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CAT4 test: what it involves and how to prepare

By Atom | Jan 31, 2024, 3:01 PM

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If your child is taking the CAT4 test, this guide will help you and your child understand what to expect. Read on to:

  • Find out why schools use the CAT4

  • Understand the format and structure of the CAT4

  • Learn how the CAT4 is scored

  • Discover how to help your child prepare

  • Plus, download a free CAT4 practice paper!

What is the CAT4?

CAT4 stands for Cognitive Abilities Test (4th Edition). It's created by GL Assessment – one of the UK's leading exam providers, including the 11 plus.

The CAT4 is a non-adaptive test. It aims to reveal a child's hidden potential by assessing their reasoning ability. It's standardised on around 25,000 children in the UK and Ireland.

What is the CAT4 used for?

Schools use CAT4 tests for a range of purposes. The biggest difference between CAT4 and other formative exams (such as SATs and GCSEs) is that it measures a child's natural ability and not what they have learned in the curriculum. CAT4 results give schools a more rounded view of the child's potential. The test also highlight elements of their ability that might not be immediately obvious in the classroom.

CAT4 is used by schools to:

  • Assess candidates' academic ability as part of a selective school entrance exam

  • Stream students into sets based on academic ability

  • Provide an indicator for national tests and exams (e.g. setting predicted grades for GCSEs)

It also helps teachers:

  • Evaluate their students' academic abilities and potential

  • Identify students' strengths to see who might benefit from extra challenge

  • Identify which students might benefit from extra support

  • Identify learning strategies for individual students

  • Support students' transition from primary to secondary school

What are the CAT4 levels?

The CAT4 test has 10 available levels which are aimed at different age groups. The content in each level is appropriate for that age group.

The most commonly used levels are A–G. If your child is taking the CAT4 as an 11 plus exam, they will likely take Level C or Level D.

  • Level A: ages 8–9

  • Level B: ages 9–10

  • Level C: ages 10–11

  • Level D: ages 11–12

  • Level E: ages 12–13

  • Level F: ages 13–15

  • Level G: ages 15+

CAT4 practice tests

Unlock unlimited CAT4 mock tests for Levels A–D with Atom – the UK's leading online learning and exam prep platform.

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CAT4 mock test on Atom Nucleus


No – CAT4 is a non-adaptive test. All of the questions are pre-determined, and children taking the same test at the same time will see the same questions.

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Verbal reasoning paper

Structure of the CAT4

The CAT4 test is a timed assessment of 72 minutes, taken under exam conditions. It's available to schools as both a paper-based and online test.

Children will be assessed through multiple-choice questions across four 'batteries':

  • Verbal reasoning

  • Quantitative reasoning

  • Non-verbal reasoning

  • Spatial reasoning

Let's take a look at some example CAT4 questions for each section.

Part 1

The first section of the CAT4 test assesses non-verbal reasoning. This is a skill that involves solving problems and identifying patterns using pictures and diagrams. Many selective schools include 11 plus non-verbal reasoning as part of their Year 7 selection process.

In the CAT4, non-verbal reasoning is assessed through:

Children are not allowed to use any additional resources such as a pencil or scrap paper in this section.

Figure classification

Figure classification tests your child's ability to understand, analyse and recognise visual information and patterns.

They will see a pair or a group of shapes which are similar in some way. They will then need to select one of five options that matches the group based on a shared characteristic.

A figure classification question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: E

Figure matrices

In figure matrices questions, your child will be tested on their ability to recognise changes between shapes. They will need to show their understanding by applying the same changes to other shapes.

They will see a matrix consisting of several shapes. One piece of the matrix will be missing. They will need to identify how the shapes change within the matrix to identify the missing piece from the options provided.

A figure matrices question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: C

Part 2

The second part of the CAT4 test assesses verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning.

  • Verbal reasoning tests how we think and solve problems using written information. Many grammar and private schools include 11 plus verbal reasoning as part of their Year 7 entry process.

