What are the main differences between the two 11+ exam boards GL and CEM?

What are the main differences between the two 11+ exam boards GL and CEM?


This article will outline the key differences between GL or Granada Learning and CEM (Centre Evaluation and Monitoring) based in Cambridge University. There are important variations between the two 11+ exam boards and the style of the exam papers they produce. Even though the blog will highlight the main differences, it is also essential you get the most up-to-date information from the school or local authority you want to apply.

GL Assessment are responsible for writing and administering a high volume of 11 plus tests across the country. While CEM has grown in demand, predominantly due to some grammar schools and local authorities worrying the 11+ exam system was too transparent. As a result, they continually change the format and difficulty level.

Firstly, we will concentrate on the GL syllabus. GL assessment exams are divided into English, math, verbal and non-verbal sections. The questions chosen are selected from the GL bank of questions and the schools or local authorities can pick any combination of those subjects to suit their requirements. Within verbal reasoning, GL have often used 21 verbal reasoning question types. These could involve word, number, code related or logical questions. Certainly, regular practice can help children become familiar and confident with the questions they will encounter. Below is a table which gives more specific examples of the types of questions in each verbal reasoning category.

Category Name of the question types 
Cracking codes Crack the number code, Crack the letter code, Double letter series and Letter analogies.
Creating words Compound words, Find the missing letter, Move a letter, Find the missing three-letter word, Complete the third pair in the same way and Create words in the same way.
Using numbers Letter sums, Number series, Balanced equations and Middle number.
Finding words  Hidden four letter words, Closest and opposite in meaning, Odd two out, Multiple meaning and Word analogies. 
Thinking logically Explore the facts, True or false statements and Solve the Riddle.

Non-Verbal Reasoning questions test how well you deal with new and unusual information without using words. The non-verbal reasoning questions test the student’s ability to spot similarities and differences. Examples include odd one out, analogies and find the shape that is most alike. Studying a pattern and identifying a missing shape are skills involved in matrices and sequences. Some questions may involve vertical or horizontal codes, where the expectation is to match parts of a shape with a letter or letters. The mentioned question types are all two dimensional (2D). The other area which has been introduced into the 11+ tests is spatial reasoning. This looks at how you can manipulate shapes and space in your head. Examples include, fold and punch, hidden shapes and complete the shape. Generally, the question bank nature of the GL exam does make it easier for children to prepare for.

The mathematics section of the GL 11+ test relates to the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum but covers topics across the whole syllabus. Students should be familiar with year 6 objectives such as algebra, percentages, ratio and proportion to name a few topics. The exam will often present the questions in a word problem format. The other common occurrence is setting questions on interpreting data. For instance, children might be given a pie chart and asked to answer a question relating to this information shown.

English comprises of a comprehension exercise. This can be based on fiction, non-fiction extracts or a poem and will include a series of questions covering the following areas.

  • Factual questions (these often involve just retrieving the information from the text)
  • Deduction and inference questions (being able to read between the lines)
  • Questions involving figurative language (examples might be the use of alliterations or personification)
  • Understanding the purpose, audience and structure of texts.
  • Knowing different word groups (examples include adverbs, prepositions or abstract nouns)
  • Making personal judgments or forming an opinion on the extract or poem.

In addition, the English section can cover sentence completion, grammar and spelling questions. Usually, these questions in a GL test are presented in a multiple-choice format. For each question, your child will be presented with a series of answer options, one of which is correct while the others are all incorrect. Practising this approach of switching between their question paper and the answer sheet is advisable. It can be quite easy to demarcate the answers incorrectly. The answer sheets are marked by an optical reader (machine), so your child must only use pencil and should make sure that any changed answers are rubbed out properly.

CEM 11+ tests will follow the KS2 Curriculum but there is definitely a greater emphasis on vocabulary, problem solving and time management. CEM uses similar topics to GL and the table below gives an overview of these topic areas.

Topic area Question types
Verbal Reasoning Reshuffled Sentences, Antonyms and Synonyms, Odd one out, Analogies, Word definitions, Multiple meaning, Word associations
Non-Verbal & Spatial Reasoning Matrices, sequences, analogies, Similarities, Odd one out, Cubes and Nets, Composite shapes, 3D Plan views and 3D Rotation   
English A comprehension exercise, Cloze passages (partial words, multiple choice, word bank, select the sentence)
Numerical Reasoning Core maths skills covered in the KS2 National Curriculum (some topics might not be covered until the end of year 6)

The CEM test is very time pressured, and this is accentuated by subdividing the paper into timed sections. Once the time has elapsed in a section, the child cannot revisit that part of the paper again. An example might be a comprehension exercise has 20 questions to completed in 15 minutes. Pupils must be able to read fluently and accurately. If a child is a slow reader this can hinder their chances of scoring highly. Developing a strong vocabulary is also important in this style of exam and building your child’s word knowledge – synonyms, antonyms, homonyms is crucial.

In summary, if your child is sitting either a GL Assessment or CEM 11+ test, try to use plenty of past papers to familiarise your child with the question types in each subject. Learning the various strategies and techniques for the questions will help develop confidence and speed. If attempting a CEM test developing a deep and rich vocabulary is imperative. Reading widely will expose your child to more ‘grown up’ words and try to incorporate those into everyday conversations. Doing crosswords, playing word games can further help children increase their knowledge of word meaning. Giving your child the opportunity to practice tests under exam conditions will help them get used to formal exam conditions – reduce down any anxieties your child may have. It is worth noting your child may not be able to complete all the questions in the given time, especially in the CEM examination, so teaching them to focus on the ones they are more secure on. To reiterate the point made in paragraph one of this article, remember to find out exactly what exams your child will be taking. This can vary from school to school, not just region to region! Also remember to keep checking the admission criteria on school websites as they can change subjects or the duration of the examinations.

We hope you found this blog useful in representing the main differences between GL and CEM. If you would like to purchase supporting materials for either 11+ exam board, please do visit our Collins website


By Chris Pearse

Chris Pearse is a qualified Primary School Teacher with 10 years' experience in teaching. He started Teachitright in 2006 to provide support for children taking secondary school exams and is passionate about helping children achieve their potential whilst enjoying education.

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