School Entrance Exams in the UAE (CAT4, ISEE, MAP, CPAA)

Do you live in the UAE? Are you planning to get your child admitted into a school in UAE and worried about the CAT4 school entrance exam? Unclear what cognitive skills are? Try a CAT4 practice test by clicking here now.

The U.A.E has the second-highest number of international schools in the world – a staggering count of 624 according to a report by Khaleej Times. The UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda aims to develop a first-rate education system using up-to-date systems and teaching methods. Using smart technology and devices for teaching, learning and research, not only is the UAE trying to educate its own people but also set the standard globally.

If you are confused about the entrance process in UAE schools, this guide will help by explaining all about UAE school curriculums, fees, admission processes, and CAT4 test requirements. All the Emirates including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah have a similar approach to school entrance and this guide will help you navigate your way through.

Picture of UAE beach with modern skyscrapers in background
UAE Education is comparable internationally

What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing a School in the UAE?

Finding the best school for your child is all about finding answers to some simple questions like:

  • What kinds of entrance exams does your child need to pass for admission into international schools? (e.g CAT4, MAP, ISEE, etc.
  • Which curriculum does the school follow?
  • What documentation is required for admission?
  • What do the KHDA and ADEK ratings say about the school?
  • Does the school’s fee fit your budget?

What is the CAT4 (Cognitive Abilities Test) and why is it used by UAE schools as part of their admission process?

Like many schools across the UK and Ireland, a large number of international schools in the UAE also use the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) to select candidates for admission. CAT4 is one of the most popular tests used by schools in the UAE as not just part of the admission process but also as part of predicting a child’s future performance in Year 8.

Developed by (GL) Assessment, CAT4 provides a comprehensive report on the cognitive and reasoning capabilities of a child and is an excellent predictor of a child’s future academic achievement. The test evaluates and provides scores for the exact strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. CAT4 tests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi work as an excellent tool for schools to filter out students during the admission process and are also used to identify children with extraordinary talents. In the UAE it is also at times used as a basis to award scholarships.

What Areas Does CAT4 Test in Dubai and Abu Dhabi Assess?

The CAT4 reports on how well a student performs across four defined dimensions, which include:

  1. Verbal Reasoning: The assessment involves traditional examining techniques and evaluates the subject’s verbal skills through the expression of ideas and thoughts in words.
  2. Non-Verbal Reasoning: Used to judge the ability of a candidate to connect different shapes and understand the underlying pattern with the help of images and diagrams.
  3. Spatial Reasoning: It measures the ability of a student to think and draw conclusions in three-dimensional space by manipulating shapes and objects. 
  4. Quantitative Reasoning: Questions on quantitative reasoning appraise more than just general mathematical skills. It focuses on analyzing the candidate’s ability to think fast through numerical problems and work out relationships in a sequence of numbers.  

How is the CAT4 test conducted in the UAE?

The assessment can be either paper-based or computerized and is carried out in the form of a series of MCQ-styled questions and follows the standard approach as prescribed by GL Assessment.

CAT4 will test your child in several different ways and will consist of questions in various formats such as: 

  • Verbal and Numerical Analogies, and Figure Matrices, all of which involve questions that deal with pattern recognition.
  • Verbal and Numerical Classification where students have to work out a relationship between several images in question. Then, they identify which of the given options carries the same relationship.
  • Numerical Series questions ask to figure out the connection between a given series of numbers. The student then has to select the correct option which shows the same connection.
  • Figure Recognition shows a specific shape that is hidden in only one of the given multiple choices. Students have to identify which option is the right.
  • Figure Analysis helps to determine whether a candidate has strong visualization skills. These questions require children to recognize the correct orientation of a given object or shape in the three-dimensions.

With such a wide testing approach, CAT4 assessments are great at pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses of a potential student in the UAE.

Entrance Tests other than the CAT4 used by Schools in the UAE

Apart from CAT4, various schools in Dubai or Abi Dhabi also conduct other tests according to their admission requirements. Some of the more popular entrance tests are described below:

1. Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE)

Independent School Entrance Examination is a test used by several private schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Scoring well in this test is a prerequisite for your child to get into the top private school of your choice. The ISEE tests the child across a wide range of abilities, including verbal skills, quantitative reasoning, mathematical, reading, and writing skills. 

