The Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) is an assessment tool used for children aged between 6 and 17 years and has similarities to an adult IQ test.
Here in the UAE, it is commonly used in private schools as part of the entry assessment process. It is designed to provide a broad and well rounded understanding of the individual student's academic potential and how they learn.
The current CAT4 assessment is made up of tasks linked to a range of cognitive areas. Specifically, these tasks assess the child's non-verbal reasoning (shapes and patterns), verbal reasoning (use and understanding of language), quantitative reasoning (numbers) and spatial ability (involves mentally generating and transforming visual images).
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 in Levels X and Y may be as simple as matching shapes, while higher level tasks may have multiple steps and require more complex problem solving.
|Level X||6 - 7 years|
|Level Y||7 - 8 years|
|Level A||8 - 9 years|
|Level B||9 - 10 years|
|Level C||10 - 11 years|
|Level D||11-12 years|
|Level E||12 - 13 years|
|Level F||13 - 15 years|
|Level G||15 - 17 years|
The CAT4 is usually conducted on a computer, although there is a paper-based version used in some schools. The assessment tasks are grouped into sections and timed, with the exact format varying depending on the assessment level.
Students are shown what they need to do, with practice tests and examples, before the real test begins, to ensure they feel comfortable with how the test works.
Ms Karen Nyborg, Assistant Principal Secondary (Curriculum, Progress and Assessment at GEMS World Academy Dubai, told us:
"The CAT4 assessment is a computerised test completed on our school premises. If a student cannot visit our campus to complete this, we arrange for the assessment to be administered by the student’s current school on their home campus."
Mr Peter Bonner, Assistant Principal of Primary (Curriculum, Progress and Assessment) at GEMS World Academy Dubai, explained:
"As a fully inclusive school, we do not use these assessments as a condition of enrolment but rather to ensure that the school is fully prepared to support every child’s needs from their very first day at school. The information gathered is used to assign appropriate tutor groups, identify appropriate curriculum pathways, and it helps us deploy staff and resources most effectively to support all students’ learning."
While this is the case in the many UAE schools, there are also selective schools that will use CAT4 and/or other assessment tools as a tool in 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.
In most schools, CAT4 tests are used as part of a broader entry assessment process. Mr Nishi Saran, Senior Vice Principal at Bloom World Academy explained:
"The biggest gains from these assessments are that they can help us to identify the ways in which the student learns best, to recognize challenges they may face and to learn how to stretch and extend their learning in areas of strength and talent."
Mr Saran continued:
"At Bloom World Academy, we use a very personalized approach to school entry, focused on gaining the best understanding of the student as possible ahead of their first day. We do use the CAT4 assessment tool but this is not a requirement necessarily, nor is it the be-all and end-all of the assessment process."
The CAT4 is not a test of knowledge or prior learning, but rather an assessment of a student's learning potential and the ways in which they are likely to learn most effectively. Test tasks are designed to be clear for students without any prior experience of the format.
Peter Bonner, Assistant Principal Primary (Curriculum, Progress and Assessment) at GEMS World Academy Dubai explained:
"The CAT4 assessment cannot be prepared for; however, students’ results can be skewed if they feel nervous or anxious about the process. Parents should reassure their child that this is not a ‘test’ but rather a way for the school to get to know them better; we simply want to gain the most accurate picture of the student."
Mr Nishi Saran, Senior Vice Principal at Bloom World Academy explained that the best preparation for these assessments does not involve test practice:
"The best way that parents can prepare their children is by modelling good morals, values and ethics, having strong routines and structure in family life and supporting children to be ready to learn. We want to see the genuine self of every child."
For children who are not fluent in English, or for students of determination for whom the standard entry assessment tools are not suitable, assessments should be adapted to ensure the school can gain clarity on the child's learning potential and how they learn most effectively.
The format of this will vary significantly from school to school and will depend on the needs of the individual child. It is advisable for parents to discuss this with the school prior to any assessment taking place, to ensure there is agreement on the most suitable approach.
Ms Karen Nyborg, Assistant Principal Secondary (Curriculum, Progress and Assessment at GEMS World Academy Dubai, explained:
"We adjust all assessments to ensure the most accurate information is gathered about the student, no matter their needs. This is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach."
The entry assessment process in its entirety can vary significantly from school to school in the UAE, from very formal to personal and relaxed. Each school has its own standards, areas of focus and style.
Mr Mark Atkins, Principal at Durham School Dubai, described the school's assessment process:
"The process of entrance assessment at Durham School is very relaxed – the idea of the assessment is not to frighten the child nor to bombard them with examinations, but just to get to know them a little better and identify any areas of strength or weakness. The most important part of the assessment is conversation between the child and the teacher, and between the teachers and the parents. Durham School has devised its own age-appropriate assessments for candidates, wishing to enter the school."
Mr Nishi Saran described the entry assessment approach at Bloom World Academy:
"We use a very personalized approach to school entry focused on gaining the best understanding of the student as possible ahead of their first day. Mostly this will be about conversation with the family and student, where we could look at school reports, achievements and interests (both within and outside of school). The more fruitful the conversation, the better understanding we build about the ways in which this child will fit in to Bloom World Academy."