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The Differences between GL, CEM & ISEB


What are CEM, GL, and ISEB?

CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) and GL (Granada Learning) are the two leading providers of 11+ testing in both grammar and independent schools in England. GL has been and remains the most commonly administered exam for 11+ across the UK, with CEM later being introduced as an alternative and now used in many regions across the UK. ISEB (Independent Schools Examining Board) is a third major examining body, used by a select number of independent schools for pre-testing at 11+ before entry at 13+, usually taken in Year 6 or Year 7 between the ages of 10 and 12.

Which subjects are covered?

GL covers up to five 11+ subjects, English, maths, verbal reasoning. non-verbal reasoning and spatial reasoning. Schools can choose a selection of subjects based on which combination of components are best suited to their selection process. For example, Kent exams test all subject areas, whereas Lincolnshire covers verbal and non-verbal reasoning only. All content covered is mapped to the KS2 curriculum, but content will range across the complete syllabus so it is wise to start preparation early.

CEM covers verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning content. There is overlap with GL, for example with verbal reasoning including various skills tested in the GL English Assessment, such as comprehension. The Numerical Reasoning content is likely to show puzzles and problem solving but is heavily linked to core maths knowledge included in the GL exam. CEM claims to also be more closely mapped to the KS2 curriculum, so revision of this is key.

The ISEB exam comprises English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. The English and maths content is in line with the National Curriculum including topics covered up until the end of Year 5, such as reading comprehension, punctuation and spelling, as well as calculations, fractions and percentages.

What are the different exam formats?

Most GL exams are timed to 45 minutes, although this can vary from year to year. The test is split by subject and is generally answered in a multiple-choice format, however some regions use a standard format for verbal reasoning and maths sections. Questions encountered throughout the test are selected from a GL question bank of over 18,000 questions, so regular practice of these question types, as well as higher difficulty sub-topics such as Algebra, is key to attaining top marks.

CEM papers do not separate subjects. These are generally tested across two papers which consist of shorter timed sections, integrating all topics. The most common structure is one paper testing English and verbal reasoning, with the second testing maths and non-verbal reasoning, switching between question types throughout. Multiple choice is the most commonly used question format, however standard written form can also be utilised. The weighting of these exams is unknown before the day of the test, although previous analysis has led to common themes such as high weighting in problem solving and vocabulary. As this test is timed, it is important to remember balancing speed and accuracy is a key feature to practice ahead of your exam.

The ISEB tests take two and a half hours for students to complete and comprise of GL style formatting, sectioning by subject each with a time limit: English 25 minutes, maths 50 minutes, verbal reasoning 36 minutes and non-verbal reasoning 32 minutes. This test is taken online and is adaptive and thus multiple-choice, increasing and decreasing in difficulty depending on answers given to previous questions. Therefore, each child will likely complete a different exam, and will not be permitted to go back to any past questions.

What should preparation look like?

Preparing for the 11+ exam can initially seem daunting, it is there to test your child’s aptitude across the spectrum of core subjects. For this reason, with any of these tests, building a broad vocabulary through additional reading, and developing their understanding of core mathematical skills are essential. It is important to know which test they are going to be sitting to make preparation the most effective.

GL requires additional strength in logical reasoning and spelling, therefore using past papers is a fantastic way to familiarise your child with the content they are likely to encounter with the question bank containing more structure to the question types. Focusing on core subject knowledge and finding specific tricky areas will ensure any gaps in your child’s knowledge is covered, in the event, this subtopic is tested. It is also beneficial to touch on some year 6 content where additional knowledge is sometimes required.

CEM requires similar strengths to that of GL, as well as greater comprehension skills, and a wide-ranging vocabulary. Therefore, additional reading is a great way to boost their breadth of knowledge around both areas. We would also recommend utilising ‘A word a day’ scheme to ensure they are learning and noting at least one new word, including finding synonyms and antonyms to give depth and support retention of their learning. Timing is key, and we would always recommend your child is answering as many questions as they can. If they encounter a tricky question, move on and come back to it if there is time at the end.

The ISEB requires greater understanding in high level verbal and non-verbal reasoning such as word combinations, number codes and shape analogies. To get the best out of your preparation, we would recommend ensuring you are utilising adaptive learning where possible. If your child is finding the content easy, this is not generally a good sign. Your child should prepare for challenging questions and expect to come across significantly more challenging questions towards the end of their exam. This test is more heavily weighted on correct answers as opposed to timing, so it is key your child is not rushing these and focusing on attaining the most correct answers they can.

For each different examining body, your child mustn’t lose their momentum. Once they sit their exam, they should begin to focus on maintaining and developing their knowledge into the KS3 curriculum, so that they enter secondary school ahead of the curve, and as confident as can be!

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