A Parents' Guide to the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4)

If your child is heading into Grade 1 and beyond at a Saudi private or international school, they may soon be sitting a CAT4. It may also be used as part of the entry assessment process. So, what exactly is the CAT4, why is it important, and what key details should you look for in the report when you receive it?
A Parents' Guide to the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4)
By Carli Allan
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The new academic year is now well underway, and your child may be preparing to sit a CAT4 test. So, what exactly is the CAT4, why is it important, and what key details should you look for in the report when you receive it?

What is the CAT4?

The Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) is an assessment tool used for children aged between six and 17 years and has similarities to an adult IQ test. Here in Saudi, it is commonly used in private and international schools as part of the admissions process and as a baseline assessment to identify your child's cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

The test is divided into four ‘batteries’: verbal, non-verbal, quantitative, and spatial ability. The CAT4 is not a test of learnt knowledge so there’s no need for your child to revise. Each CAT4 comprises three tests of 45 minutes each (two hours 15 minutes in total) which are sat online during the school day.

There are seven levels of difficulty, based on the ages of children sitting the assessment. The complexity of questions and tasks are scaled in line with expectations for each age group.

Tasks may be as simple as matching shapes, while higher level tasks may have multiple steps and require more complex problem-solving. 

While the test is created by GL Assessment (a 40 year old UK-based data analytics and assessment company), and scores are standardised against the UK school population, the CAT4 is used by schools worldwide following the National Curriculum for England, the IB programme, and CBSE curriculum.

Whilst schools in over 100 countries use CAT4, they do not necessarily do so always at the same point in a child’s education,  and for the same reasons.

At the British International School Riyadh (BISR) for example, the CAT4 is used at Key Stage 2 in Years 3 and 5 (Grades 2 and 4), followed by testing in Years 7, 10 and 12 (Grades 6, 9 and 11). Janine Bradshaw, Head of BISR's Primary DQ campus, explains the advantages of such a universal test.

"The Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) is an assessment of developed abilities in areas (also referred to as 'batteries') known to make a difference to learning and achievement – namely verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial reasoning – and provides schools with an accurate analysis of potential student achievement.

"For example, CAT4 provides a range of indicators for how students could perform in international examinations. This is particularly useful for BISR because it offers IGCSE, A Level and IB indicators.

"We use the CAT4 because it provides a rounded profile of a student's ability so that we can target support, provide the right level of challenge, and make informed decisions about his or her progress."

CAT4 school entry assessment: what to expect

For children enrolling in a Saudi school in Grade1/Year 2 or above, chances are a CAT4 test will be used as part of a broader entry assessment process. 

While this is the case in many Saudi schools, there are also selective schools that will use CAT4 and/or other assessment tools as a means of identifying students with academic potential when making offers of a school place. Before applying for a school place and undergoing these assessments, it is a good idea to ask the school whether or not this is the case. 

I’ve received my child’s CAT4 report - what does it mean?

Depending on the school, students may sit the CAT4 test from Grade 3/Year 4 upwards as part of the school’s baseline assessments. Once your child has completed the test, you will usually receive an individual parent report which will outline your child’s performance in key cognitive areas. 

Depending on the age of your child, the report may provide indicators of academic grades in various subjects, which can be used as a guide for future attainment in exams such as GCSEs or A Levels. The report also contains suggestions for parents on how to support their child's cognitive development, including reading materials related to strengths and areas of improvement.

It's key to remember that the CAT4 is not a test that can be passed or failed, it’s all about understanding your child’s learning potential.

Ms Bradshaw (BISR) has this advice for parents.

"Parents can see their child’s performance in each battery. They receive a profile description with written recommendations to support their child’s academic growth. 

"To avoid any misunderstandings, the reports combine visual, numerical and textual information regarding the results. Understanding the report is a process, so parents are welcome to ask their child’s teacher as many questions as they need to regarding scores and their meaning."

An extract from a CAT4 parent report

Why is the CAT4 important?

School leaders in Saudi emphasise that while CAT4 data can provide valuable insights for both teachers and parents, it needs to be considered alongside other classroom and teacher assessments.  

Many schools are using CAT4 alongside scores from GL Education’s Progress Tests in English and Maths, as well as other internal assessments and teacher observations.

No two children will learn in the same way, and the CAT4 can help teachers to personalise learning in the classroom – and to support your child if they need enrichment or intervention.

Ms Bradshaw (BISR) adds:

"The CAT4 is important because it provides a rounded profile of a student's ability so that we can target support, provide the right level of challenge, and make informed decisions about their progress."

The CAT4 can identify if a student is achieving, or has the ability to achieve, at a significantly higher level than their peers; a mean score of 125-plus will indicate if a child’s cognitive ability is beyond that of their age-appropriate level. This is used alongside data from external progress tests, teacher assessments, conversations with parents, and discussions with the children themselves.

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