2.   The measure of Academic Progress (MAP)

Entrance exams and assessments in the UAE such as the CAT4
Overview of different Admission Tests (CAT4, MAP, CPAA)

MAP is a kind of entrance test that involves testing the reading ability, science, and math skills of a student. These tests are usually available in computerized form. The great thing about MAP tests is that they are customized to the student’s current level of knowledge and education. This way, every candidate gets a fair chance to prove their knowledge and the school can be sure the child has covered the material and meets a minimum academic standard. The drawback is that this is focused primarily on knowledge rather than the cognitive ability of a student to learn.

3.   Children’s Progress Academic Assessment (CPAA)

Is a standardized test that lets teachers evaluate your child and provides a very thorough analysis of where your child performed well and where there is room for improvement. It is a good idea to thoroughly review the works from previous years since subject knowledge is critical in passing these tests.

What curriculum do schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi Offer?

Before you enroll your child in an international school, it’s important to figure out what curriculum you want your child to study. This depends on several factors such as:

  1. Whether or not your child will stay in UAE for higher education. Especially relevant if you are an expatriate and plan to move back to your home country after a few years.
  2. If another international curriculum will cover the same subjects as the curriculum of your home country.

International Baccalaureate (IB) schools are generally a good choice for those who come from countries which don’t follow a UK type curriculum with GCSE and A-Level assessments. The IB is easy to transfer and offers great flexibility and provides your child with the skills to switch at during later stages.

Should I send my child to an American or British curriculum?

There’s a huge number of both American and British international curricula offered in UAE schools. The American schools predominantly copy a U.S based education pattern accompanied by a credit scoring system, which is conveniently transferable. Their curriculum is much similar to what any IB school would offer. On the other hand, British schools are highly valued by expats who are interested in pursuing higher education in world-renowned UK-based educational institutes. However, at the end of the day, the decision boils down to where you plan to send your child to attend university.

What documents are mandatory for admission into a UAE school?

The specific admission requirements will be different for different schools. However, there are some basic documentation requirements you have to provide to get your child enrolled in any school in Dubai or Abu Dhabi:

  • The school’s admission form
  • Previous school records (if any)
  • Proof of identification for the child and both parents
  • Vaccination records
  • The birth certificate of your child
  • You will also have to submit a non-refundable admission fee when you get your child registered with the school.
Find out how Schools in the UAE use the Official TestWise portal

Where can I find online ratings of schools in the UAE?

If you live in Dubai, then you must check the KHDA ratings for international schools in your area. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority or KHDA is a regulatory body that oversees matters related to the private education sector in Dubai. Their website rates schools against specific criteria and reports on where these schools rank on their list. KHDA’s rankings are made up of five levels starting at the top with ‘Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Acceptable’, and ending at the bottom with ‘Weak’. The criteria for KHDA ratings are a mix of many important factors, such as the school’s leadership capabilities, the student’s academic performance, quality of progress tracking systems, and reporting on results.

However, if you reside in Abu Dhabi, you can use the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) as your go-to website for school searching. This department was recently formed, following in the footsteps of KHDA, and provides the same type of services to the public. Hence, the KHDA and ADEK websites are trustworthy sources to provide you with the exact information you need for your child’s school admission.  

Does the School’s fee fit your budget?

Apart from determining ratings, the KHDA and ADEK platforms are also great sources for finding international schools that match your fee criteria. It’s no secret that International Baccalaureate schools are amongst the countries most expensive. These are then followed by American and British schools which have only marginally cheaper fees.

The school fees in Dubai start from as low as 1,800 AED and go up to a whopping 120,000 AED per annum.

However, one thing you should keep in mind is that the higher fees are generally indicative of a higher quality of education and the curriculum these schools follow. Of course there is a point at which the extra money in fees does not translate to better learning. There are good international schools in the UAE that are affordable and may be covered within your education allowances provided by your employer.

You can use the online international school database to determine which schools in your area you can afford. By entering your the site will find schools in your area within your budget – but as a caveat the list on this site is not comprehensive and its worth asking friends, families, and posting on expatriate websites for advice. Feel free to contact us if you still have any queries about the school system in the UAE, the admission process, and specifically the CAT4 school entrance exam for schools in the UAE. We will be happy to help.

Try a CAT4 practice test by clicking below:
CAT4 PRACTICE TEST

Breaking Down the CAT4 Assessment

CAT4 assessments are a very specific and specialized type of tool which allow schools to independently assess a students abilities. They are generally used in two circumstances but can be used at other points during a child’s schooling – there are various levels available which allow testing at different points in a child’s education.

