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Attainment tests and Ability tests – what is the difference?

Attainment tests assess specific skills and knowledge that have been directly taught as part of the curriculum - spellings, formulas etc. They are content laden. Ability tests (also known as reasoning tests) deal with general transferable skills, the ability to recognise similarities, analogies, patterns and relationships used whenever and wherever we learn. It should be noted that while pupils differ in their ability in, and preference for, reasoning with words, numbers or shapes, ability is NOT fixed.

Primary school testing instruments


The MICRA-T (Mary Immaculate Reading Attainment Test) is Ireland’s leading reading test. The principal purpose of the test is to provide Irish Primary school teachers with accurate information on the reading levels of pupils in their classes. In particular, the tests enable teachers to compare the reading performances of their pupils with reading standards nationally.


The SIGMA-T series of mathematics attainment tests has been specially developed and standardised for use in Irish primary schools. The five levels within the series are based on main strands of the Primary School Mathematics Curriculum and the content of the tests has been fully aligned with the mathematics programme. The tests are intended to provide teachers with accurate and reliable information on the mathematical achievement of pupils. This information can significantly assist teachers in monitoring pupil progress and in identifying pupils with learning difficulties in mathematics.


The Drumcondra Reasoning Test (DRT) is an objective, group-administered test of cognitive skills which can be used to assess students in transition between primary and post-primary schooling, or in the early years of post-primary schooling. Each test contains two subtests, Verbal Reasoning and Numerical Ability. The test takes approximately 1½ hours to administer. Triail Ghaeilge Dhroim Conrach do Bhunscoileanna Rialta (TGD-R) ‎ ‎(Drumcondra Irish Test for English-Medium Primary Schools)‎ The Drumcondra Irish Test for Ordinary Schools (TGD-R) is a standardised test of achievement ‎in Irish that can be administered to groups of pupils. The content of the test is based on the ‎Primary School Curriculum – Irish (1999). In this context, ‘ordinary schools’ are those schools ‎in which Irish is taught as a subject, rather than being the main language of conversation and ‎instruction. Separate tests are available for Gaeltacht schools and scoileanna lán-Ghaeilge. ‎Therefore, the norms of the TGD-R relate to ordinary schools only. ‎

Is triail chaighdeánach ar ghnóthachtáil sa Ghaeilge í Triail Ghaeilge Dhroim Conrach do ‎Scoileanna Rialta ar féidir í a riar ar ghrúpaí. Tá ábhar na trialach bunaithe ar Churaclam na ‎Bunscoile – Gaeilge (1999). Is ionann ‘Scoileanna Rialta’ i gcomhthéacs na dtrialacha seo agus ‎bunscoileanna ina ndéantar an Ghaeilge a mhúineadh mar ábhar, seachas an Ghaeilge a bheith ‎mar ghnátheanga cumarsáide agus teagaisc iontu. Tá trialacha ar leith ar fáil do na scoileanna ‎Gaeltachta agus lán-Ghaeilge, agus dá bhrí sin baineann na noirm sna trialacha seo (TGD-R) le ‎scoileanna rialta amháin.

Triail Ghaeilge Dhroim Conrach do Bhunscoileanna Rialta (TGD-G) ‎ ‎‎

Is triail chaighdeánach ar ghnóthachtáil sa Ghaeilge í an Triail Ghaeilge Dhroim Conrach do Bhunscoileanna Gaeltachta agus Lán-Ghaeilge (TGD-G) ar féidir í a riar ar ghrúpaí. Tá ábhar na trialach bunaithe ar Churaclam na Bunscoile, Gaeilge (ROE/CNCM, 1999). Triail í seo do dhaltaí i mbunscoileanna Gaeltachta agus i mbunscoileanna lán-Ghaeilge agus is í seo an chéad uair a cuireadh triail ar fáil bunaithe ar na caighdeáin atá sna bunscoileanna sin amháin a mbíonn an Ghaeilge mar mheán teagaisc agus foghlama acu. Dá bhrí sin ní bhaineann na noirm ach le daltaí i scoileanna Gaeltachta agus lán-Ghaeilge.

Single Word Spelling Test (SWST)

The SWST comprises a series of nine standardised tests designed to assess spelling attainment.Each test covers everyday vocabulary and contains between 30 and 50 words (depending on level), including high frequency, literacy hour and spelling bank words. SWST presents each word in a sentence context making the test more relevant for pupils. Errors on the SWST reveal information about what a pupil knows or needs to learn – this is important since good spelling raises both writing standards and an individual’s self-esteem. The tests map on to a set of structured spelling lists that assist in the teaching of spelling by providing a quick and easy reference for finding words with similar visual and phonological patterns. Spelling ages, percentile ranks and progress scores are provided to provide a comprehensive profile of a pupil's spelling ability.

