The Exam

With over 40 years of experience, we understand the demands of the exam, and what each school is looking for.

What is CEM?

As a parent, when you first start researching the 11 Plus exams, one of the first things you will come across are references to ‘GL’ and ‘CEM’ school entrance exams. Simply put, GL and CEM are the two exam boards that set entrance exams for nearly all the private and grammar schools in England.

Although they cover broadly the same topics – English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning, there are very real differences in the way the GL and CEM exams work and this will have an impact on how your child should prepare.

The key differences between GL and CEM

GL Assessment: Previously known as NFER, in 2007 NFER was purchased by Granada Learning and re-named ‘GL Assessment’. GL Assessment specialise in Grammar schools.

CEM: CEM stands for the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring. It was previously part of the University of Durham, now part of the University of Cambridge. 

The CEM exam was created in response to fears from some grammar schools that the existing exams had become too obvious and were too easy to tutor to the test. The CEM exam was designed to address these concerns.

Upon launch, the CEM exam was favoured by some Grammar school regions and private schools as it was seen as more ‘tutor-proof’. To this end, CEM did not produce or endorse any published practice papers and continually changed the format of the tests. CEM is also considered a more difficult test. Of their approach,

CEM state that the test “aims to reduce any disadvantage created between children who are tutored for tests and those who are not. We firmly believe that children should not be tutored for our selection assessments.”

Which Entrance Exams are Used at Which Grammar Schools?

GL Assessment: Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland.

CEM: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton.

GL and CEM: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Wiltshire, Wirral, Yorkshire.

NB: Please note that these lists were correct at the time of publication (April 2021).

More about CEM

CEM does not just produce exams but also specialises in broader developmental assessments for children, based on over 30 years of education research by the Universities of both Durham and Cambridge. It is extremely well respected globally, both for the calibre of the research that feeds into their assessments but also the size of their data pools, making their assessments some of the most statistically meaningful on children’s progress available to educators around the world. As well as entrance tests, the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring provide the following education services, mainly to schools:

  • Baseline assessments that support educational tracking – giving schools measures of an individual’s potential and progress through school
  • Diagnostic assessments that help inform teachers where interventions may be helpful to improve pupil outcomes.

As a parent with a child sitting school entrance, it is important to understand several facts about CEM.  Firstly, that CEM provide the entrance tests for over 70% of private schools in England. Secondly, that although each school requests that their tests are individualised, all CEM assessments do share attributes which can be practised and improved. 

From our experience of working with children sitting entrance exams for over 40 years, we believe that children facing a CEM test need to develop particularly strong English skills including, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling. CEM verbal reasoning is very different to GL and success is dependent on children having a much more wide-ranging vocabulary.

As a parent, another reason to identify if the type of test your child will sit is created by CEM is because you will need to purchase the relevant resources to support them. Although CEM do not endorse any practice papers, well regarded providers of resources such as Bond do offer practice papers tailored to CEM. For example:

Mentor Education’s CEM Academic Assessments

We are one of a few education consultancies that hold a licence to offer CEM diagnostic assessments to our families. Our purpose in doing so is to offer parents data points of the highest quality available to make decisions about their children’s future. We believe that the CEM tests are the most sophisticated, adaptive tests available and offer the most meaningful data from the largest data pools. The assessments are designed with children in mind, are attractive and easy for them to operate and never get too hard or too stressful for the candidates.

child doing CEM test on laptop

We use the CEM assessment to inform the advice we give to parents, from which schools their child might thrive in, to which tutors might help their children most, in which subject areas.

Will Covid related learning loss affect how CEM set the tests over the next few years?

Many parents have asked us recently if the exam boards will take account of the fact that their children have missed several terms of learning in the run up to their entrance exams. Unfortunately, we believe the answer to this question is no. Your child needs to catch up on topics missed so they are operating at the usual level required for a competitive place. We can help with:

The Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring have recently made this statement:

“We are not planning to change the content of our admissions tests in light of the COVID-19 situation. Our assessments aim to measure underlying skills and aptitudes and are designed to be taken by learners with a wide range of ability. We are confident that our assessments will continue to be effective at differentiating learners, even in light of a gap in schooling. Developing new tests or making significant changes to the existing ones introduces considerably more risk. We would not be able to gather sufficient evidence to assure the quality of the new or revised assessment for differentiating learner ability.”

Get in Touch

Contact our team to find out more about the 11+ and how we can help with the next steps.