When are CAT4 Assessments used?

  • To help determine a child’s academic group – generally the results from the CAT4 are used in conjunction with the results from traditional assessments too. Many schools like to use the CAT4 results after KS1 and KS2 to help them with determining a child’s potential.
  • As an entry exam which if passed at the appropriate level allows the student to register at the school.

Purpose of CAT4 Assessments

Normally the purpose of assessments are to determine what a student is learning, has learnt, or as a tool to provide further learning either through the assessment questions themselves or the mistakes they make during the assessment.

The CAT4 in this aspect is different in the sense it is not about what has or is being learnt but rather about the skills and underlying abilities of the student. These will and do develop over time but generally the results of a CAT4 provide a good prediction on the future GCSE achievements.

Developing your Child’s Abilities

CAT4 assessments measure the developed abilities of a child in the four areas that are known to make a difference in learning, exam achievement, and ultimately career success – verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial reasoning. The understanding gleaned from these tests indicate success in both national and international examinations but the questions all parents ask is can CAT4 abilities of a child be developed and changed.

Noughts and crosses - puzzles to help development
Puzzles and games develop cognitive skills

There is no right or wrong answer to this but I believe nurturing a child in these abilities is key to ensuring all their mentally capacity is developed to its fullest. The age old debate of nature or nurture continues but as parents I believe our job is to ensure our child fulfills their potential and has the opportunity to do so. So actively encouraging a child to arrange shapes and identify patterns may contribute to their performance in CAT4 assessments later in life.

These types of thinking games will help prepare our children and ensure they have the fundamental abilities to pick up domain specific knowledge. Spatial ability for instance can be developed somewhat using jigsaw, lego and building blocks – however we are yet to do the research on the effect these games have on a child’s abilities and success later in life. You may want to also check out the page on how to boost these types of skills by clicking here.

Four stages of Child Development

There are 4 distinct stages in development of children which we can look to for guidance. These cognitive stages were recognized by a famous scientist Jean Piaget in 1952;

  1. Sensorimotor Stage: Birth to 2 years. Children are exploring during this stage and learning about the world through their senses and manipulation of objects. It’s not always toys but any object will be fascinating to a child – just make sure its safe and non-toxic.
  2. Preoperational Stage: Ages 2 to 7. Imagination begins to develop and some children even have imaginary friends or make up stories. Memory develops further and the idea of past and future is understood.
  3. Concrete Operational Stage: Ages 7 to 11. This is when a child becomes more more aware of external events, their own feelings and the feelings of others. Empathy with other people is developed and an understanding that not everyone agrees with their thoughts and beliefs.
  4. Formal Operational Stage: Ages 11 and above. Here logic is used to solve problems around them – these are real world problems with real consequences and this age is ever evolving to one of more experiences and maturity.

As you can see above a child simply won’t be able develop certain cognitive skills at an early age. Some intellectual skills simply are not fully understood by a younger child in the same way as a older one. There may be certain areas in which the child excels but overall a younger child is limited in overall cognitive abilities. What can be achieved is simply introducing children to these paradigms and concepts in simple way so when they move to the next stage of development they already have some of the fundamental tools to accurately interpret their new understandings.

What effects your child’s development?

Affects on child development - teacher - famiily and evironment
What effects development?

Nature or nurture – which is it? Are we born with our abilities or are they nurtured through our environment? (discussed further here). I’m with the latter and believe that a child will develop their abilities determined on the factors they are exposed to.

There is a tendency to state that children from the same family are all clever but we need to put this into context and determine if their upbringing is actually very similar which is why they turned out the same. To answer the question why one child is bright and his / her siblings are not – the same logic can be applied – this child must have been exposed to a positive influence in his / her environment or had a teacher who took a real interest.

What Type of Questions are in a CAT4 Test?

What are Cognitive Abilities?

Cognitive abilities are the fundamental building blocks of all other skills. There are various paradigms out there but the ones the CAT4 focuses on are essential to predict future performance, particularly during GCSEs and A-Levels.

The CAT4 assesses four different cognitive areas:

  • Verbal Reasoning (VR)
  • Non Verbal Reasoning (NVR)
  • Quantitative Reasoning (QR)
  • Spatial Awareness (SA)

And uses 8 individual tests. The 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

Try a CAT4 practice test now by clicking here.

