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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
England & Wales
Republic of Ireland
6 years – 7 years 11 months
CAT4 Level X
7 years – 8 years 11 months
CAT4 Level Y
6 years 8 months to 8 years 11 months
CAT4 Level Pre-A
7 years 6 months – 9 years 11 months
CAT4 Level A
8 years 6 months – 10 years 11 months
CAT4 Level B
9 years 6 months – 11 years 11 months
CAT4 Level C
10 years 6 months – 12 years 11 months
CAT4 Level D
End of 5th class/ 6th class
11 years 6 months – 13 years 11 months
CAT4 Level E
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
S5 & S6
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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;
Look at the question and understand it taking any rough notes.
Systematically – work through the question
Any answers which are impossible mentally ignore
Keep moving towards the final answer until you have it
Click on the answer and move to the next question
Start again and keep doing this until all the questions are complete
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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 speicific 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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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