CEM Preparation – thoughts from an 11 plus tutor

The spectre of a local grammar school changing to using a CEM Test spooked me somewhat! This is exactly what happened, with little warning, in Trafford. The added complication in this particular region is that not all the local grammar schools, to date, have signed up to use the CEM Test – leaving many pupils, who want to take more than one grammar school’s exam, the challenging task of preparing for two styles of 11+ exam: CEM and GL Assessment.

How has CEM impacted my tuition?

So putting aside GL Assessment for now, how has the change to CEM impacted the preparation plan I have for students?

CEM state that their tests are written: ’with the aim of creating a fair selection process. In order to maintain the fairness of the tests, CEM does not provide any commercially available practice materials, nor recommend any other commercially available materials and that their focus in on evaluating the natural reasoning abilities of candidates.’¹ This initially presented a challenge in terms of finding  appropriate practice material for students to use. However, a few years down the road, there are now many CEM style 11+ publications available and exercises/tests online on www.11plus.co.uk making it more possible to prepare well for CEM 11+ exams.

There is quite a considerable overlap in the knowledge that CEM and GL Assessment test although the style of testing can be markedly different. CEM Content is continually refreshed and does not rely on formulaic knowledge-based material and new assessment types are regularly introduced to reduce the predictability of their question types. CEM examines underlying reasoning abilities in verbal, mathematical and non-verbal ability, and unlike GL, they do not test above the compulsory national curriculum content for children aged 10. CEM tests skills and it is this improvement in skills that is my main focus in preparing student for the CEM 11+ Test.

Verbal Reasoning

For verbal reasoning there is a much wider-ranging set of skills tested; this includes comprehension, reading, spelling and vocabulary skills. I have added more comprehension practice to lessons and homework, ensuring that pupils are taught how to ‘read actively’ and quickly in order to be able to produce a quick, accurate answer. Additionally, we have needed to practise English cloze questions – a new skill found in a variety of possible CEM formats. The most difficult skill to practise is the acquisition of new vocabulary. Word knowledge is tested in different question types e.g. synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, odd-one-out, comprehension and cloze to name a few. Students need a very wide range of vocabulary knowledge for CEM Tests and it’s risky to presume that they will already know enough – so more practice time is given to this.

Non-verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning preparation for CEM has involved practising an extended variety of question types to include the practice of mentally rotating two and three-dimension shapes, looking at shapes from different perspectives and building shapes from given building blocks. In addition we have been also been practising a few question types that are marginally different from an existing GL question, such as hexagonal grids and complete the pair.

Numerical Reasoning

CEM’s numerical reasoning tests a range of numerical skills including arithmetic, data handling, operations, and mathematical functions. The emphasis of the CEM numerical sections is on testing how candidates solve problems and apply reasoning. However, in order to be able to problem-solve, students still need to know how to calculate – these core skills are practised in lessons alongside the application of their mathematical skills. I work through each maths topic, first assessing what a child knows and then teaching and reinforcing any forgotten/unfamiliar skill. Added to this is more practice for quick mental calculations methods and problem-solving in context.

New Challenges

One of the key challenges of the CEM Test is the speed at which students are expected to work through questions in individually timed sections.  In the final few months before the real exams everything is timed until students are able to finish all the questions in test papers/exercises in time. Mock Tests are an invaluable part of this preparation alongside appropriate practice papers/exercises. It is also a good idea to work through the CEM familiarisation pack provided free to parents (available from LEAs or schools). Although we cannot second-guess all of CEM’s question styles, prior practice of the skills tested is an enormous advantage.

¹  CEM Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring


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