Traditionally, independent schools in the UK have used the 11 Plus exam as part of their admissions process. However, some independent schools like St Mary’s School Cambridge, use a Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) as their entrance exam.
The CAT is typically used for Year 7 and Year 8 entry, but some schools offer entry points in Years 4, 5 and 6 too. Some independent schools feel that the 11 Plus exam is too focused on testing for retained knowledge and they prefer to use the CAT to identify students’ academic potential by a different measure.
In this post, we cover everything you need to know about independent school Cognitive Ability Tests.
What are Independent School CATs?
Cognitive Abilities Tests, or CATs for short, are assessments designed to measure a student’s academic ability over four main subject areas. When used as part of an admissions test, the CAT is typically taken the year before entry to an independent school, alongside a face-to-face interview.
However, CATs are also used as a way of monitoring a child’s progress throughout the academic year. They can help schools determine which classes students should be placed in and can help identify learning support needs.
Although Cognitive Ability Tests vary in their content, they are generally used to assess students in the following four areas:
– Verbal Reasoning – problem solving with words
– Non-Verbal Reasoning – interpreting shapes and space
– Quantitative Reasoning – problem solving with numbers
– Spatial Reasoning – moving and visualising shapes and space
Why Do Some Independent Schools Use CATs for Entry into Years 4-8?
Some independent schools believe that the traditional 11 Plus exam focuses too heavily on a student’s ability to ‘test’ well and that the CAT provides a fairer measure of their potential. Whereas the 11+ usually assesses English, Maths, and creative writing, cognitive ability tests are more focused on reasoning.
Because CATs measure a child’s developed abilities, they can be effective at providing additional insights into a child’s learning. For example, cognitive ability tests can help schools identify students who may have learning support needs. With this information, schools can provide the necessary teaching environment and use the most appropriate teaching methods to meet the student’s needs.
How to Prepare for Independent School CATs
Although CATs don’t test for retained knowledge, at Pretest Plus, we believe that if children are familiar with the format and structure of the exam, they’re more likely to perform to the best of their ability.
We advise that parents should help their children create a study schedule that outlines all the topics they need to cover. By spreading out each topic over a period of time, students won’t become bored with studying the same elements over and over.
It’s important to try and keep the study schedule flexible to account for any changes in the student’s availability, and in order to be reactive to any areas that need more attention.
Focusing on reading skills is a good starting point for students preparing for the CAT. By encouraging students to read a wide variety of texts in different styles, they’ll improve their vocabulary and will become more familiar with the language used in the exam.
Likewise, keeping a vocabulary book can be a good way of adding to a student’s language. Every time they come across a word they don’t understand, they should write it down in their book. In the lead up to the test, they can refer to the book to increase their range of vocabulary.
For a recommended reading list, we’d suggest taking a look at our post A Reading List for the 11 Plus Exam. Although this list is focused on the 11 Plus, the texts are written at an appropriate level for students from Year 4 to Year 8.
In order to keep students motivated, parents should try to make study sessions as interactive as possible. By encouraging students to ‘think on their feet’, they’ll be well prepared to answer questions effectively on the day of the test. Word games and spelling tests are a good way of putting knowledge into practice, as are activities involving shapes, mirrors, and patterns.
For more advice on how to prepare for the independent school Cognitive Ability Test, check out our post Study Skills for the Cognitive Abilities Test in Primary School.
How Are Independent School CATs Scored?
Regardless of the year of entry, CATs are age-standardised to ensure that younger students have as fair a chance of performing well as older students.
Once all tests have been scored, the school calculates a standardised score. This accounts for variations across scores to see if younger students consistently scored lower in certain questions. Necessary adjustments are then made to ensure that younger students aren’t at a disadvantage.
How Can Pretest Plus Help?
At Pretest Plus, we publish online practice tests and courses that help students prepare for entrance exams like the independent school CAT. They help students become familiar with the layout and format of the test so that they know what to expect on exam day.
Our online practice tests and courses are designed to provide an accurate representation of cognitive ability test questions and structure. They are also timed to help students develop their time management skills and get them used to answering questions under pressure.
Each test provides students and parents with feedback and answers, so that students know how to answer similar questions in the future. The tests also provide statistical averages so that parents can compare their child’s performance against other students who have taken our tests. These insights can then be used to focus studying on weaker areas.
For students preparing for their Year 4, 5, 6, 7 or Year 8 Cognitive Ability Test, we’d recommend the following resources:
You can learn more about our highly accurate online CAT4 practice tests by clicking on the links below. These CAT Practice Tests are available to take online immediately after purchase. Each module is marked automatically and is then available for review with answers and explanations provided for every question. We also provide comparative ranking statistics on a per module basis so you can quickly identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
CAT4 Practice Test 1
CAT4 Practice Test 2
CAT4 Practice Test 3
CAT4 Practice Test 4
The following online video courses cover everything your child needs to know for each section of the CAT4 assessment. Each course consists of a series of lessons that go through each question type in great detail, providing step-by-step explanations and techniques to help your child recognise the underlying patterns to look out for. They cover every possible question type that could come up in the CAT4 test.
CAT4 Quantitative Reasoning Video Course
CAT4 Non-Verbal Reasoning Video Course
CAT4 Spatial Reasoning Video Course
CAT4 Verbal Reasoning Video Course
Please note that Pretest Plus is an independent publisher of practice tests and not affiliated with or endorsed by any other test publisher.
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