Drumcondra Spelling Test

The Drumcondra Primary Spelling Test (DPST) is designed to be administered to pupils in first to sixth classes in primary schools. The DPST includes three item types: word spelling, in which pupils are asked to spell words called out by the teacher; sentence or story completion, in which the pupil is asked to write out the missing words in a text that is also read aloud by the teacher; and error detection ('mistakes') where the pupil is asked to identify common spelling errors in each of several sentences, and to write out the correct spellings. The content of the Drumcondra Primary Spelling Test was carefully chosen to include both words that pupils would be likely to encounter in the course of the reading, spelling and writing instruction in school, and words that are of high utility (high-frequency words).

Second level testing instruments


The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are designed for use in educational and vocational guidance and are used by school counsellors, psychologists and all persons concerned with assessing the intellectual characteristics and educational or vocational aptitudes of adolescents. This battery of tests has been adapted for use in Irish schools. Testing time is approximately 3½ hours and may be spread over several sessions. The tests are suitable for pre-Junior Certificate to Leaving Certificate pupils. The rationale behind the development of the Differential Aptitude Tests is that since different kinds of abilities are useful in different jobs and in different school subjects, a battery giving measures of several abilities is likely to be more useful than a test giving a single general ability score. There are eight subtests: Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Ability, Abstract Reasoning, Space Relations, Mechanical Reasoning, Clerical Speed and Accuracy, Spelling, and Language Usage. Scores can be used to produce a profile showing a pupil's strengths and weaknesses. A combined Verbal Reasoning and Numerical Ability score can be used as an index of scholastic ability.

CATS testing

Cognitive Abilities Test Third Edition (CAT3) is a standardised assessment that helps identify pupils’ strengths, weaknesses and learning preferences, providing accurate, reliable and objective assessment data that is essential to the shaping of an individual’s learning. CAT3 is not about knowledge recall and requires no preparation, offering all pupils the same opportunity to show their underlying ability. We have recently published a fourth edition of our Cognitive Abilities Test. CAT3 measures the three principle areas of reasoning – verbal, non-verbal and quantitative – as well as an element of spatial ability. Rich data provided by CAT3 gives a comprehensive profile of pupils’ reasoning abilities, producing standardised scores for each of the three abilities. This data can be used to build an understanding of an individual’s potential and learning style and to inform the development of effective teaching and learning programmes and interventions. Pupils will benefit through more effective target-setting that ensures the right degree of challenge. The CAT3 results are also invaluable for providing feedback directly to pupils and their parents. CAT 3 consists of three batteries: verbal, quantitative and non –verbal. CAT 4 consists of 4 batteries verbal, quantitative, non-verbal and spatial. CATs gives you an insight into how pupils might cope with new situations – where a pupil could be and what their potential is. It is not an attainment test but reasoning test. CAT does not involve specific curriculum content. It is outside the current knowledge phase.


The WRAT4 accurately measures the basic academic skills of word reading, sentence comprehension, spelling, and math computation. This quick, simple, psychometrically sound assessment of a student’s important fundamental academic skills serves as an excellent initial evaluation, re-evaluation, or progress measure for any student—especially those referred for learning, behavioural, or vocational difficulties. The WRAT4 provides derived scores and interpretive information for four subtests:

  • Word Reading measures letter and word decoding through letter identification and word recognition.
  • Sentence Comprehension measures an individual’s ability to gain meaning from words and to comprehend ideas and information in sentences using a modified cloze technique.
  • Spelling measures an individual’s ability to encode sounds into written form from dictated letters and words.
  • Maths Computation measures an individual’s ability to count, identify numbers, solve simple oral math problems, and calculate written math problems.

A Reading Composite score is created by combining the Word Reading and Sentence Comprehension standard scores.

DST- S Testing

The revised Dyslexia Screening Test now covers primary and secondary school-aged children. The DST-S is designed to identify those children who are still experiencing difficulties at secondary school and provides data which can be used in support of requesting extra time concessions in exams. The DST-S consists of the following subtests:

  • Rapid Naming
  • Bead Threading
  • One Minute Reading
  • Postural Stability
  • Phonemic Segmentation
  • Two Minute Spelling
  • Backwards Digit Span
  • Nonsense Passage Reading
  • One Minute Reading
  • Verbal Fluency
  • Semantic Fluency
  • Spoonerisms
  • Non-verbal Reasoning

DASH – Detailed Analysis of Speed of Handwriting

This is a standardised handwriting assessment that looks at the speed of handwriting in different conditions. There are four sections and one additional optional section:

  • Best writing,
  • Alphabet
  • Fast writing
  • Free writing.

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Cnoc an Chonnaidh, Muineachán, H18 W897  +353-(0) 47 72344