What is CAT4?

The Cognitive Abilities Test Fourth Edition (CAT4) is a suite of tests developed to support schools in understanding students’ abilities and likely academic potential. Results from CAT4 can be used to inform individual and group teaching, for target setting and monitoring the performance of groups of students.

CAT4 assesses the ability to reason with and manipulate different types of material. CAT4 comprises four batteries of tests that assess the main types of mental processing that play a substantial role in human thought. Together, these four batteries provide users with a comprehensive understanding of the core abilities related to learning by assessing a student’s capabilities when dealing with each type of processing.

The CAT4 batteries assess:

  • reasoning with words
  • reasoning with numbers
  • reasoning with shapes and designs
  • thinking with and mentally manipulating precise shapes.

The set of four scores obtained from assessment with CAT4 provides a profile of a student’s abilities, as well as providing an overall summary score of his or her reasoning abilities across the four areas.

CAT4 is available in both paper and digital editions. The test content of each is comparable in form. CAT4X verbal was internationalised in 2019 in the digital edition.

During the development of CAT4, the authors emphasised the assessment of relational thinking; that is, the ability to understand relationships among elements using the media of the four test batteries. The basic elements of each test have been kept simple and clear to ensure the tests are accessible to students of the appropriate age for each test level.

The Spatial Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning Batteries

The Spatial Ability Battery is designed to assess how well students can create and retain mental images of precise shapes and objects, and then manipulate these in their minds. This ability is critical to effective working in many ‘spatial’ disciplines and careers (for example, engineering, physical sciences, mathematics and architecture). Yet it has traditionally been under-appreciated or under-assessed in schools, either being ignored completely or viewed as relevant only to ‘low-level’ manual skills.

For this reason, students who excel in such thinking have been under-identified and therefore not properly encouraged to actualise their potential. Perhaps as a consequence, spatial disciplines have struggled to obtain enough recruits, and those they do recruit have sometimes not been best suited to the demands of the work, having been chosen on the basis of inappropriate ability measures, family pressure or gender stereotyping – for example, ‘engineering is a man’s job’.

Students with a high spatial ability may be well-suited to jobs involving visual mapping, such as architecture, graphic design, photography and astronomy.

In recent decades, major longitudinal research projects have conclusively shown that spatial ability is a significant element underlying performance in spatial disciplines. Also, it has been found that those who are most likely to pursue and excel in these domains are people with a relative strength in spatial ability, rather than necessarily those who do well in all types of ability tests. The balance of abilities – even a small difference within a person who has a very high level of general ability – seems critical for career choice and success. Assessing people solely on verbal and mathematical tests is therefore likely to miss many of those with the highest potential. to succeed in spatial careers. Such research is presented succinctly in Recognizing Spatial Intelligence (Park et al., Scientific American, November 2010).

Due to the neglect of spatial ability in school curricula, traditional standardized assessments, and in national talent searches, those with relative spatial strengths across the entire range of ability constitute an under-served population with potential to bolster the current scientific and technical workforce.
Students with a high spatial ability may be well-suited to jobs involving visual mapping, such as architecture, graphic design, photography and astronomy.

The Nonverbal Reasoning Battery is designed to measure something distinct from the Spatial Ability Battery. The materials used are still shapes but the difficulty of the task lies not in creating, maintaining and mentally manipulating precise images but in reasoning with easily distinguishable shapes and designs. Like the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Batteries, it measures basic reasoning processes such as identifying similarities and relationships by using shapes and designs rather than words or numbers as the stimulus material. For this reason, it provides a means by which those with a spatial bias can demonstrate how effectively they can engage in general reasoning processes.

However, the fact that the shapes and designs used are easy to distinguish means that those with a verbal bias can also succeed on the Nonverbal items, by describing the shapes and designs in words and then reasoning out the solution verbally – for example, ‘large circle goes to small circle and two horizontal lines are added’. This flexibility in solving the Nonverbal items means that the battery provides a good indication of students’ ability to solve problems using whatever cognitive resources they can muster. It is therefore not surprising that research has shown that Nonverbal tests often relate closely to overall scores on large batteries of different tests.

Although all four batteries are equally weighted in the mean CAT4 score for the four batteries, the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery consistently correlates at the highest level with that overall score, thus supporting this research. This makes the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery particularly important when assessing students whose performance on the Verbal and/or Quantitative Reasoning Batteries may not be representative so that the overall mean CAT4 score needs to be treated with caution. This impairment may result from any number of reasons, such as poor educational background, specific learning difficulties or not speaking English as a first language.

For students who can be validly assessed with all four batteries, the introduction of the Spatial Ability Battery means that CAT4 provides a clear measure of the extremes of thinking processes, namely, those using verbal processing (the ‘inner ear/voice’) and those using spatial processing (the ‘inner eye/hand’). Additionally, the Nonverbal and Quantitative Reasoning Batteries provide measures of the ability to think using both these types of processing together.