What is the CAT4 – And Why Is My Child Taking It?

If your child is heading into Year 4 and beyond at a UAE school, they may soon be sitting 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 – And Why Is My Child Taking It?
By Carli Allan
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As a new academic year begins, your child may be preparing to sit a CAT4. 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 the UAE, it is commonly used in private 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.

While the test is created by GL Assessment (a UK exam provider), 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.

Steven Giles, Principal at Raffles International School, explains the advantages of such a universal test.

“The CAT4 is used in schools to assess a student's cognitive abilities, such as verbal, quantitative, non-verbal, and spatial reasoning. It helps educators understand a student's learning style and potential areas of strength or improvement.

“At Raffles International School, existing students undertake the test every two to three years, and every new student to the school also has to undertake a CAT4 assessment. Because it is used universally around the world and is an internationally renowned test, the results can be easily understood, and unique learning styles identified. The tests can predict eventual grades at IGCSE and A Level based on millions of historical data. Of course, every child is different, but it works effectively as an indicator of potential and if the student is challenged.”

Kelvin Hornsby, Principal at GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, says the CAT4 can help teachers to "unlock the potential of each student".

When will my child sit a CAT4 – and why?

In Dubai, all private schools must use the CAT4 to meet the KHDA’s External Benchmark Assessments Requirements; schools are expected to test students in Years 4, 6, 8 and 10. 

Kelvin Hornsby, Principal/CEO, GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi and Senior Vice President – Education, GEMS Education, explains why the CAT4 is a valuable assessment.

“Students are expected to have their CAT4 assessment during the start of the academic year. We aim to ensure that all students who are eligible for the assessment have a complete profile, and this is shared with parents and assists with the learning conversations that take place between school and home.
“At GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, our aim is to ensure we unlock the potential of each student, helping them to perform better. The data generated by CAT4 provides us and our families with insights into the ways in which each child learns best so that we can stretch and extend the learning in the areas of strength, while supporting those areas where there may be challenges.”

At Nord Anglia International School Dubai, primary students sit the CAT4 test in Years 4 and 6 as part of the school’s baseline assessments. Deputy Head of Primary Amel Dali-bey explains why.

“By assessing students' cognitive abilities in areas such as verbal, non-verbal, quantitative, and spatial reasoning, class teachers can identify students' strengths and weaknesses and tailor learning to your child’s individual needs. The most important thing to remember is that the test is just one tool among many that teachers use to assess and support your child’s learning.”

Schools worldwide use CAT4 – but not always at the same point in a child’s education and for various reasons.

James McDonald, Principal/CEO, GEMS Wesgreen International School – Sharjah, highlights the different ways schools will use the assessment.

Admissions: Many schools in the UAE and around the world get children to take CAT4 assessments as part of the admissions process. The results can help the school understand how best to support your child's learning journey from the outset.

Growth tracking: A lot of schools use CAT4 to track cognitive development against student achievement. When CAT4 is given periodically, such as once a year, it allows you to track your child's cognitive growth over time, look for any unexpected changes and discuss any concerns with their teachers.

Gifted & Talented and specific learning needs: CAT4 results might show that your child has exceptional cognitive abilities in specific areas or that they may face certain challenges. If your child's results suggest they're gifted or may need support, the school should have identified this and have a specific educational plan in place.
Exam results potential: CAT4 uses the outcomes of the test to indicate projected examination outcomes. Many schools use these ‘predictors’ as targets. Like any target, it is moveable and should never be used as a limiting factor. The best schools not only endeavour to support students in reaching these targets, but also strive to ensure children are further challenged to surpass them.

Students at GEMS Wesgreen International School – Sharjah sit the CAT4 assessment, which Principal James McDonald says can offer "a window into your child's cognitive landscape”.

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

Once your child has completed the test, you will 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 your child's cognitive development, including reading materials related to strengths and areas of improvement.

Before getting overwhelmed and confused by scores and charts, Amel Dali-bey (NAS Dubai) has this advice for parents.

“I would urge you to discuss the report with your child’s class teacher if you are unsure about anything. At NAS Dubai, class teachers will also discuss the ‘student report’ with your child so that they understand how they learn best.

