Knowing the exam board and format of the test your child will be taking is essential for selecting the right 11+ plus practice material for them. When it comes to 11+ plus preparation, familiarity with particular question styles can sometimes be just as important as your child’s overall knowledge in particular subjects. When a student knows what to expect in their given exam, they can approach the test with confidence and answer each question to the best of their ability.
The format of the 11 plus exam varies depending on the school or local authority that you are applying to. Granada Learning Assessment (GL-Assessment/GL) and the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (𝐂𝐄𝐌) are the two main exam boards that administer 11 plus exams across the UK, although some schools write the test papers themselves.
GL, who commission papers from NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research), has for nearly two decades been the choice exam administrators for most UK Local Education Authorities, independent grammar schools and many independent senior schools due to the excellent reputation of NFER.
CEM exams were introduced in response to fears that existing 11+ exams had become too transparent. CEM does not publish practice materials for their exam styles and generally change the format of examinations paper to paper to minimise the possibility of ‘teaching to the test’ in 11+ preparation.
There is considerable overlap between the two examining bodies however the “style” of questions (i.e. how the child is tested for a particular ability or piece of knowledge) naturally varies between the two. For instance GL-Assessment will test Comprehensions in a traditional style by having up to a two page passage followed by up to two dozen questions whereas the CEM exams are known to have both mini passages and short passages with as little half a dozen or less questions.
The core of any primary school exam will be predominantly based on literacy, numeracy, vocabulary etc. which should form both the cornerstone of any child’s primary education as well as the core 11 plus elements being tested.
So how do they differ?
Although both exam boards broadly cover the same subjects tested at primary school level, there are a number of key differences to be aware of when preparing specifically for one of their tests:
GL papers cover all four core 11+ subjects (English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning) and schools can select a combination of these to suit their selection policy.
CEM papers generally cover maths, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning. Verbal reasoning usually includes a test of many of the skills needed for GL English, as there are smaller comprehensions and cloze passages for students to attempt. Numerical reasoning includes a test of the maths skills in a typical GL exam.
GL tests are commonly multiple choice, but can also include standard format. There are 21 main styles of GL verbal reasoning questions, so regular practice can help children to become familiar and confident with the questions they will encounter. Children can also hone their skills of elimination and educated guesswork when faced with multiple choice questions and improve their scores even in weak subjects.
CEM papers are typically mixed by subject – for example, one exam may include an English comprehension with verbal reasoning and the other might combine numerical and non-verbal reasoning. CEM style papers tend to also include a mixture of multiple choice and partially written answers. Each paper typically must be completed within an allocated time. Time management skills are therefore incredibly important for CEM style papers and should form a part of a student’s 11+ preparation for CEM schools.
GL papers are typically 45 to 50 minutes in length for a single subject paper.
CEM papers do not follow a set exam format and can change year to year. It is a good idea to check the website of the school you intend to apply to thoroughly for any information regarding past exams and the current format their papers follow.
Generally, CEM papers will include timed sections in which a certain amount of the overall exam time is allotted to particular subjects; children cannot move on from a section until they are told that they may proceed.
For GL, a strong vocabulary and spelling skills is essential, as well as good logical reasoning and strong mathematical abilities. The question bank nature of the GL exam does make it easier for children to prepare for, and so children aiming for schools that use this exam board should practice thoroughly and familiarise themselves with the well published exam question styles.
For CEM, an even stronger vocabulary is generally required to score highly in this board’s papers, and strong reasoning and mathematical skills will put a student in good stead. You can read more about this examining board on our Introduction to CEM page.
The Eleven Plus Exams’ First Past the Post series is ideal for 11+ practice at home. The books in this series are tailored to each of these specific exam boards, written in house by our own tutors and classroom tested on cohorts of students who have sat their 11+. The questions in these books provide essential exposure to the question styles and answer layouts that will appear in a student’s actual exam. With full answers and explanations provided in every book, they are an ideal way for children to learn from each mistake and to refine their exam technique through practice.