What is a CATs Test?

In General by Think Student Editor1 Comment

Throughout a student’s school life, they will sit a huge variety of tests. Some of these are simple, short class tests to check your understanding. Others, such as GCSEs, are much more significant exams that many have been working towards for at least two years. It can get confusing to remember all the different types of tests, what they mean, and how important they are. This article will focus on the CATs in particular. It can be difficult to find information about CATs tests, as they are not as mainstream as GCSEs and A-Levels and are often assumed to be the same as SATs. However, CATs are very different from your average school test.

CATs stands for Cognitive Ability Tests. As the name suggests, they test a child’s natural aptitude and potential to learn. Unlike the SATs, which they are often confused with, the CATs do not test particular subject knowledge. Instead, they assess general intelligence in areas like verbal reasoning and spatial awareness. Most commonly, they are taken by students near the beginning of Year 7, similar to a baseline test. However, they may occasionally be taken by students in other years across primary and secondary school.

Keep reading for plenty more information about the CATs, from how they are scored, to what sort of questions they contain, to when you can expect to take them.

What is a CATs Test?

Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs) assess a student’s natural ability and intelligence through various reasoning and logic skills. This is a contrast to most tests you take at school, which are about a certain topic you have been studying, testing how well you remember and understand the information you have learned.

The main broad areas assessed in the CATs are:

  1. Verbal reasoning – ability to work with words and use them to solve problems.
  2. Quantitative reasoning – ability to work with numbers and use them to solve problems.
  3. Non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness – ability to work with shapes and use them to solve problems.

As you can see, these are all fairly abstract topics. For this reason, it is difficult to prepare for the CATs. In fact, there are no official practice papers available. This is because it is designed to test your natural ability rather than anything you have learned.

This isn’t necessarily something to worry about! Students build up their logical reasoning skills naturally through school. Additionally, these test results are unlikely to be used long-term in the way that A-Levels are.

Instead, most schools just use CATs to work out where their students start off. This can help to group students into sets, and also monitor their progress throughout school.

When is the CATs Test?

The majority of CATs Tests are taken by students starting secondary school – near the beginning of the autumn term in Year 7. This is when schools are most looking for information about students’ ability, as a sort of baseline.

For more information about Year 7 CATs in particular, have a look at this article from TheSchoolRun.com.

However, this isn’t the only time they can take place. Technically, they can occur in any school year from Year 2 to Year 12. While CATs are less common in primary schools, there are various other times in secondary school when they might be taken.

Some areas of the UK have a system of three schools (lower, middle and upper) rather than two (primary and secondary). In this case, it makes less sense to take the CATs in Year 7, when you are halfway through middle school. Instead, CATs are more likely to be taken in Year 9, at the start of upper or high school.

Even if you start secondary school in Year 7, you may have to take the CATs in Year 9 rather than at the start. This can be a way for the school to check your progress, once you have had a few years of education in that school.

Who takes the CATs Test?

As mentioned, CATs are taken by students most commonly as they start secondary school, aged 10 or 11. However, they can be taken by primary and secondary school students. CATs are not taken by university students, nor at any point before starting school.

Not everyone will take the CATs, because they are not made compulsory by the government. Some schools use their own tests or other methods to assess new students, while others use results from Year 6 SATs.

Overall, about half of secondary schools in the UK implement CATs for their students, according to this article from Parent Kind. In most cases, you will clearly be able to find information on a school website as to whether or not they use CATs, and if so, when they hold them.

Is the CATs Test the same as SATs?

CATs and SATs sound very similar, and many people assume they are the same test, or at least very similar. There are actually many differences between the two, from what they assess to when they are taken. If you would like more information on SATs in general, check out this Think Student article.

The main difference is the content of these tests. SATs test the student on the knowledge they have learned over the past few years. This could be arithmetic skills or English comprehension. These tests can be prepared for by revising content and practising questions.

CATs, on the other hand, do not require prior knowledge. Instead, they contain questions meant to test a child’s innate ability. It might be helpful to compare the CATs to an IQ test.

Another key difference is in when the tests take place. As mentioned, CATs are usually sat at the start of Year 7. However, it may be taken in Year 9, or indeed another school year, if the school chooses. They are not strictly enforced, but are an optional choice for the school to use as they see fit.

In contrast, there is a standard time when all students across the UK sit the SATs. They are compulsory for state school students in England, so the timing is more rigid, especially for the second set.

Students take SATs first at the end of Year 2, then at the end of Year 6. For more information on when SATs are held, have a look at this article from Think Student.

One similarity between CATs and SATs is that they are both used for secondary schools to get an idea of the level their students are starting at. While many schools use Year 6 SATs for this purpose, others think CATs provide a more accurate view.

What is a good CATs score?

Before you receive any results, CATs scores are standardised, allowing for age differences between students sitting the tests. This is because some students may be almost a year older than others when they complete the CATs. This could give them an unfair advantage.

The standardisation process means that you do not simply get a number of how many questions you got right.

The system is designed so the average standardised score is 100. This score represents an average ability across the range of skills tested. Generally, anything above 111 is considered above average ability – in other words, a good score – and below 89 is considered below average.

Have a look at this article from the website of Millom School for these statistics, and more information on how to interpret a CATs score.

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Jessica Campbell
Jessica Campbell
3 months ago

My son took one of these and I was so confused until now.