 2020/2021?

This is not confirmed yet and anything can happen in the next 9 months but if the timetable was pushed back this would effect the results and the university application process so it is unlikely if exam dates will be moved. Pushing exams back will also mean less time for teachers to mark the papers – more room for error – grade boundaries will also need to be determined so if results day is even pushed back from mid August to late August since people need to know their GCSE results for college and Sixth Form.

At every level results are required to help students decided on what options they have next. In terms of University those dates are critical and with later exams there is less time to get results organized and exams marked. At the moment there are no dates for the 2021 exams but its likely there won’t be much of change with exams maybe starting at the end of May and continuing into June. The expectation is there more time will be spent teaching in schools to prepare for exams rather than having exam leave for an extended period of time.

If you are in an independent school or grammar school its more likely you are more organized and have resources at home; with higher motivation levels you’re more likely to have been doing online learning and probably better prepared. Unfortunately the comprehensive school children will suffer with the gap increasing – the document hasn’t addressed this reality but effectively these are national exams and it’s very hard to adjust grades and take into account a student’s background and effectiveness based on this.

Tell me what you think. Should exams be leveled based on the learning environment ? (eg. type of school)

Breaking Down the CAT4 Levels – X, Y, A to G

CAT4 level tests are different versions of the test catering for children who are in different grades in primary school and high school. The table below provides you with a brief summary. CAT4 Level X and Level Y are for year 1 and 2 and have a different structure. CAT4 Level A to Level G is for year 3 to year 12 and above.

Age range CAT4 level England & Wales Scotland Northern Ireland Republic of Ireland
6 years – 7 years 11 months CAT4 Level X Y2 P3 Y3 (P3) 1st class
7 years – 8 years 11 months CAT4 Level Y Y3 P4 Y4 (P4) 2nd class
6 years 8 months to 8 years 11 months CAT4 Level Pre-A Y3 P4 Y4 (P4) 2nd class
7 years 6 months – 9 years 11 months CAT4 Level A Y4 P5 Y5 (P5) 3rd class
8 years 6 months – 10 years 11 months CAT4 Level B Y5 P6 Y6 (P6) 4th class
9 years 6 months – 11 years 11 months CAT4 Level C Y6 P7 Y7 (P7) 5th class
10 years 6 months – 12 years 11 months CAT4 Level D Y7 S1 Y8 (F1) End of 5th class/ 6th class
11 years 6 months – 13 years 11 months CAT4 Level E Y8 S2 Y9 (F2) End of 6th class/ 1st Year
12 years 6 months – 15 years 11 months CAT4 Level F Y9 & Y10 S3 & S4 Y10 & Y11 (F3 & F4) 2nd and 3rd Year
14 years 6 months – 17 years + CAT4 Level G Y11+ S5 & S6 Y12+ (F5+) 4th/TY/5th Year

As you can see there is some overlap in the age groups which may initially be confusing but helps immensely when testing different age groups in the same cohort – it provides more flexibility in the testing and catches more children in a single test allowing for easier comparison and group scores.

CAT4 Level A-G Test Structure

CAT4 Level A – G each levels consists of 8 short online tests. The 8 CAT4 tests are split into 3 parts each checking a child’s foundational abilities in verbal, numerical, and spatial skills. Each test also has a time limit – I recommend repeating them several times to make sure your child is ready for the real thing and is able to manage their time effectively to finish. The real tests will have time for instructions but the actual CAT4 test times are shown below:-

Part 1 – Figure Classification 10 minutes
Figure Matrices 10 minutes
Part 2 – Verbal Classification 8 minutes
Verbal Analogies 8 minutes
Number Analogies 10 minutes
Part 3 – Number Series 8 minutes
Figure Analysis 9 minutes
Figure Recognition 9 minutes

Early Years – CAT4 Level X and CAT4 Level Y

Developing cognitive skills in children
Developing Cognitive Thinking Skills

Measuring cognitive at an early age is difficult since children develop at different rates. The CAT tests make a good attempt at doing this with the Year 1 and Year 2 versions of the test being presented in a very, very simply format. Children of of this age group will require significant support. The tests are made up of of two parts each with two tests;

Part 1
Figures 12 minutes
Word 10 minutes
Part 2
Numbers 10 minutes
Shapes 11 minutes

Although these are not formal tests prescribed by the National Curriculum schools can still use them to assess and evaluate how well the children are doing, how they potentially likely to do, and what their individual learning styles are. This information can be used to inform teaching strategies providing support or challenge appropriately.

Generally teachers will do formative assessments during the school year to understand each child’s level but these tests only measure knowledge and don’t attempt to evaluate cognitive skills which are foundational to future success. CATs(cognitive abilities tests) provide this information and help to determine future approaches and can focus on both the weakest and strongest children to ensure no child is left behind and gifted children are appropriately challenged.