  • Quantitative reasoning is designed to test maths skills and involves processing patterns using numbers.

Part 2 of the CAT4 test consists of three individually-timed sections:

Children are not allowed to use any additional resources in this section.

Verbal classification

In the verbal classification test, children will see two groups of words. They will need to select two words – one from each group – which have the most closely associated meaning.

A verbal classification question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: C (prove) and E (open)

Verbal analogies

In the verbal analogies test, your child will need to work out the relationship between a pair of words. A third word will be presented, and your child needs to apply the same pattern from the first pair to complete the second pair.

A verbal analogies question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: C (solve) and F (break)

Number analogies

Your child will see triplets of numbers that are linked together using a common rule. A number will be missing in the third triplet. They will need to work out the common rule, then apply it to the third triplet to solve the missing number.

Unlike the previous tests, your child will be allowed a pencil and paper for working out in this section.

A number analogies question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: B (60)

Part 3

The third and final part of the CAT4 test involves more quantitative reasoning questions and tests spatial ability. This is a skill which involves transforming visual images in the mind. It's commonly used in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

There are three shorter timed sections:

Your child will be allowed a pencil and paper for rough working out in the number series section, but not for figure analysis or figure recognition.

Number series

Your child will see a sequence of numbers which are linked by a rule. They need to analyse the numbers to work out the rule, then apply it to find the missing numbers in the sequence.

A number series question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: A (36)

Figure analysis

In the figure analysis test, your child will see an image of a square that has been folded and holes punched out of it. They will need to visualise how the square would look if it was unfolded, and select the correct square from five options.

A figure analysis question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: B

Figure recognition

Your child will be tested on their ability to recognise shapes within other shapes. They will need to identify, from five options built of more complex shapes, which option has the shape hidden within it.

A figure recognition question on a CAT4 mock test on Atom

Answer: C

How is the CAT4 marked?

Your child's CAT4 test will be marked by computer. Marks are given for every correct answer and combined to calculate a raw score.

This raw score will then be converted into a Standardised Age Score (SAS). This is a statistical process that takes into account your child's age in years and months at the time of taking the test, ensuring that younger children in the year group are not disadvantaged. The SAS is usually the most important piece of data that schools will take from the test results. A SAS score of 100 places a child as exactly average for their age group.

The test will provide schools with other key pieces of data, such as:

  • National percentile ranking (NPR): indicates how the student's score compares to the national cohort, ranked from low (0) to high (100).

  • Stanine rank (ST): often seen as a visual representation of your child's SAS score when mapped onto a curve, from 1 (low) to 9 (high). A stanine rank of 5 indicates that the child is working at the average ability level for their year group.

The image below shows a student's data after completing a CAT4 practice test on Atom.

A CAT4 mock test transcript on Atom

What is a good CAT4 score?

Most selective schools are looking for a standardised score of at least 115, and sometimes higher, for Year 7 candidates.

If your child is taking the CAT4 test as part of a streaming process or to work out predicted future grades, your child's school might share their results with you. If you have any questions about your child's results, we always recommend talking this through with their school.

CAT4 practice with Atom

Wondering how to make sure your child gets comfortable with CAT4 questions, stays on track with their progress, and gets help when they're stuck? Online learning is a particularly efficient, cost-effective, and fun way to do this!

Atom is the award-winning online learning platform that gives your child everything they need to prepare for the 11 plus and entrance exams.

Children work independently through over 90,000 interactive practice questions in English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Teacher-created helpsheets and videos help them discover new concepts and consolidate their learning.

Atom's adaptive algorithm keeps children on their ideal learning path. It's tailored to your child's unique learning style and pace to keep them challenged and motivated.

CAT4 mock test on Atom Nucleus

CAT4 practice tests

With Atom, you'll unlock unlimited CAT4 practice tests, so your child will go into the exam knowing exactly what to expect.

And what's more, everything is automatically marked for you.

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Looking for support?

We understand that you want your child to do well in the CAT4. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions you may have about the exam or applying to selective schools.

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