The Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) is a diagnostic assessment that is designed to help students and their teachers understand how they learn and what their academic potential might be. It assesses how students think in areas that are known to make a difference to learning.
While many tests focus on a child’s attainment in core subjects, CAT4 is designed to give schools a much broader, more rounded view of each child, their potential and how they learn. Results help teachers decide about the pace of learning that is right for a student and whether additional support or challenge is needed.
Tasks involve thinking about shapes and patterns (Non-Verbal Reasoning), words (Verbal Reasoning), numbers (Quantitative Reasoning) and some questions are answered by mentally generating and transforming visual images (Spatial Ability).
CAT4 is based on years of research and development. The current edition took five years to develop and the involvement of 25,000 students across the UK. It is a well-known assessment in schools; teachers value its ability to provide an understanding of what a child is capable of rather than defining them by their understanding of a body of knowledge in particular subjects.
CAT4 provides teachers with information that can form the basis for discussions about how best a student can learn and reach his or her potential in school.
Teachers are provided with an individual profile of learning preference along with a range of indicators of likely future performance. Used with other information (such as results from Key Stage 2 SATs, for example), these data can support teaching and learning for all children.
We strongly advise against any kind of practice ahead of a CAT4 test as this will alter the reliability of test scores. The point of CAT4 is that it is not a test of learnt knowledge and it needs to be as unaffected as possible by any external factors, such as practice. Think of it like an eye test; if you practice ahead of an eye test and memorise the card, your diagnosis may not be correct and valuable information may be missed.
CAT4 is a timed assessment and is administered under formal conditions. However, each section of the assessment includes introductory information with practice examples, and these will familiarise the children with the style and format of the questions. These sections are not timed and may be repeated.
CAT4 is a timed assessment and additional time is not permitted as this will affect the reliability of the results. CAT4 is not just about what and how it tests but how the questions are answered within a set timeframe. The timed element makes it diagnostically very powerful.
CAT4 subtests are generously timed and most children reach the final questions, however there may have been a minority of students during the standardisation process who would have obtained higher scores if they had been given more time. Therefore, giving extra time to a particular student could give an inflated view of their relative ability when comparing their results with the CAT4 norms.
In short, this depends on what information the school wishes to gain from the test scores.
It is generally accepted that dyslexia is best described as a continuum from people who are so mildly affected that they may be unaware that they have any dyslexia traits to those who are severely affected. For this reason, it is difficult to make a definitive judgement about the suitability of a test battery like CAT4 for a particular individual.
Some dyslexic students, especially those with only a mild degree of the condition, may have marked strengths in non-verbal, mathematical and spatial reasoning tasks. In these cases, the benefits of using CAT4 are clear. CAT4 can also help to identify children who need additional support in particular areas, such as children with dyslexia who have not yet been identified.
Children who routinely have a reader (in a SATs Maths test, for example) may be supported by a reader through the introductory sections of the Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative and Spatial Reasoning batteries, however students need to answer the timed sections independently. This means that students must also read the Verbal Reasoning section of the test by themselves without a reader.
If it is appropriate, schools may choose to omit the Verbal Reasoning section for a particular student. This means that the full profile will not be available, however diagnostic information will be yielded from other parts of CAT4. For instance, the Spatial Reasoning battery provides a direct assessment of visual-spatial processing, which is usually unaffected by dyslexic difficulties and may even prove a positive strength. Providing a dyslexic individual with assessment results that reveal that have such a strength is useful for their future learning and may also provide a much-needed morale booster.
For more severely affected students, it may be more appropriate to obtain a different assessment of cognitive abilities by an educational psychologist. This is not because different types of assessment involve different skills and abilities. Assessments such as the British Ability Scales (BAS3) are more likely to reveal the intellectual strengths of a severely dyslexic person than one that requires reading or performance under time limits.
We are unable to recommend how CAT4 should be administered with individual students. We advise that any parent who has a concern discusses this with their school.
The CAT4 Teacher Guide Pack has guidance on communicating with parents and a template for pre- and post-testing. The information in this FAQ can also be shared with parents and parents should be informed that practice materials and extra time are not permitted.