Even at such an early age understanding strengths and weaknesses of individual children and a group of children can improve our focus and provide a better experience customized to a child’s needs. Attainment in core subjects is important but by using the CAT4 tests schools have a broader view of each child’s capabilities and learning approach. Children of such an early age may be more accustomed to using a pen and paper so this option of delivery is also available.

CAT4 Test Instructions

Once instructions have been given by the teacher and the practice tests and examples been conducted, the real test will begin. During this time a timer will count down the time allocated. The timer cannot be stopped and in fact the time is a critical aspect of measuring a child’s brain processing speed. The test will timeout even if questions haven’t been completed so it is absolutely essential to make sure a time management strategy of some sort is in place.

CAT4 GL Assessment body does allow for a pen and rough paper for students to use and scribble on and make calculations. So tell your child to make sure one is available before the test or else previous seconds will be lost.

CAT4 Test Selection

It is recommended that the level of CAT4 appropriate for the year group being assessed is used – this is important if comparisons are made with other schools or past year results. It also helps by measuring cognitive development of children over a number of years to know how well your school is doing and if basic cognitive skills are improving between school cohorts. This information can help determine strategy and teaching plans to improve the overall school performance.

CAT4 Level Differences

The tests have been validated for each age group so the results are accurate but of course there are differences in their complexity. The two tests for CAT4 Level X (Grade 1) and CAT4 Level Y (Grade 2) consist of only 4 papers but they also contain much simpler questions.

CAT4 Grade 1 Sample question
Lower Level – Primary School CAT4 Question

An example question would be as simple as matching shapes – as seen opposite. Other questions will be a little more complicated with very simple patterns and counting exercises.

For higher levels of the CAT4 test complicated multi-step problems are presented requiring the student to work out intermediate solutions.

Higher Level CAT4 Questions

A younger child will have difficulty to understand the question above due to its complexity. Walking through the question the student needs to be able to visualize the paper once unfolded and can use a variety of strategies to do this. A simple but effective method is to use one corner of the paper as a marker to determine how the paper unfolds. This provides a simpler way of understanding the question but is a difficult method for a student in primary school to reliably use.

The answers presented in a question are just as important as the question itself – and this question highlights this fact in that the only answer with all four corners cut is C – so if the student has determined that all four corners are cut once the paper is unfolded the answer must be C – the holes and other patterns on the paper are simply a distraction. So the student not only needs to understand the problem but also to focus on the correct area and ignore any superficial information. At times the student may focus on the wrong information which does not lead to a definitive answer – in this case the student will have to back track (or take a best guess!).

The above complexity requires advanced cognitive skills and is required in the higher CAT4 test batteries. Having the ability to focus on the right information and determination to revisit a problem or change approach during the problem solving stage are all skills to score highly in the test. Time is an issue and is deliberately short to determine the student’s ability to process information at speed.

Teachers need to make sure they use the correct test level for their children. Parents shouldn’t worry if a child does not get full marks and be aware the test has been designed to make this extremely difficult if not impossible.

How long is the CAT4 test?

Actual testing time is 72 minutes with each of the eight tests lasting between between 8-10 minutes. The test battery in total takes approximately 2 hours 15 minutes.

Breakdown of individual CAT4 test times

Instructions and practice items take approximately 5-15 minutes but the CAT4 test questions themselves take the following times;

  • Figure Classification – 10 mins
  • Figure Matrices – 10 mins
  • Verbal Classification – 8 mins
  • Verbal Analogies – 8 mins
  • Number Analogies – 10 mins
  • Number Series – 8 mins
  • Figure Analysis – 9 mins
  • Figure Recognition – 9 mins

Before the exam

1. Know the lay of the land before you start

Exam Hall for CAT4 Test
School Map to locate the Exam Hall for CAT4 Test

Yo may think this is a given but make sure you and your child know exactly when and where the test is to be held. The worst thing you want is to turn up at the wrong building or worse still the wrong site (if you have a split site school). Everything needs to run as smoothly as possible and that means being fully prepared.

Now there will be 3 parts of the CAT4 each being broken into two actual tests and each test being between 8-10 minutes. The invigilator (that means a teacher who stops you from teaching) will give instructions – a bit longer during the first test and then allow you to try the example questions.

At this point its worth understanding the exact format of the questions since the practice tests you’ve done although very similar are not exactly the same. These example questions will help you get completely familiar with the environment and may have a few changes due to updates to the interface from the assessment body (GL Assessment).

You are now ready to start the first test. Instructions have been given, you’ve run through example tests, and have a pencil and rough paper. Once you start the clock will start and nothing can stop it !! You have between 8-10 minutes to complete the first CAT4 test.

