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What is GL?

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’ exams. Simply put, GL and CEM are the two school entrance 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. 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’. For nearly twenty years, GL were the main exam provider in the UK for grammar schools’ selective entrance exams, as well as many private schools’ admissions tests. However, this has changed since 2013 with CEM starting to take larger chunks of the market. GL Assessment now specialise in Grammar schools’ admissions tests and also have circa 30% of the private school entrance assessment market.

CEM: CEM stands for the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring, 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 by some to be a more difficult test. Of their approach, CEM have stated: “CEM 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 Grammar schools use which test?

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 GL tests

GL Assessment exams are considered to be more predictable and consistent year on year, which is great news if you are preparing your child for a GL based exam. Different grammar School areas and different private schools do ask for individual aspects of their admissions tests to be aligned with the cohort they wish to attract, but for the most part GL exams are a known entity.

  • Most GL exams are either Standard Format (where answers are written in spaces next to the question) or Multiple Choice (where answers are marked in a separate answer book). The length of test papers can vary, although 45 minutes is by far the most common exam time.
  • GL takes its questions from their own question bank and uses a finite number of different question types across all four subjects, Maths, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Through practice and preparation, it is possible for children to become familiar with all these question types. We can help with specialist tutors who are very familiar with GL question types.
child filling in multiple choice answer sheet GL sheet

Why is this so important for candidates?

As a parent, it is important to know if your child is sitting a GL Assessment exam because GL tests share attributes which can be practised and improved. In particular, if your child is sitting a GL Assessment-examined test, use plenty of past and practice papers to familiarise your child with all the question types in each subject. Plenty of exam prep using practice papers is also important for CEM, but the question types that appear in CEM exams are much more unpredictable.

From our experience of working with children sitting entrance exams for over 40 years, we believe that children facing a GL Assessment test need to focus on developing strong vocabulary, logic, Maths and spelling skills.

Find out more about what’s on the exam syllabi:


Unlike CEM, GL do offer their own practice papers to help children prepare for GL set tests. Well regarded educational publishers such as Bond and CGP also offer resources that reflect the GL style questions. Bond do not label these as GL practice resources in the same way that they label CEM practice resources, but if Bond resources are not labelled as CEM, they are by default suitable for GL test practice. Here is an example of resources offered by directly by GL assessment to practice for their tests.

Will Covid related learning loss affect how GL Assessment 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. We believe you will need to catch up your child on all the topics they have missed, and your child will need to be operating at the usual level to secure a competitive place. We can help with:

CEM have recently made this statement and we believe that GL Assessment will take a similar view:

“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.”

Mentor Education’s 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.

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.

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