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. This skills translates directly to a child’s academic performance since if they can’t read well and understand they are unlikely to perform well in any tests or exams. A basic level of vocabulary is essential and I would argue this is the one sub test which measures – more than indirectly – a child’s exposure to reading material and verbal skills. If a child does have the basic verbal knowledge then the test starts to meets its objective which to test how well a child can think using words.

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. This CAT4 subtest is not actually testing a child’s previous mathematics knowledge but rather the child’s ability to think using numbers – thinking about number patterns, similarities, and differences are key to this particular subtest. It’s not at all about how to use numbers in the real world it’s more about the raw foundational skills you would use when faced with a real world problem involving numbers.

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. Possibly one of the first skills we learn as children is to recognise shapes and faces. Visual non-verbal reasoning is a skill which develops as we grow and start to categorise our surroundings. Furthermore, we bunch things together it larger groups and then smaller groups – four legged animals is split further into cats, dogs, horses etc.. The brain is truly amazing !

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. I have a brother-in-law who can’t put together an Ikea flat pack even if his life depended on it. Being able to visualise in both 2d and 3d spaces helps us understand the consequences of actions. As young babies we believe an object simply does not exist if we can’t see it, or if its been rotated – our spatial awareness of objects and what happens to an object when moved or transformed is yet to develop.

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

The Ultimate CAT4 Practice Test to Smash the School Entrance Exam

Hammer symbolizing the smashing of the CAT4 School Entrance Exam

Preparing for the CAT4 test? Look no further! On this website you’ll find a comprehensive, inexpensive resource providing CAT4 practice test questions and tips to help you ace the real test and pass the school entrance exam. Whether you’re a student or a parent looking to support your child’s preparation, this guide has got you covered.

Understand the CAT4 Test Format and Content

Before diving into practice test questions, it’s important to understand the format and content of the CAT4 test. The CAT4, or Cognitive Abilities Test, is a widely used assessment tool that measures a student’s cognitive abilities in areas such as verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and spatial ability. Familiarizing yourself with the test format and content will help you better prepare and perform well on test day.

Below is a quick overview of the types of questions but further information and examples can be found at this page.

Practice Verbal Reasoning Questions

Verbal reasoning is an important component of the CAT4 test, as it assesses a student’s ability to understand and manipulate language. To practice verbal reasoning questions, start by familiarizing yourself with different question types, such as analogies, synonyms, and antonyms. Then, find practice questions that align with the CAT4 format and content. Work through these questions, paying attention to the strategies and techniques used to solve them. With consistent practice, you’ll improve your verbal reasoning skills and feel more confident on test day.

Master Non-Verbal Reasoning Questions

Non-verbal reasoning questions are a key part of the CAT4 test, and mastering them can greatly improve your overall score. These questions assess your ability to analyze and manipulate visual information, such as patterns, shapes, and sequences. To excel in non-verbal reasoning, it’s important to practice regularly and familiarize yourself with different question types, such as series, matrices, and codes. Look for practice resources that provide clear explanations and strategies for solving these types of questions. By dedicating time to mastering non-verbal reasoning, you’ll be well-prepared for this section of the CAT4 test.

Ace the Quantitative Reasoning Questions

Before diving into solving a quantitative reasoning question, it’s crucial to take the time to understand the type of question and identify key information. Look for anything which can give you clues about the type of calculation or problem-solving approach you need to use. Once you have a clear understanding of the question and the key information, you’ll be better equipped to tackle it effectively and accurately.

See Through the Spatial Awareness Questions

Spatial awareness refers to the ability to understand and perceive the space around us, including the relationship between objects, people, and our own body in that space. It involves being aware of our position, orientation, and movement in relation to our surroundings. Spatial awareness is important because it helps us navigate and interact with our environment effectively and safely. It allows us to judge distances, make accurate movements, and avoid obstacles. Developing spatial awareness can also enhance our problem-solving skills and creativity.

Spatial awareness is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. While some individuals may have a natural inclination towards spatial awareness, it is not solely dependent on innate abilities. Through practice and conscious effort, anyone can improve their spatial awareness. Engaging in activities that require spatial thinking, such as puzzles, drawing, and playing certain sports, can help enhance this skill. Additionally, mindfulness and paying attention to our surroundings can also contribute to improving spatial awareness. With consistent practice and effort, individuals can significantly improve their ability to perceive and understand their surroundings.