2. Writing is no longer an issue but knowing how to use a keyboard and mouse is !!

Rough paper with pencils should also be distributed before the tests.

Online testings requires keyboard and mouse skills
Keyboard and mouse skills

Back when I was a child our hands would tire from the writing of answers during the tests we had. For the CAT4 – and to ease the marking burden for assessors – tests are now online (although paper based tests can be requested). Of course if your child hasn’t ever done online tests it will be shock and leave them severely disadvantaged. If nothing else try the free online test here on this website – click here – so they at least are aware of what’s coming.

Generation X should generally be comfortable using a computer but again make sure they know how to use a key board and mouse – you’d be surprised how many children only know how to use a smart phone and tablet. Since the tests are all multiple choice knowing how to point a mouse and click is key !!!! I know it sounds silly but make sure your child understands this is how they will be answering the questions.

Using the rough paper is with a pencil for some of the mathematically pattern questions may help your child so again whenever they are running through the practice tests place a paper pad and pencil nearby for them to use.

3. Work out how long it takes to understand and answer a question.

We have a good idea of the type of questions that will come up and time is short – between 8-10 minutes. So that’s between 480 and 600 seconds. This really is a race against the clock and you will be lucky to finish. The time constraint is really by design – one of my other posts (click here) provides a breakdown of what cognitive skills consist of and brain processing speed is one of the factors.

One thing I found during my own exam taking – many moons ago – that after confidently answering a question I would spend a moment to celebrate – these few seconds wasted make you feel good but in a CAT4 test are wasting valuable moments which will come is need when you are presented with another difficult questions.

For each question maximum time taken should be between 24-30 seconds. Easy questions need to be done quickly and accurately without hesitation and delay in moving to the next question. If your child has already run through the tests on this site they know that they are working against the clock and need to work fast. Focus, focus, focus – to have to go over the question is valuable time lost but also guessing an answer may not help your final score. Their is a middle ground where you methodically work through each question – mark the answer – and move on. Work like a machine !!!

During the exam – stay on track.

4. Understand the question – know what’s being asked – read it carefully.

Question by question - step by step until you finish the CAT4 test.
Question by question – step by step to complete

As mentioned in point 3 above you need to be wary of the time and the pace required to complete but on the same hand you need to be as accurate as possible. Each question is a new question – if you get one wrong or are uncertain then make a best guess and move on – don’t dwell on it. The next question is not related to the last and getting the last one wrong doesn’t mean you will get this one wrong.

There is a simple process;

  1. Look at the question and understand it taking any rough notes.
  2. Systematically – work through the question
  3. Any answers which are impossible mentally ignore
  4. Keep moving towards the final answer until you have it
  5. Click on the answer and move to the next question
  6. Start again and keep doing this until all the questions are complete
  7. If you have any time review the questions you missed

Now there are times when you don’t know the answer in these circumstances try to reduce the number of answers by ruling out those answers which it simply cannot be. So rather than guessing from 4 questions (25% probability of guessing correct) if you cross off two answers you will be guessing from 2 answers (50% probability of guessing correctly). Improving your chances in this way will help you get the highest mark possible – and avoid over analysis of the questions and answers.

5. Have checkpoints during the exam to break it up and keep on track

In any exam you need to have checkpoints to make sure you’re on track to finish ! The CAT4 is no different and with the clock ticking on the screen it’s difficult to ignore. At the half way mark (4 minutes or 5 minutes) make sure you’re at least half, I personally like to be ahead to give me a few extra seconds for those more difficult questions which always seem to turn up towards the end of an exam.

Also if you are ahead it gives you an opportunity to take extra care and spend a little more time on those more difficult questions allowing you to get a higher overall score. Like I said before each question is a mark in its own right so whenever you move on forget about the last question. Cognitive tests in generally will not progressively get more difficult.

CAT4 count down clock
Time is of the Essence in CAT4 Exams

Students are all different so how you exactly structure the time is entirely up to you but make sure you aim to finish and make sure you don’t miss any questions out. Take a “guesstimate” if that’s all you can – rule out answers which are impossible to improve your chances but be quick – brain processing speed, focus, memory and problem solving skills all influence your cognitive ability. Improving any of these factors will help you not only in the CAT4 test but also in your academic work.

6. Don’t miss any questions – always answer the question

CAT4 tests aren’t like traditional tests where you have difficult questions, essay questions etc… each question is a mark in its own right and (as far as I understand) carry a similar weighting. Trying to leave harder questions until later is simply not possible due to time constraints and this type of traditional strategy may leave you with a lot of unanswered questions.

The tests on this site and the sample questions during the test all help you to become acquainted with the format so you don’t need to think to much about the format. It is much better to answer each question as quickly as possible, or take a best guess. It’s highly unlikely you will have time to come back and answer the question.

