Everything you need to know about CEM 11+ exams

CEM stands for the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring. CEM is a research group and Exam board based at the University of Durham who produce entrance tests and 11+ exam papers for individual Grammar Schools and some local authorities in the UK.

The CEM exam board was started in response to concerns by some grammar schools that many existing 11+ exams had become too predictable and could be prepared for using tutors and widely available practice papers. Therefore, the CEM 11+ exam was launched as a ‘tutor-proof’ assessment which would test children’s natural abilities and help reduce the disadvantage between children whose parents could afford tuition and those who could not.

This article will explain the differences between CEM and the other main 11+ exam board, GL. It will also aim to give you advice about how best to prepare your child if the exam they are sitting is written by CEM.

Everything you need to know about CEM 11+


Which regions use CEM?

The following areas use the CEM exams for 11+ entry:

  • Berkshire
  • Bexley
  • Birmingham
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Devon
  • Gloucestershire
  • Shropshire
  • Walsall
  • Warwickshire
  • Wirral
  • Wolverhampton

And these areas use a combination of CEM and GL assessment:

  • Essex
  • Hertfordshire
  • Trafford
  • Yorkshire


Bear in mind: Exam boards in specific areas and for individual schools do change from time to time, so it’s important to check with your local authority before starting any kind of preparation with your child.


CEM versus GL, what's the difference?

There are some significant differences between the two main 11+ exam boards: GL and CEM.  

GL covers the four main 11+ subjects – English, Mathematics, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning/Spatial Awareness. Individual schools and regions can choose a combination of these to use in their 11+ exam. Papers are either Multiple Choice or Standard Format. Paper length varies and questions are taken from the GL assessment bank and a variety of types are used across the subjects, meaning that children can become familiar with exam type questions through practice papers and commercially published materials. Strong vocabulary, logic, maths and spelling skills are essential for GL.  

CEM exam papers, however, contain a mix of questions and subjects within one exam. Typically, one 11+ paper combines English and Verbal Reasoning skills, whilst a second paper would test children on Maths and Non-Verbal reasoning. Depending on the specific school or region, Standard Format, Multiple Choice, or a combination of both may be used in one exam and this may change year on year.

CEM papers also tend to contain small, timed sections which change between subject areas rapidly. For example, a paper could move from Maths questions to Problem Solving and Logic type questions. Each section is timed tightly and children will not be allowed to return to previous sections. Good time management is key to success in the CEM 11+ exams. It’s very common for children not to complete the paper as there are often more questions than there is time to reasonably complete them.

To succeed in the CEM exam, your child will need to show strength in the following areas:

  • English – general skills
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary – this will need to be particularly strong and wide-ranging
  • Spelling
  • Maths

The weighting of subjects is not known beforehand and changes from year to year and between regions, making this a particularly tricky exam board to prepare for.


How to practise and prepare for CEM exams

CEM themselves advise against exam-specific preparation and do not publish official practice materials or practice papers. They suggest that the best preparation is for children to read widely and to develop independent study skills, such as completing homework set by their school without adult help and looking up words they don’t understand to develop their vocabulary.

Whilst CEM doesn't produce practice papers, all grammar schools and local authorities using CEM will provide familiarisation materials to parents who have registered their child to take the 11+ exam. These materials will never contain actual test questions but will help you and your child to understand the format of the test.

Other general ideas for helping your child to prepare before taking a CEM 11+ exam include the following:

  • Practise synonyms and antonyms. EdPlace have plenty of resources from year 3 to 6 to help your child!
  • Complete word puzzles, vocabulary quizzes and crosswords with your child.
  • Encourage your child to use a wide range of vocabulary and interesting word to describe things in everyday life.
  • Read widely with your child.
  • Keep a vocabulary diary and make or use commercially available flashcards of interesting and unusual words to help your child widen their vocabulary.

For the CEM test, time management is particularly important. Whilst no official practice papers are released, there are many ‘CEM’ style published materials which are really useful for timed exam practice. These may or may not reflect the actual content of the exam, but will help your child to be ready for possible exam formats and to develop good timekeeping skills.

Tips for effective timed practice include:

  • Regular, small chunks of practice done under exam conditions.
  • Encourage your child to work independently and gradually build up the number of questions they can complete in the time.
  • Help your child to develop good exam technique by picking off questions they can easily answer, or those with the highest number of marks.
  • Talk through any exam practice with your child, pinpointing any careless mistakes, or questions where estimating or approximation may provide short cuts.


Miss Becky's Top Tip for the CEM 11+ exam:

In the CEM 11+, it's very common for children not to finish the exam. So, focusing on achieving the most marks possible is really important. These tips should mean that your child can go into the exam feeling calm and confident about how to approach the papers.


Access revolutionary 11+ preparation resources

If your child is sitting the 11+, EdPlace is here to help! Coming summer 2019, EdPlace are launching visionary, new resources which will transform 11+ preparation for your child.


  • Our holistic approach revolutionises the 11+ by discreetly progressing your child to remove pressures, helping them enjoy learning and feel confident.
  • Get ahead with engaging non-verbal and verbal reasoning activities and practice papers for ages 8-11 tailored to CEM or GL exam boards.
  • Visionary new 11+ specific English and Maths practice.
  • Track and measure your child's exam readiness and build their confidence so they're more than ready to show their skills come test day!


We're here to help your child smash whatever comes their way! From KS1-KS4, our students progress 150% across English, maths and science over a school year; from ABCs - GCSEs, EdPlace is here for the 11+, and beyond!

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