Develop Time Management Strategies for the CAT4 Test

Time management is crucial when taking the CAT4 test, as you will have a limited amount of time to complete each section. To develop effective time management strategies, start by familiarizing yourself with the structure and format of the test. Understand how many questions are in each section and allocate your time accordingly. It can be helpful to set specific time goals for each question or section to ensure that you stay on track. Additionally, practice timed mock tests to get a sense of how quickly you can answer questions and identify areas where you may need to improve your speed. By developing strong time management skills, you’ll be able to maximize your performance on the CAT4 test.

For more information on the CAT4 entrance tests check out the Q&A page.

Time Management to Smash the CAT4 Tests

How long is the CAT 4 test?

Managing your time during the CAT4 test is essential and provide you with some precious seconds for those extra difficult questions. Actual testing time for each of the eight tests lasts between between 8-10 minutes. The test battery in total takes approximately 2 hours 15 minutes but actual time in a tests adds up to 72 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

A typical school plan showing the exam hall where the CAT4 will be sat
School Map to locate the Exam Hall for CAT4 Test

You 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.

Young girl sitting in her mother's lap using a laptop to symbolize how online testing 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 CAT4 test – 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 the CAT4 Test

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). Subject matter is not what’s being tested here – see my post on this by clicking 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

Shows a young boy riding a bike through the park. Fundamental skills of balance, control, and strength are used.
Practice makes perfect

A cognitive skill or a physical skill like riding a bike is only difficult until you know how to do it. Children are experts at learning and the way they do this is one step at a time. They start with the foundations and then keep going until they 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.

Brain Function and Cognitive Growth

Shows illustrations of the brain as it develops over age.
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

Diagram showing a breakdown of cognitive skills such as memory, brain process speed, problem solving, and attention - which are measured by tests like the CAT4.
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?

Get Your Child in the Best School Possible

Why get your child into the best school possible?

The best school has better teachers, better students, better resources, a better environment, and is more likely to help your child fulfill their potential – this is a fundamental fact. Choosing the best school for your child (one with a selection exam like the CAT4 or 11+) is one of the best things you can do for the future of your children.

One technique which teachers are trained to use is to create mixed ability classes – this is great for the weaker students since they’ll hopefully learn off the brighter students – but the smarter students will end up lowering their level to the other students. Now you may say that the smarter student may not be effected since the act of teaching and supporting increases understanding – true – but what if the other students simply are disruptive and not focused on what’s been taught… who loses? Your child.

In a selective school – one where the CAT4 or 11+ is used as an entrance exam – the children will all be similar in their abilities and attitudes towards work. It can be safely said that the range of abilities will be not as broad thus any working groups will all be at a similar level and rather than drag each other down the group will grow and learn together.

What are the success factors for life success?

Lessons from the longest study on human development and the factors which contribute towards wellbeing using various dimensions such as education, wealth, health, longevity, quality of life etc… concluded that if your child is in an environment that provides high expectations, with an active interest from the parents then the likelihood of their success in later life increases. Wealth of course is another factor but something many of us are limited with, so the home environment and your conversations with your children are things you can control. The other significant factor to your child’s future success is the school your child goes to – so make sure you select the best one possible.

4 Questions To Ask Your Child Daily

Picture of a tree its reflection in a large lake - represents reflection as a key driver to learning both knowledge and cognitive abilities as measured by the CAT4 which will help get into the best school.
Learning Through Reflection

Everyday since year 1 I always asked my children the following questions:

  1. What did you achieve today?
  2. What did you enjoy and why?
  3. What didn’t you enjoy and why?
  4. What could you have changed to have made it a better day?

Triggering this type of critical thinking in your child helps them reflect and improve – ultimately all you want in for your child to continue improving and pushing to fulfill their potential. By taking the above approach all you’re doing is triggering your child to make changes – improvements – to their own behaviour and approach. The hope is this becomes second nature and even as adults they will continue this practice.

What does your child need? And what do you need?

Some children are more structured and organized while others more creative. Every child is different and you need to really understand the type of environment your child will flourish in. One of my children are extremely social and outspoken so for her I looked for a school with an emphasis on English, drama, and other creative skills. Another child may be very sporty in which case you need to ensure the school has a focus on sports – holds sports events – and is well resourced. If your child needs extra attention then the best school for this child would be one that has support structures in place for a student requiring individual attention, or has special needs that need to be met.

