What's the difference between GL and CEM exams?

What's the difference between GL and CEM exams?

Grammar schools in the UK have to use one of two popular types of exams for their 11+ entrance tests. Schools generally use the GL Assessment or CEM exam and CEM exams, but what exactly makes them different?  


How Do GL and CEM Tests Differ?

These are the only two types of exams currently recognised by the government as being able to accurately test a child’s suitability for a grammar school education.


What subjects are covered?


CEM 11 Plus exams tend to cover numerical, verbal and non-verbal ability. CEM is said to be based more closely on the National Curriculum for Key Stage 2 than GL. However, the inclusion of verbal and non-verbal reasoning in any such test suggests otherwise since these subjects are not taught as part of the National Curriculum.


GL exams cover verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning, English and maths; however some grammar schools only cover some of these areas in their selection tests.

Maths tests will cover a wide range of topics from the National Curriculum but are not limited. We have had feedback from our students over the years that concur with our knowledge that many of the questions extend beyond Key Stage 2 knowledge.


Tests for English usually include questions related to reading comprehension, spelling, punctuation, and grammar.


Verbal reasoning tests require students to reason with words and can help identify pupils who excel at subjects such as English, History, Languages and the Arts. Their verbal reasoning tests will include some skills covered by a GL English exam. A strong vocabulary will help children succeed in verbal reasoning tests. You can use our vocabulary resources in the Geek School Shop to help your child to develop these skills at a high level.


Non-verbal Reasoning tests measure reasoning processes that are essential for various subjects, including mathematics and science.


Spatial reasoning questions test the thinking process’s efficiency using mental images of shapes and spaces. Spatial reasoning skills are essential for success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. 


What are the Format and Key Differences in the GL and CEM Tests?

Most GL 11+ exams are Standard Format (answers written in spaces next to questions) or Multiple Choice (answers marked in a separate answer booklet). Test paper lengths vary, but 50 minutes is usually the longest exam time for each paper.


GL takes its questions from the GL Assessment Question Bank and uses a variety of different question types across all four subjects. Children can become familiar with these particular question types through practice and preparation.


How to Prepare for the CEM and GL Assessment Tests


Make sure you do your research before enrolling your child at any school. Every school is different. Spend time talking to the school to find out exactly which exam board they will follow and how your child would be assessed.

CEM is slightly different from the others because it’s supposed to be “test proof”, and the questions are harder to predict. Regardless, children can use familiarisation materials to learn about topics before taking exams. Preparing for the CEM exam is still functional. Still, the questions on the test will be harder to predict, which is where using an experienced and knowledgeable 11 Plus tutor can be beneficial.

To develop your child’s vocabulary, focus on building their knowledge of new words. There are several ways to help children learn new words:


Encourage your child not just to read but to read widely across different subjects. It will broaden their vocabulary and allow them to learn new words.

Help your child to learn new words through games and puzzles. Games like crosswords, word searches, jigsaws, scrabble etc., are great fun and can help your child learn new words.

Use books and magazines to encourage your child to read more. Reading aloud to your child is another way to improve their reading ability. 


Effectively managing time is an essential part of doing well on any test, including the CEM exam. To prepare your child for the exam, make sure to:


  • Ensure your child practises under timed conditions to become accustomed to the speed required before the exam.
  • Use practice exams as ‘mock exams’ to help children get used to the conditions they will face during the actual exam. 


Other Types of 11 Plus Exams

While the GL and CEM style papers are the most popular for the grammar school selection tests, they are not the only exams, for example, the Sutton SET, CSSE and ISEB papers.


The Sutton SET (Selective Eligibility Test)

The Sutton SET has several other styles of questions. These include multiple choice, matching, short answer, extended response, essay and fill-in-the-blank. Each type of question requires a different approach to answering.


The CSSE Tests ( Consortium of Selective Schools in Essex)

The CSSE (formerly the Consortium of Selective Schools in Essex) is a body representing all the grammar schools in Essex. The CSSE exam is sat by children applying to any of these schools.


ISEB (independent schools examination board) Common Pre-Test

The ISEB is a common pre-test that many independent schools require students to take before applying for entry into their school. This is done to ensure that applicants for the final written paper are of a specific academic standard before proceeding to the next stage of the admissions process.


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