So, you've just got your child through their Key Stage 2 SATS, and no sooner have you bought the uniform for secondary school than you realise they are going to take more tests!
You might wonder why secondary schools test children so soon after the formal tests in Year 6, but there are some very good reasons. We'll be breaking down just what Year 7 CATS are testing, how you can interpret the results and how you can support your new secondary school student as they begin Key Stage 3.
CATs are just one of the very many new things that your child will encounter as they start their life as a secondary school pupil. There's so many new and fun learning and extracurricular experiences to be had, and CATs are just a very small part of them.
What Are CATs?
CATs stand for Cognitive Abilities Tests. The CAT tests are designed to test children's general intelligence, and help the schools to stream them into sets for all or some subjects.
The Cognitive Abilities Tests are designed to test your child's strengths and weaknesses in four different areas. There's a different CAT test to gauge their ability in:
Spatial Reasoning – This is how kids are able to visualise, picture and move shapes around.
Verbal Reasoning – How children think and are able to carry out problem-solving with words.
Quantitative Reasoning – This looks at how they are able to problem solve with numbers.
Non-Verbal Reasoning– How kids think and problem solve with space and shapes.
You might find that CAT testing is used in other school years. If your child goes to school in a three-tier education area, they will take CATs when they join Upper School in Year 9. Primary schools also sometimes test children using formal CAT tests as well, rather than relying on internal tests or ongoing teacher assessments.
What Do Schools Use CATs Results For?
You might wonder why schools don't just use the results of the Year 6 SATs to stream the children who arrive in Year 7. Because primary children can be so thoroughly coached by schools to pass the SATs, many secondary schools don't want to rely solely on those results when streaming children.
The SATs tests only test Maths and English skills, and don't give secondary schools a good picture of the child's cognitive ability, general intelligence and academic potential. Testing the children using CATs in the first few weeks of their time in Year 7 can give a far more accurate picture to teachers of which class your child should be in so that they can learn at the correct pace for them.
While SATs test knowledge, CAT tests show ability, so the Year 7 tests can put children on a level playing field if the standard of teaching has varied between each primary school.
This is good news for children who didn't do as well as expected in the SATs tests. Whether they had an off day, were not feeling well or had generally got too worked up about the whole thing, having a second opportunity to perform to their potential is an advantage.
Of course, if your child takes the tests in Upper School, it gives schools a better, more up-to-date picture of your child's abilities.
Can I Help To Prepare My Child For The CAT Test?
There are some ways you can help, but it is not like preparing them for SATs. The tests are designed to be taken without lots of preparation so that the child's true current ability and potential can be gauged. The questions are multiple-choice and there are five answers to choose from for each question. Children may take the tests on a computer or on paper.
You can't buy past papers for them to practise. However, what can help is for kids to be prepared for the kinds of tests they are going to be given, especially if they find any kind of exam stressful. Take some time to find out more about verbal and non-verbal reasoning. You may find online tests in these subjects areas, which have been designed for children who are preparing for selective school and 11 Plus tests. If you want to you can familiarise your child with this style of non-verbal and verbal reasoning tests, as well as quantitative reasoning tests so that they know what to expect.
If your child gets anxious about taking tests, helping them to use mindfulness and other techniques to stay calm can be very useful.
What Happens When The Results Come In?
Like SATs, the results are given in Standardised Age Scores (SAS). This means they take into account the student's age. An average SAS would be 100, and scores in the average range could be between 85 and 115. Schools tend to highlight children with scores of around 127 upwards as high achievers. Target scores may vary between schools.
The scores are used to predict your child's learning levels and schools use them to work out the predicted grades they can expect at GCSE. If your child has widely varied scores in different areas of the test, this may indicate that there is a specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. The good news is that the issue will be flagged up to the school very early in their secondary school career and extra support and interventions can be organised.
What Happens If My Child's CAT Results Are Poor?
First thing is, don't panic! What your child does at the age of 11 or 12 does not dictate what will happen for the rest of their school years. It may highlight that they need more support, more motivation, need to learn strategies to help them focus - all kinds of things can help them to progress.
If you are concerned, discuss any issues with the school as soon as you can so that support can be put in place as soon as possible.
And don't forget to let your child know how proud you are of them, whatever their results!