In normal exams my approach would be very similar but I would mark the questions that I took a guess on and return to them to double check. This would mean that I always completed the questions but also allow me to return to questions which I wasn’t sure of. Since the CAT4 test is so short just stay focused and answer each question as quickly as you can taking best guesses where appropriate.

7. Freezing on a question and going blank…

With cognitive abilities test its not about what you have learnt but rather about the skills you have developed. Each question is different but use skills similar to the ones in that particular test. There are times when the question looks so complex or you approach the question use a particular method and fail to get a result.

If it looks complex – choose and approach and systematically work your way through the steps to come to an answer. It’s great when this works out the first time and you have an answer but there are times when you need to repeat the above several times before getting to a conclusion. This wastes valuable time but it’s impossible to know on the outset exactly which approach will work – the best thing is to be methodical and quick and if you feel overwhelmed break it down so you can at the very least cross some of the answers off so you can make a better guess.

Other hints and tips for exams

9. Make sure you use all the time allocated

It’s highly unlikely you’ll have any time to spare but if you do quickly review all the questions especially ones you were unsure of. This is a chance to scrape another couple of marks. USE ALL the time DO NOT finish early.

8. Cramming doesn’t work !

Unlike normal exams there is not a lot you can do in terms of cramming – the tests on this site are enough to practice on (click here).

Let us know your thoughts. Any ideas for helping to develop cognitive skills let me know.

How to Understand Cognitive Skills in Children

CAT4 Skills Development

Learning to Ride a Bike
Practice makes perfect

A skill, like riding a bike is only difficult until you know how to do it. Children are experts at learning skills and the way they do this is one step at a time. They start with the foundations and then keep going until the finish building a house. On the way of course they fall down, but there are key stages which once they have completed they won’t need to go back to except to refine. The persistence and determination of children is something which is truly amazing – as adults we are quick to give up but a child doesn’t until they take their first steps.

Foundational skills on which other talents continuously develop as a child grows – see CAT4 Assessment post for details. These skills are the skills that the CAT4 test attempt to measure. In the past assessments would only focus on knowledge but in the modern age problem solving and the ability to learn quickly are more important than being able to recall information which can just as easily be found by browsing the web.

Development of the brain as a child grows
Brain Development

The thinking skills that are developed come from the brain and the way in which it is being wired together – and this wiring is dependent on the stimulus and challenges the child faces and overcomes. Brain cells or neurons fire off in all directions and create millions of connections as they branch out and reach other neurons. These multitudes of connections – or neural pathways are basically communication paths synonymous to the internet where computers are able to communicate with any other computer connected to the network.

These neurons don’t touch rather they pass information through electrical impulses (or synapses) – so a system of electrical chemical processes allows are thoughts to form and our abilities to develop. The more we are exposed to a particular problem the more synapses and connections are made and reinforced and thus a child becomes gifted in a particular skill.

So to develop the Cognitive Abilities that are useful as we age and part of the CAT4 assessment – children need to be exposed to simpler but similar challenges and puzzles to help these pathways to develop. The brain is truly an amazing organ but as with any part of the body if it’s not used it falls into disarray. In the same children need to be exposed to different experiences to expand their awareness and understanding of the world around them.

Cognitive Skills

Cognitive Skills Attributes
Improving Cognitive Skills

Cognitive skills are enhanced by memory, speed, problem solving and attention. CAT4 tests evaluate specific skills, verbal, non-verbal, quantitative, spatial; but these are time constrained so if a student is unable to think quickly or solve problems or focus or remember similar scenarios they are highly unlikely to score highly. So the development of these attributes along with focusing on the different types of CAT4 tests is key to higher cognitive abilities. Simply having practiced similar tests is not enough but it does provide context which removes a degree of complexity which would otherwise potentially overwhelm a student when faced with an unfamiliar setting.

Nature or nurture – Why are some children smarter?

There is an age old debate over nature and nurture – now without going into too much detail not all brains process information the same way – some children have more “flexibility” in their structures and easily take in knew knowledge and setup new networks. Other children take a little longer to develop these abilities. One child may retain these abilities for longer even without using them while another may simply “drop” the unused skill (or network) after a short period. We are all different but we all have the ability to develop our skills at any age so even if a child is not scoring so well on tests – or on the CAT4 – there is nothing to say that without practice and patience abilities can’t be developed.

There are so many skills as an adult you think you know instinctively about how the world works but its very likely that you have been exposed to similar knowledge problems and patterns as you developed as a child. All the information we accumulate is useful knowledge and helps us process new situations based on past lessons. People accumulate all this useful knowledge through experience, so during childhood parents need to provide challenging scenarios to help their children develop the necessary foundational skills.

What do you think? Is it nature or is it nurture that determines abilities?