11+ exam boards: CEM vs GL – what’s the difference?


When you first start researching the 11+, one of the first things you’ll come across are references to the ‘GL’ and ‘CEM’ 11+ exams.

Simply put, GL and CEM are two different exam boards that are the examiners for the 11+ in virtually all regions where the 11+ is still used.

Although they cover broadly the same 11+ topics – English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness exercises – there are very real differences to the way the GL and CEM 11+ exams work and this will have an impact on how you prepare your child for the 11+.

To help you prepare your child for the 11+, we’ve summarised the key differences between GL and CEM:


GL Assessment: Previously known at NFER, in 2007 NFER was purchased by Granada Learning and re-named ‘GL Assessment’. Since that time, GL Assessment have developed and administered 11+ exams in the majority of grammar schools in the UK.

CEM: Developed by the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring at the University of Durham, the CEM 11+ exam was created in response to fears from some grammar schools that the existing 11+ exam system had become too transparent. The exam was designed to address concerns over question spotting and ‘teaching to the test’.

Upon launch, the CEM exam was favoured by some regions and schools as it was seen as more ‘tutor-proof’, with much emphasis placed on: CEM not producing or endorsing any published practice papers, the continually changing format of the tests, and the perceived increase in difficulty. Of their approach, CEM have stated: “CEM aims to reduce any disadvantage created between children who are tutored for tests and those who are not. We firmly believe that children should not be tutored for our selection assessments.” (www.cem.org/attachments/Information%20for%20parents.pdf)


GL Assessment: Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland, Wiltshire.

CEM: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton.

GL and CEM: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Yorkshire

Unknown at time of publication: it's still unclear what exam board Surrey will use in 2016.

NB: 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.


GL: GL cover the four 11+ subjects (English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness) and schools can choose any combination of these to best suit their selection policy. For instance, in Dorset, maths, English and verbal reasoning are tested, whilst in Lincolnshire, only verbal and non-verbal reasoning are tested.

CEM: CEM covers verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning. In practice, ‘verbal reasoning’ encompasses many of the skills tested in the GL English exam, including comprehension. Likewise, ‘numerical reasoning’ involves the core maths skills needed for the GL 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.


GL: Again, this varies from region to region, but broadly speaking, most GL 11+ exams 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). The length of test papers vary, although 45 minutes is the most common exam time.

GL takes its questions from the GL Assessment Question Bank and uses a variety of different question types across all four subjects. Through practice and preparation, it is possible for children to become familiar with these particular question types.

CEM: 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.

In addition, the paper may quickly flit between a short maths section, a longer problem solving exercise, then some logic puzzles. Timings will be allocated to each section, and children will need to carefully manage the time they spend on each section.

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.

Skills required

GL: Strong vocabulary, logic, maths and spelling skills are required.

CEM: Strong English, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling and maths skills are required. CEM verbal reasoning is very different to GL and success is dependent on children having a much more wide-ranging vocabulary.

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 stressed enough. Reading widely, building vocabulary, developing mathematical skills, are all key ways of helping prepare your child for the 11+. With that in mind, here are some key pieces of 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. (Plenty of exam prep using practice papers 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:
    • Use a vocabulary book to 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:
    • Make sure your child does plenty of timed practice and is accustomed to managing their time carefully.
    • Use practice test papers to set mock tests 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. For the CEM test in particular they may not have the time or be able to answer all the questions, so teach them to focus on the ones they are most sure about. This will help them feel prepared going into the exam and quickly build confidence in the exam as they amass a collection of questions they are happy they have answered well.

We hope this introduction to CEM vs GL has been useful. If you have any advice or questions relating to GL or CEM, why not share them on our Facebook page?


If you're looking for GL and CEM-specific practice papers to help your child prepare, take a look at the Bond ranges for GL and CEM.

The Bond team