We guide you through the differences between the Durham CEM and the GL Assessment, why there are two bodies, and the direction the Eleven-plus exam is heading in this helpful information page.
What is the Durham CEM Eleven-plus?
If you’re a parent whose child is nearing the end of their time at primary school, you may have started thinking or reading about the Eleven-plus (or 11+) exam. The Eleven-plus exam is taken during the last year of primary education at some schools to determine whether or not children will go on to a Grammar school of their choice.
Though it’s called the Eleven-plus, most children will sit the test when they are around 10 years old (at the start of Year 6) and it can be a nerve-wracking time for you and your child. The test is designed to assess a child’s levels of intelligence by assessing their proficiency in disciplines such as Verbal Reasoning, Non-verbal Reasoning, English and Maths, and it can have a big impact on the rest of their education.
Naturally, all parents want to do their absolute best when it comes to preparing their children for the Eleven-plus, but it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to tutoring. For starters, the Eleven-plus has two different main exam boards that you’ll start hearing about – GL Assessment and the Durham CEM.
The GL Assessment has been the exam board of choice for most Grammar schools across the UK for over 20 years and is generally well-respected. However, in recent the GL Assessment has gained a reputation for being too predictable and too easy to prepare for, partly owing to the amount of time it’s been around. Proponents of the GL Assessment consider it to be too transparent and have criticised tuition centres for simply ‘hardwiring’ children to be able to answer questions in the GL Assessment style, undermining the selection process. GL Assessment has been making a come-back in recent years, however, winning the contract for the Buckinghamshire 11+ exam for the 2018 exam. It’s understood that GL Assessment has made some changes to some of the question styles and the format of the exam (at least in Buckinghamshire) so it will more closely resemble the Durham CEM exam, and will not be as predictable as it has been in the past.
CEM stands for Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, which is a research group based at the University of Durham. They devised their own Eleven-plus in response to fear from some Grammar schools that the existing GL Assessment had become stale, less challenging and too easy to predict for tutors. At its launch, it was described at ‘tutor proof’ and utilises a method which sees the format and style of the tests changing from year to year. One of its key goals was to narrow the gap between those children that can afford tutors and those who can’t, stating, “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.” This is widely seen as a step forward, making the Eleven-plus more accessible and fair, but parents are still naturally geared toward helping their children with tutoring and other resources from as early as age 5 to give them the best possible chance.
Which Eleven-plus exam your child sits will be determined by which school they’re attending. Different local authorities choose different boards, but in the past few years there has been a definite shift toward the CEM Eleven Plus.
What’s the Difference Between Durham CEM and GL Assessment?
In many ways, the Durham CEM and GL Assessment 11+ exams are quite similar. Both draw from the same four subject areas (English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning), although not all GL Assessment regions cover all four. Both require a similar skill level in the same areas, both are typically multiple choice-style exam formats, both consist of two separate exam papers, and both require a standardised score of 121 to pass.
The main differences between the Durham CEM and GL Assessment 11+ exams are as follows:
The Durham CEM exam is typically broken up into different sections, which are all timed differently. Each of the two papers will be a mix of the four key 11+ subjects (listed above). Students can only spend the allotted amount of time on each section, and may not move backwards or forwards between sections throughout the test. GL Assessment exams may be mixed (usually one paper is English and Verbal Reasoning, the other maths and Non-Verbal Reasoning) but these are typically timed per paper (e.g. 45 minutes to complete the whole thing), rather than timed per section.
Whereas the maths, English and Non-Verbal subjects are broadly similar across both exam boards, there are some quite key differences in Verbal Reasoning between the Durham CEM and GL Assessment papers. In CEM exams, Verbal Reasoning and English are grouped together, so Verbal Reasoning includes: Comprehension, Cloze Text, Spelling and Punctuation, Shuffled Sentences, plus vocabulary question types such as Synonyms, Antonyms and Odd One Out. In GL Assessment exams, English and Verbal Reasoning are separate, and there are 21 key Verbal Reasoning question types that span vocabulary, mental maths, and code cracking questions.
As a parent, it’s important to note that one exam board isn’t necessarily better than the other; they are both extremely well respected institutions. The first step you need to take as a parent is to find out which exam your child will be taking. From there, you should be able to determine the length of the test, its subject and its format. Time management skills will be crucial, and helping your child develop a rich, deep vocabulary with books will help to prepare them. As well as tutoring, there are also countless free CEM Eleven-plus resources and materials to help you and your child prepare.
Please note that Eleven-plus exam papers vary according to different schools and regions, and there can be a reasonable amount of variation even within the same exam board. It’s best to check with your local authority or Grammar school of choice to make sure that your child knows what to expect from the exam.
Most important of all, remember that you and your children aren’t alone when it comes to the Eleven-plus, and there are many resources and options available to help you prepare. Fraser Stevens Learning can provide advice and resources to help get your child 11+ ready and help avoid the stress and anxiety that often precedes it.