The best school you choose obviously will have to be located close by – preferably walking distance! There is no point in looking at schools half way across the country unless you are will to move in which case location is not a factor. Don’t forget to factor in after school activities – this one throws a lot of parents especially when their are siblings who don’t have activities on the same days. You want to make life easy for yourself but want the best school possible.

Click here to view the list I created of some of the best schools in the country and their admission requirements.

How to choose the best school possible?

When choosing the best school possible you need to take a structure approach:

  1. Research schools in your area – find out as much as you can about each use their websites and also if they are private or public and do they use admission exams like the CAT4 or 11 Plus.
  2. Compare what each have to offer – different opportunities in different catchment areas.
  3. Visit the school – ask about past achievements, extracurricular activates, teacher experience, school ethos, class sizes, total student count, do they have space
  4. Student success – ask or try to find out how well children do after leaving the school. How many go to university? Which universities? Which courses? Which careers?
  5. Talk with parents – this will give you a real insight into everyday school life and what sort of challenges other parents have faced.

You need to have an environment which is conducive to growth, one that encourages and motivates – an environment which provides the opportunity for your child the achieve the very best possible – that’s all we parents really want – our child fulfill their potential.

Click here for a list of some of the best schools by GCSE.

Why Subject Knowledge Doesn’t Matter In A CAT Test

What are CAT Tests?

CAT Test
Cognitive Abilities Test

CAT Tests or Cognitive Ability Tests are assessments used by many schools and even during job interviews to assess an individuals overall intelligence and future potential. They provide a good indication of future performance and many secondary schools, particularly private, grammar and international schools, use CAT Tests to assess a child’s ability before they start Year 7. These tests are also used by some schools in year 7 and year 8 to help determine which academic set a child should be placed in. The CAT test isn’t used to assess academic and topic knowledge but rather a child’s potential if provided with an appropriate learning environment.

Assessing a child’s ability in any area – or the groups abilities in the different areas – helps the teacher to focus on different learning styles and create material and assessments that provide maximum benefit.

Types of CAT Tests

CAT4 / CogAT

There are a variety of CAT tests which are focused on different age groups and created for different purposes. The CAT4 test, or cognitive abilities test, is focused on:

– Verbal Reasoning – Thinking and problem solving with words
– Non-Verbal Reasoning – Thinking and problem solving with shapes and space
– Quantitative Reasoning – Thinking and problem solving with numbers
– Spatial Reasoning – Visualising, picturing and moving shapes around

There are various levels of the CAT4 test ranging from primary school all the way to college / year 12. CogAT is a very similar test and generally used in schools within the United States.

UCAT Test

The UCAT is a University Clinical Abilities Test which focuses on areas which are more in line with the requirements of a health care professional and consists of:

  • 1: Verbal Reasoning.
  • 2: Decision Making.
  • 3: Quantitative Reasoning.
  • 4: Abstract Reasoning.
  • 5: Situational Judgement.

Again the first four sections of the UCAT are clearly measuring cognitive abilities which are related to clinical practice – for instance verbal reasoning skills are required to read reports and / or research papers, decision making is needed to determine a care plan for a patient based on the information available, quantitative reasoning is essential when determining dosages, abstract reasoning is needed to be able to see patterns in x-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds. Section 5 is the one area which is context specific and bringing together all of the other cognitive skills in actual scenarios.

CAT Test

The Common Admission Test is another form of a cognitive ability assessment which is used by various universities to determine if you have the ability to attend higher education, particularly master level courses. It has in the past consisted of verbal and reading comprehension (VARC), data interpretation and logical reasoning (DILR) and quantitative aptitude. There is a lot of competition to get into university courses so these tests are one part of the admissions process set by the university to help select students who have the potential to do well.

Find out more about the UCAT by clicking here.

What is a good CAT test score?

A good CAT score is normally one which puts you in the 80th or 90th percentile of the cohort who takes the test. Ultimately if you achieve entry into the school of your choice your score was good enough !

Powerful CAT Secrets To Boost Life Long Success

Signifies the secrets of cognitive development
Cognitive Development Secrets

A child’s ability to succeed at school academically and socially has been studied for many years – many academics, and I have to agree, feel that with the right support and development every child has the potential to achieve more. The age old debate of nature versus nurture still continues to haunt us but yes there are limitations based on physiology and genetics but with the right support the elastic nature of the brain is truly remarkable.

