CEM to GL – A change in 11 plus exam board

Posted on February, 2023

Councils have to change 11 plus exam board – Introduction

This blog is about how many councils across the UK have recently had to change 11 plus exam board.

CEM (Centre for Evaluating and Monitoring) was initially created in response to accusations that the 11 plus was not “tutor proof”, and that the system benefitted those who were well-off, and had access to expensive 11 plus tutors.

I regarded this claim with a fair bit of cynicism, and still do as a matter of fact. Claiming that something cannot be learned from a tutor, even though the exam itself has to be devised by a human is perhaps evidence of hubris. They have, however, compiled a great-deal of research on the subject, so I’ll not attempt to disprove their claims.

Recently, there has been a rather significant development. CEM has stopped carrying out physical assessments and adopted an online model. This has led to many councils having to swap their test provider from CEM to GL, unless they are willing to go with the online model. This change in 11 plus exam board has momentarily confused many educators and councils.

Is this change in 11 plus exam board serious?

Well, sort of. If you’ve invested in lots of CEM preparation material, it’s not all going to be relevant. For instance, CEM is known in its verbal reasoning papers for having a lot of difficult vocabulary exercises and shuffled sentences. However, GL papers do not focus on these aspects.

On the other hand, there are a lot of benefits for the child who invests time learning lots of new words, and practising the mentally challenging tasks of unscrambling sentences – even if these skills are not as relevant to passing the exam.

At our tuition practice, we develop students who are well-rounded, and able to cope with a wide range of problem-solving tasks. In terms of the mathematics and English too, the difference is not too great, and there are likely more similarities than differences.

In conclusion, don’t fret too much if you have devoted any time to CEM preparation – it can still have a very positive impact long-term on a student’s learning, will help them become better at learning new skills quickly, and help them develop a more fluid intelligence.

Individual differences between GL and CEM 11 plus exam boards

The GL 11 Plus exam is typically taken by children in year 6 of primary school and is divided into four parts: English, mathematics, verbal reasoning and non verbal reasoning. The English exam includes questions on vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension, while the mathematics section covers topics such as arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. The reasoning exams assess a child’s ability to understand patterns, solve problems, and think logically. In this regard, the exams are actually not that different. Typically a child who excels on a CEM paper will excel on a GL paper and vice-versa.

GL papers do have some obvious and substantial differences that distinguish them from CEM.

  • The individual papers are not mixed (there are four individual papers in mathematics, English, non verbal reasoning and verbal reasoning)
  • Each section is not individually-timed, and the students will be able to move through the paper at their own pace
  • Some of the question types are different; more details later
  • There are two test dates as there are four papers (instead of two papers administered on the same day)
  • The mathematics is quite visual and there are not distinct sections on data-handling.

Our reasoning books are an excellent resource if you need further reasoning practice:

Verbal Reasoning
Non Verbal Reasoning

How should you change your 11 preparation process?

In response to a change in 11 plus boards, should you do anything differently? Well, naturally there will be specimen provided by the council which should mirror the types of questions you can expect to find in the real exam, so certainly spend some time going through the specimen papers.

As stated previously, getting your child or student to practice skills that are not required in the exam isn’t necessarily going to harm their development, and I actually prefer a more holistic and all-round educational approach.

For instance, even if creative writing does not form any part of an exam, it is nonetheless, an important skill for children to practise. They will need to participate in creative writing activities in secondary school, and require such training for their year 6 SATs, so there is absolutely no harm in getting your student/child to practise this skill. I also believe that children need variation in their learning, and I cannot think of anything more boring for a child than for them to practise only 4 or 5 verbal reasoning tasks over a year

As the student gets closer to the date of the exam, I would certainly narrow the focus to the types of questions that appear in the exam, as this will give the child the best chance of “perfecting” his or her approach.

Mock exams are also a great way for students to build their exam confidence and have a realistic test experience.

11 Plus Mock Exams

The future of the 11 plus

Although there are some basic economic reasons why CEM is moving completely online, the move does beg the question of whether it is a better move for the students and whether this will set a precedent moving forward. One could say that the move is enterprising, and forward-thinking. On the other hand, others may cynically argue that the move benefits the charity far more than the students and schools.

I, as an educationalist, am a little old-fashioned. I believe that a paper test is a tradition that ought to be carried through into the future. However, I also realise that there are so many advantages to adopting an online format. For instance, one problem that we often encounter when children are taking mock exams (basically every year), is that some of them mark answers on the answer sheet in the wrong way. In a computer test, these issues ought not to occur. Feedback can also be provided quickly and instantly if the test is administered online.

The recent change in 11 plus exam board signals that many councils and schools may also believe that there is something to be said for keeping traditions alive, but I believe that over time, this attitude may shift.


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