What is in each battery?

CAT4 consists of four test batteries, each of which contains two tests for all but the youngest children. These batteries and tests are described below.

Verbal Reasoning Battery

In the Verbal Classification test, each question presents three words that are all similar in some way. Students have to identify the conceptual link between the three words and then select from a list of five further words the one which best fits with the first three. This test assesses general verbal reasoning and the ability to extract general principles from specific examples by identifying similarities and relationships between the concepts. Also assessed are general knowledge (for example, that an ankle is a joint), word knowledge (for example, that ‘cold’ can mean a virus or a low temperature) and language development (for example, that some words can be verbs or nouns, or how to use words like ‘although’ or ‘moreover’).

In the Verbal Analogies test, each question presents a verbal analogy in the form of ‘A-B: C-_’. Students have to work out how the first pair of words is related to each other and then select from five answer options the one that completes the second pair. These questions involve two elements to the reasoning. First, students have to look for similarities and differences between the first pair, for example the second thing is an element of the first or a descriptive term for the first. Second, they have to duplicate that relationship starting with the third word presented. Like Verbal Classification, this test also assesses general verbal and word knowledge.

Although the students’ store of general and word knowledge influences their performance on the Verbal Reasoning Battery, questions have been written to maximise the students’ flexibility in identifying and using concepts rather than taxing their background knowledge or vocabulary. As far as possible, the words used are likely to be commonly known at the level in which they are used. For example, ‘windy’ might be used in Level A but ‘hurricane’ in Level E. Questions emphasise general basic reasoning processes, with the relationships being presented in verbal terms.

Since the greater part of education is presented through the verbal medium, the importance of this battery for diagnosis and educational attainment is clear. Tests of verbal reasoning have always been among the best predictors of educational progress.

Quantitative Reasoning Battery

In the Number Analogies test, each question presents three pairs of numbers, such as ‘4-6, 8-10, 9-_’. Students have to work out how the pairs of numbers are related and then complete the third pair by selecting the answer from the five options presented. The questions in this test assess the same basic reasoning processes that are assessed in the equivalent Verbal Analogies test, namely, identifying relationships and creating further examples of them. The questions in this test also assess basic arithmetic knowledge (for example, that 6 is twice 3), accuracy in doing simple arithmetic and flexibility in identifying and being aware of numerical relationships (for example, that 7 might be twice 3 plus 1 or four times 2 minus 1).

In the Number Series test, students have to work out the rule underlying the progression in the number series in each question and then select the next number in the series from the five options presented. This test assesses the same underlying basic reasoning processes and number facility as Number Analogies.

Next to verbal reasoning, the ability to work with numerical material is one of the most frequently required capabilities in educational settings. Fields such as mathematics, science, geography and economics make considerable demands on quantitative abilities. Quantitative reasoning together with verbal reasoning constitutes what some theorists have called ‘academic ability’, in that they were the two types of thinking that were most obviously represented in traditional school curricula.

Nonverbal Reasoning Battery

In the Figure Classification test, each question presents students with three separate figures and they have to identify the conceptual link or underlying characteristic that all three figures have in common. They then have to select the one figure from five answer options that goes with the first three. This test assesses the same underlying reasoning processes as the Verbal Reasoning Battery tests; that is, the ability to identify similarities, differences and relationships between elements. The ability to form representations of shapes is only involved at a very low level, so those demands are unlikely to impact upon the vast majority of students. Only the scores of those who cannot spot gross visual distinctions (for example, a 90° angle versus a 70° angle) would be adversely affected by the representational demands of the test. In all other cases, it is the reasoning processes that constitute the primary source of difficulty.

In the Figure Matrices test, each question presents a figural analogy in the form of ‘A-B, C-_’. Students have to work out how the first pair of figures is related to each other and then select from five answer options the one that completes the second pair. The underlying reasoning processes used in solving Figure Matrices are essentially the same as those in Verbal Analogies and Number Analogies. Visualisation is assessed to a larger degree in this test compared with Figure Classification, as the questions require students to be able to use visual ‘working memory’ to imagine transformation and combinations of shapes.1

The tests in the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery do not make use of words or numbers, and the geometric and figural elements used bear little direct relationship to formal educational instruction. The tests emphasise the discovery of, and flexibility in, manipulating relationships expressed in figural designs.

1 Working memory is the facility to retain and manipulate information (words, numbers and images) for a short time in order to perform a specific task – for example, the ability to remember a phone number or date, solve a mental maths problem or, in this case, hold the original shape in mind and imagine it transformed. Efficient working memory is essential for learning but the amount of information that can be held is limited and unstable particularly if an individual is distracted or distractible; if this happens the process has to be begun again!

Spatial Ability Battery

In the Figure Analysis test, each question presents students with a square that is repeatedly folded and then has one or more holes punched through it. Students have to work out what the final product would look like when unfolded, and select this from the five answer options provided. This test assesses visualisation processes, that is the ability to create a complex mental image, retain it in mind and manipulate it before comparing the imagined result with other presented material.

In the Figure Recognition test, students are shown five complex designs as line drawings with a target shape below. Students have to identify which of the five designs contains the exact same size outline of the target, including each side in full. This test assesses visualisation skills, particularly the ability to create and retain a firm mental image of a shape that represents angles and lengths accurately.

As with the Nonverbal Reasoning Battery, the tests in the Spatial Ability Battery do not make use of words or numbers. Instead they emphasise visualisation and manipulation of mental images.

More about the batteries

Nonverbal and spatial tests have been found to be significant predictors of educational attainment, despite their content being generally unrelated to formal schooling. Among students with similar levels of verbal or quantitative ability, the Nonverbal and spatial tests can indicate significant aptitude for subjects such as mathematics, physics, design, engineering and architecture, which draw on visual-spatial abilities.

As the Nonverbal Reasoning and Spatial Ability Batteries do not rely on reading or the use of English, they can be particularly useful when assessing students who have English as an additional language, or who have reading difficulties or have experienced a disrupted education. They are also not strongly influenced by other factors such as a child’s cultural background, although caution needs to be exercised when interpreting results for children from non-Western backgrounds, as they may be unfamiliar with the type of material and tasks used.

Unlike the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Batteries, questions in the Nonverbal Reasoning and Spatial Ability Batteries do not require students to have any prior factual or conceptual knowledge of any kind, beyond that required to access the test instructions. These batteries therefore assess students’ general cognitive capacity to solve novel problems they have not been directly taught. Where performance on the Nonverbal Reasoning or Spatial Ability Batteries is superior to that on the other two batteries, it may indicate that these students have potential that is not being fully shown in their performance on school-related tasks.

Among students with similar levels of verbal or quantitative ability, the nonverbal and spatial tests can indicate significant aptitude for certain subjects.

Across the four test batteries, similar question types have been included as far as possible. The purpose of this is to reduce variation in test performance that may be attributed to ability with, or understanding of, specific question types. For example, analogy tests have been included in the Verbal, Quantitative and Nonverbal Reasoning (Figure Matrices) Batteries. This means that students’ profiles of results will more accurately reflect their reasoning ability with each type of material, rather than their ability to undertake different forms of test question.