Schools are being held accountable for their students’ academic performance which has led to further focus on the diverse set of skills and attributes that indicate a child’s future performance – academically that is. When is a child ready to start school? What foundational skills are required? There are factors such as where in the social ladder the child comes from which also play a part – with the gap between children from higher and lower income families widening. You could even argue that a child’s readiness at the start of school impacts his or her learning and academic performance into their teens and ultimately effects their employment potential.

Basic Skills Vs Cognitive Skills

Some academics (click here for more info) conclude that basic literacy and numeracy skills are predictors of success while others feel more directly teaching preschool subjects to build skills in particular domains help. Preschool years are critical in a child’s development of mental processes from memory, focus, and problem solving. Those who come underprivileged background generally are behind in the development of these building blocks putting them at a distinct disadvantage when moving to higher level work.

Without the building blocks of memory, focus, and problem solving it becomes more difficult to build other knowledge whatever the domain. If we take the four pillars below as key indicators of future ability to gain knowledge then by setting and focusing on these as precursors to school readiness will allow children to quickly catch in foundational domain specific knowledge such as literacy and numeracy skills.

Cognitive Ability Skills
Four pillars of cognitive Ability

The contributions of different cognitive skills in academic achievement has been identified as major factors to predict ability and growth in emergent literacy and numeracy skills. So it seems and would make sense that by developing executive functions of the brain domain specific achievement is would positively be impacted.

There are so many factors in determining how a child’s cognitive development is impacted during the early years but if a more structured and explicit approach was taken – it may be possible that the tools building blocks of learning can be developed and used helping the individual perform at a higher level for the rest of his or her life.

Developing Cognitive Skills

Some simple ways of measuring and potentially even developing some of these general cognitive abilities:

  1. Repeating a set of words or letters backwards
  2. Jigsaws / small puzzles
  3. Basic problem solving tasks
  4. Card games – Snap, Pairs, Crazy 8, Black Jack etc..
  5. Word connection games, verbal and visual
  6. Alphabet Soup
  7. Dot to Dot

What is probably the most important thing is to engage your child with new and interesting objects and set challenges for them so they have to use their cognitive functions from an early age – in this way they won’t only be ready for school but they will be equipped with the building blocks – foundational abilities – for the rest of their lives.

Find out how the difference cognitive skills assessed in the CAT4 are used in the real world:

Non-Verbal Figure Analysis
Non-Verbal Figure Matrices
Non-Verbal Figure Recognition
Numerical Analogies
Numerical Series
Verbal Analogies
Verbal Classification

The CAT4 Reveal’s Your Child’s Hidden Potential

What is the CAT4 used for?

A cat hiding in the bushes which signifies the hidden skills that children have and that the CAT4 entrance exam measures.
Hidden cognitive skills lie dormant until triggered !

The CAT4 and be used for a variety of reasons. Firstly as a school entrance exam to ensure that children are able to learn quickly and effectively in a high performing environment. If children in a class are too far apart in academic ability the teacher will end up slowing down the material and having to teach to the lowest common denominator. There is of course room for peer learning and differentiated learning approaches but many schools, particular private schools, are not willing to compromise on the basic cognitive skills they want each and every child to have.

Apart from using the CAT4 as a school entrance exam it is also used as an ability checker and future performance predictor. Many schools now use the CAT4 in year 8 to predict a child’s future performance – particularly at GCSE – and to help determine which set is most appropriate for the child. By developing your child’s cognitive skills in terms of thinking, reading, learning, remembering, reasoning, and paying attention your child will outperform many other children over time even with a starting point of low topic knowledge. These skills will support your child in every way and last a lifetime.

Can’t children be assessed in the classroom – why do we need the CAT4?

In a classroom the teacher only sees a few aspects of a child’s ability. Sometimes the child simply hasn’t ever felt the need to really use their cognitive abilities. Verbal skills are easy to identify but this hidden potential by determining reasoning ability, spatial reasoning, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, make a huge difference to future academic performance. Academic ability and topic knowledge is only one part of the puzzle. The teacher / schools needs to be able to assess the full profile of a child and the CAT4 is an excellent tool to break that down into simply, understandable parts.

Why the CAT4?

The CAT4 is one of the UK (possibly worlds excluding the USA of course) used test of reasoning abilities. It uses at least 25,000 students standardised results to provide an accurate baseline against which your child can be measured. There prove indicators for national tests and examinations during every stage from KS2, SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels. Provide a real insight into the way a child thinks.