"It's important not to place too much emphasis on a single test score, as a child's abilities can develop and change over time. It is vital that parents should work collaboratively with the school to create a supportive learning environment that addresses your child’s individual needs and interests.”

Ian Thurston, Principal at Dubai International Academy Al Barsha, explains what the report can highlight about a child’s “natural learning biases and academic potential”. 

“Parents can look for any significant differences in each of the four batteries to determine if there are particular strengths or areas for improvement. In Secondary, CAT4 will also provide indicators of academic grades in various subject which can be used to help guide future pathways.

"It is important, however, to recognise that these results are just a snapshot and only one piece of information.”

James McDonald (GEMS Wesgreen International School – Sharjah) explains why it’s so important to offer parents “a window into their child's cognitive landscape”.

“Tracking your child's cognitive development over time is a key aspect to consider. If your child undergoes CAT4 assessments regularly, teachers take the opportunity to compare their results across multiple testing sessions. 

"This comparative analysis can unveil trends in their cognitive growth, highlighting areas where they've made strides and pinpointing areas that might require more attention or focused efforts. It can also initiate conversations around their mental wellbeing and attitudes to school.
“Furthermore, examining the educational implications of your child's CAT4 results is essential. Understanding how their cognitive profile impacts their learning style can be transformative. It opens the door to productive discussions with their teachers on how to leverage their strengths and effectively address any challenges they may encounter in the classroom.”

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.

As Steven Giles (Raffles International School) says, parents should consider more than just the scores presented in the report.

“As a parent when you receive your CAT4 parent report, look for insights into your child's cognitive strengths and weaknesses, learning preferences, and suggested strategies for supporting their education.

"There are no numbers in the CAT4 parent report but guides on how to improve in areas of development. Parents will often want quantifiable data to compare with their friends. This is not the point of the CAT4. It is a developmental tool to help students understand how they learn and identify areas in which they can develop.”

An extract from a CAT4 parent report

Why is the CAT4 important?

School leaders in the UAE 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.  

As Ian Thurston (DIA Al Barsha), says:

CAT4 is important as a starting point for understanding a child, from an academic standpoint. Like all data, it may help teachers and parents identify needs of a child, however, it must be used as one piece of the complex jigsaw, that is a child.”

Amel Dali-bey (NAS Dubai) adds:

“The test is not only used to identify areas for development but is also often used to identify gifted and talented students who demonstrate exceptional cognitive abilities. The data it provides can be used to tailor teaching to better meet the needs of individual learners, whether your child requires enrichment, additional support, or specialized interventions.

"The most important thing to remember is that the test is just one tool among many that teachers use to assess and support your child’s learning.”
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.

Kelvin Hornsby (GEMS World Academy - Abu Dhabi) says it is an essential way for the school to “gain the most accurate picture of our students”

“The CAT4 assessment forms part of our processes when identifying the individual pathway that a child is taking on their learning journey.  We are able to identify – with input from class teachers, parents, and learners themselves – the key areas where stretch and challenge are required, while also ensuring that we have the appropriate support in place from the beginning of the child’s learning journey."

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.

Michelle Puxty, Head of Secondary School, Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, explains how the CAT4 can help to identify early signs of learning barriers or specific needs that students may have.

"If a student consistently scores significantly lower in a particular cognitive domain, it prompts us to investigate further and consider whether additional support or accommodations are required. For example, a lower score in verbal reasoning might indicate language-related challenges for our EAL learners.  

"This allows us to tailor the support we can offer the child, for example, the child may need to enter our language B development programme in English. CAT4 results can also identify gifted students who may benefit from more challenging experiences in school and join our ALPHA programme (Advanced Learning Programme High Ability), where they are stretched in their areas of strength and interest.

James McDonald (GEMS Wesgreen International School – Sharjah) adds:

CAT4 results allow for early support and intervention. If the assessment indicates that your child faces challenges in certain cognitive areas, early intervention becomes feasible to address these challenges promptly and prevent them from hindering your child's learning progress.

"Conversely, if your child excels in specific areas, CAT4 helps guide educators in providing advanced opportunities and greater enrichment.”

Read more: CAT4 School Entry Assessment: What to Expect. Click here.

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