What is the difference between GL Assessment Papers and CEM Assessment Papers for the 11 plus?


When you begin your preparation and research for your child’s 11+ exam, there is a vital element that you will encounter and need to take into account. Most schools follow or partly follow either one of these two principal types of exams:

  • 11 Plus GL assessment papers
  • 11 Plus CEM assessment papers

Basically, these are the two exam boards that administer the tests. It must be noted that some schools also mix in their own school written tests to go alongside the two mentioned exam boards above. Although they cover pretty much the same subjects or topics, there are fundamental differences between both the GL and CEM 11 plus assessments. This is the reason why it is very important that you know which exam your child is taking, since it varies greatly depending on counties and schools. But don’t worry, this article will provide you with the key differences between the GL assessment 11+ papers and the CEM 11+ papers.

Some history:

GL Assessment

GL Assessment was previously known as the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), but in 2007 it was bought out by Granada Learning and re-named ‘GL Assessment’. Nowadays, Granada Learning develops and administers the 11+ exams in the majority of Grammar Schools in the United Kingdom.

CEM Assessment

CEM Assessment was created in 1999 and developed by the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring at the University of Durham. The conception of this exam was empowered by concerns based on ‘playing the system’ that some grammar schools started to sense and fear in the previous 11+ system. The CEM 11 plus assessment was a response to these distresses and was designed to prevent question spotting and what they call ‘teaching to the test’. It was a new approach to prevent coaching for the 11+ exam and to make it a “tutor-proof” test.

How do CEM Assessment accomplish this? They have different methods to do so, for example, this centre does not produce or publish any practice papers, they don’t maintain the same format for their tests and a difficulty increase is actually observed during the test.


GL Assessment: Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northern Ireland, Plymouth and Wiltshire.

CEM Assessment: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Medway, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral and Wolverhampton.

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

In the case of Surrey, grammar schools in this region write their own 11+ assessment papers, they use the Selective Eligibility Test (SET).

You may be interested to know that there have been an ever increasing number of regions that have transferred to the CEM assessment exam in recent years. But also, as you can see, some of the regions still use a combination of GL assessment 11+ and CEM 11+ papers.

Since grammar schools and regions can change from one exam board to another, it’s imperative that you check with each grammar school that your child is applying to, of which exam board they will be using for their year of entry.


GL Assessment: the GL exam covers these four 11+ subjects: English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Grammar schools can choose any combination that best aligns with their selection program and policies.

CEM Assessment: the CEM exam covers five 11 plus areas: Comprehension, Vocabulary, Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. The ‘Verbal Reasoning’ includes several of the skills covered in the GL English exam. Also, the ‘Numerical Reasoning’ contains the main maths skills included in the GL assessment papers.

Speaking in terms of the KS2 National Curriculum content, both verbal and numerical reasoning questions contained in the CEM 11+ papers, encompasses more areas than GL Assessment 11+ papers do. It is important to reiterate that each region and grammar school can choose the best combination of subjects that fits their selection specifications.

Exam time:

The GL 11+ assessment papers have a tendency to last 45 minutes, but of course, this time does vary considerably as per the choice of each individual school and 11 plus region.

On the other hand, the CEM 11+ assessment papers do not have an established set time and can change from year to year according to the format selected for that edition. It has been seen that some schools have published relevant data and information about the format they will be using on their admissions page on their respective school websites. From this information it is possible for parents and tutors to gather some ideas of examples previously used. For example, sets of four papers with break with each section consisting of papers with different timings.

Exam Format:

GL Assessment: this exam is divided into the four different subjects that have previously already been mentioned. The questions are taken from the GL Assessment Question Bank. This is the reason why through repeated practice, children can be well trained and prepared for these style of questions.

There are two ways, depending on the format you are facing to answer these questions. You can either write next to them in the spaces provided for this format (Standard Format) or respond to them on a different answer sheet with usually 5 different options for answers (Multiple Choice). This is the way the majority of GL 11+ exams operate, but it can vary by region and school.

CEM Assessment: unlike the GL exam, CEM 11+ papers are not separated by topics. They are all mixed in together. You will face combinations in comprehension, vocabulary, verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Furthermore, sections may be placed in a different order, jumping from shorter to longer ones and with diverse timings.  Similar to the GL 11+ assessment papers, the region or school may choose between a Standard Format or a Multiple Choice Format.

It is important to note, that in the CEM 11+ exam it is usual to find a greater amount of questions than time can allow you to answer. This is why parents should explain to their children that there is highly likely probability that they will not finish the paper in the allocated time given. Children should be advised not to become anxious or worried, they just need to administer their time correctly and answer as many questions as they can in the allocated time period. The weighting of marks/points for each section of the test is never revealed before the assessment. It is key to know that the CEM 11+ exam prioritises vocabulary, problem solving and speed.

Skills required

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

CEM Assessment: Strong English, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling and math’s skills are required. CEM verbal reasoning is very different to GL verbal reasoning and success is dependent on children having a much wider-ranging vocabulary skill set.

These were the key differences between GL Assessment Papers and CEM Assessment Papers for 11 plus, just be sure to know which test your child will be taking so that you can ensure the best preparation for him/her.


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