What is the 11+?

The 11+ is an exam used in areas that still have grammar schools. It is a way of selecting the children most suited to a grammar school education. However, many independent schools will often use something based on the 11+ for their own entrance criteria.

There are two main 11 Plus examiners they are GL and CEM assessment.

GL Assessment, formerly known as NFER, was renamed in 2007. GL Assessment develops and administers 11 Plus exams in many grammar school areas.

CEM exams are developed by the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring at Cambridge Assessment. CEM exams were introduced in response to fears that existing 11 Plus exams had become too transparent. CEM does not publish practice materials and will alter the format of examinations, from year to year, to reduce ‘teaching to the test’.

In recent years there has been a shift to CEM examinations in many regions. In some, a combination of GL Assessment and CEM exam papers are used.

Independent Schools: Many independent schools also have admission exams- these are often similar to the 11+ style, probably veering more to the CEM style. The schools tend to write their own so they may be different from year to year. As with Grammar schools, it is wise to check with the individual school for advice on how to help to prepare your child.

PREMIUM offers you a mixture of papers to use. There are plenty of reading comprehensions from past papers from both boards a variety of verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions that would be great for children sitting either exam to use as practice. Finally, there are a variety of maths papers with a wide range of question types.

How do the exams differ?

Both GL and CEM Assessment exams broadly cover English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness.

GL exams

Subjects: GL covers English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness. Schools can pick to administer all subjects or select those that best meet their requirements. For instance, in Dorset, maths, English, and verbal reasoning are tested, whilst in Lincolnshire, only verbal and non-verbal reasoning are tested. Schools in Surrey use GL for the first round and then write their own for the second round (CEM style).

Format: GL exams are split by subject (English, maths, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning). Questions are chosen from GL question banks, so regular practice helps to familiarise children with question types they will see. Answers 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).

Timing: GL exam papers tend to last 45 minutes, although this can vary.

Knowledge and Skills: GL Assessment exams can cover any of over 20 different verbal reasoning skills, much more than seen in CEM examinations. However, CEM examinations require a much wider range of vocabulary. Children need to have a good, wide vocabulary, logic, maths, and spelling skills.

Regions: Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland. GL and CEM: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Trafford, Wiltshire, Wirral, Yorkshire. Please note that these lists were correct at the time of publication. Schools and regions do change exam boards, so it’s essential that you check with each grammar school that you apply to as to what exam board it uses.

CEM exams

Subjects and Format: CEM covers verbal, non-verbal, and numerical reasoning. One of the key differences between GL and CEM is that CEM papers are mixed, with one exam combining English and verbal reasoning and another combining maths and non-verbal reasoning. Standard Format, Multiple Choice, or a combination may be used depending on school/region.

Verbal reasoning includes many of the skills covered in a GL Assessment English test including comprehension and numerical reasoning covers the main maths skills that would be tested in a GL maths exam. For both verbal and numerical reasoning, the CEM exam aligns much more closely to the content of the KS2 National Curriculum than GL Assessment does. Again, individual regions and grammar schools can choose what subjects to test as part of their 11+ exam.

In addition, the paper may quickly flit between a short maths section, a longer problem-solving exercise, then some logic puzzles. The English paper will often have a 'cloze' activity and test your child's punctuation and grammar skills. In CEM exams, there will typically be more questions than are likely to be answered in the time allocated, and the weighting of each subject for your child’s final mark will be unknown before the exam.

Timing: CEM doesn’t follow a set exam format and can change from year to year, although some schools may release information about the current format on their website. Timings will be allocated to each section, and children will need to carefully manage the time they spend on each section. Past exams have included:

  • Two 45-minute papers. A short break is normally given between the two papers. Each paper has a mix of topics covering English, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, and maths (numerical reasoning). The papers are split into sections, with varying numbers of questions and timings. Often more questions are provided than are likely to be answered. Children are only given a set amount of time to answer a section and cannot move forward until told to proceed.
  • Four individual papers, each one covering a different discipline: English, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, and maths.
  • One paper covering a combination of topics, or just one discipline, depending on what the school has selected to cover.

Knowledge and Skills: CEM exams align much more closely to KS2 National Curriculum content than GL Assessment exams do, although the ‘question bank’ nature of GL Assessment exams aids in preparation for this exam type. Children need to have good English, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and maths skills. CEM verbal reasoning is very different from GL and success is dependent on children having a much more wide-ranging vocabulary.

Regions: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton. GL and CEM: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire,  Surrey, Trafford, Wiltshire, Wirral, Yorkshire.  Please note that these lists were correct at the time of publication. Schools and regions do change exam boards, so it’s essential that you check with each grammar school that you apply to as to what exam board it uses.

What does this mean for how I prepare my child?

The 11+ is about testing your child’s natural aptitude and the importance of a well-rounded education cannot be highlighted enough. Your child needs to read widely, build up their vocabulary, develop their mathematical skills, to help prepare themselves child for the 11+. With that in mind, here is some essential advice that will help your child prepare for their specific 11+ exam.

  1. Find out exactly what exams your child will be taking – this can change from school to school, not just region to region! Also bear in mind that schools may change the examiner they use, so do keep checking. Look not just at the exam board, but subject, format, length of test, and any additional tests set by that school (e.g. creative writing).
  2. If your child is sitting a GL Assessment-examined test, use plenty of past and practice papers to familiarise your child with the question types in each subject. (Exam prep is also important for CEM, but the questions types that appear in the real exam are much more unpredictable.)
  3. If your child is sitting a CEM-examined test, work hard on developing a deep and rich vocabulary:
    • Record new words and their meanings to ensure that your child really understands the new words they are meeting and can use them in context.
    • Read widely with your child and use ‘grown up’ words in ordinary conversation, explaining their meaning as you go.
    • Practise synonyms and antonyms, for example, encourage your child to use more sophisticated words to describe something, or complete crosswords together.
  4. For both tests, but especially the CEM-examined tests, time management skills are of great importance:
    • Ensure your child does plenty of timed practice and is experienced at managing their time.
    • Use practice test papers under exam conditions to help them get used to formal exam conditions – getting used to working in test conditions will help your child feel less intimidated by the real exam.
    • Develop good exam technique – encourage your child to pick off the questions they can answer easily or those that carry the highest marks. (CEM tests often have more questions in a section than they can answer in the time.) This will help your child feel prepared going into the exam and quickly build their confidence.

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