11+ practice and progress

What is CEM style 11+ test?

There are numerous organisations that create entrance exams for secondary school admission. CEM Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, at the University of Durham is one of the largest independent providers of educational assessment and monitoring systems in the world and sets secondary school entrance assessments (widely referred to as selective entrance or 11+ exams) for various English grammar schools and regions, including:

  • Bexley
  • Birmingham
  • Buckinghamshire
  • CCHS (Essex)
  • Gloucestershire
  • Henrietta Barnett & Latymer
  • Reading Shropshire
  • Slough
  • Walsall
  • Warwickshire
  • Wolverhampton
NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) is another supplier. Every year NFER constructs new, custom-made selection tests for many schools and Local Authorities. Although either the NFER or GL Assessment is the copyright holder of the tests, it is the property of the commissioning school or Local Authority for the duration of use.

The Durham 11+ typically comprise of two 45-minute tests, which take around 60-minutes each to administer (the extra 15-minutes is due to instructions and examples). There is a break of up to 30 minutes between each paper, both of which are administered on the same day, usually, during September of Year 6, or July of Year 5 (effectively, a 10+ exam). Note: Questions in the test are not asked from a CD. They are printed in a booklet. Just the instructions are played from a CD.

The tests measure verbal, numerical and non-verbal skills and are available as paper and computer-based services to schools, trusts and authorities, for children predominantly of ages 10 to 11 years.

Past eleven plus papers set by CEM Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring in Durham are not released and cannot be purchased. Usually, two weeks before the test, applicants receive a sample sheet containing example questions. Buckinghamshire 11+ and Bexley 11+ tests are exclusively multiple-choice based, whilst in Birmingham; Walsall, and Warwickshire questions contain a mixture of formats.

The CEM style paper, which is written by the University of Durham, is being billed as resistant to coaching, and this means that there are very few CEM style practice papers available. This does not mean nothing can be done to help your child, but the focus should be on building up your child's all round ability in Literacy, Numeracy and Non Verbal Reasoning, rather than on training them for specific types of questions. The CEM tests are designed to measure the children's skills/capability, rather than the preparedness. If you are preparing for CEM style tests, you obvious don't have set syllabus, but you can certainly work on improving the skills by practice.

So, what skills are required for CEM style test?

How to prepare build skills for CEM style test ?

Mathematic/Numeric Reasoning

With regards to maths, it's best to just ensure that your child is confident with everything on the KS2 maths syllabus. Reports from your child's school should give an indication of whether your child has any major gaps in his/her knowledge. Use Key Stage 2 (KS2) maths revision resources to fill any of these gaps, and be sure to revisit material that your child struggles on regularly. Schools often take a modular approach to maths, which means that, if they cover fractions in September of Year 4, they may not cover them again until September of Year 5, by which time they've completely forgotten how to do them. I recommend the site www.theschoolrun.com as a very good website explaining precisely what is on the KS2 syllabus.

Focus on the speed of the calculations. The CEM questions are not generally demand high skill, but speed. Learn the time tables up to 30 by heart, it will save a lot of time in calculations. Use the 11+ speed test to measure your timings and improve on it. This speed test has questions on all the skills i.e. maths, verbal reasoning, English and non-verbal reasoning.


A good reading going to help you in conquering the 11+ exams. With reading, ensure that when your child comes across an unfamiliar word, he or she finds out what it means. There is often a temptation to just not bother, and then guess what the word means from the context of the rest of the sentence, but this is imprecise. Comprehension exercises, as well as questions that require your child to work out which word fits most appropriately into a sentence, are also useful. Some specific training to solve synonyms and antonyms questions can still be done, but any child with good English skills should be able to perform well in this section, without too much aggressive tutoring.

A strong vocabulary is necessary for English, reading comprehension and verbal reasoning. Try to pick as many words as possible during reading. Dictionary browsing is also a good habit. The vaocabulary builder by PEP is very useful in improving the vocabulary, it provides random words with meaning and usage.

Non-verbal Reasoning

Do you like puzzles? If you do, non-verbal reasoning going to be a fun for you. Non-verbal reasoning tests are designed to see how your child can use critical thinking and logic to solve problems, and are an indication of their mathematical capabilities and powers of deduction. From this, the theory is that the examining body can get a picture of your child's potential and intelligence, rather than their learned ability. Encourage children to play puzzles and brain games. Once children are able to solve puzzles, you don't need to worry about any preparedness for the 11+ exams.

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