Smart Stepz

Smart Stepz

Help! What is CEM? What is GL Assessment? ISEB?

CEM? GL Assessment?

GL and CEM Explained

There are two main exam boards used for the 11 Plus grammar school exams, these are CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) and GL Assessment (Granada Learning). A third examining body, ISEB (independent Schools Examining Board), is used by some 70 odd independent schools.

When preparing your child for the 11 Plus exams it is very important to know which exam board a school’s assessment will be provided by. The various exam boards assess children in different ways, meaning preparations will slightly differ.

Broadly speaking all will cover English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. The key differences are in:

The format of the exam papers
The type of questions posed
The time given to students to answer the questions
Which schools they’re used for

GL/Granada Learning (Formerly known as NEFR)

GL 11+ tests are the most commonly used grammar school entrance exam in the UK. At the time of writing, these assessments are currently used by grammar schools in Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Dorset, Lincolnshire, South West Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, and the London Boroughs of Barnet, Bromley, Enfield, Kingston-upon-Thames and Sutton.

Make sure you check the assessment requirements with the schools you are interested in as they can change their assessments at short notice.

GL exam contents are closely based on the English and Maths national curriculum from Year 5 and 6. English exam topics will include reading comprehension and spelling, punctuation and grammar (If you ever wondered what SPaG stood for now you know). 

How do they Assess?

GL usually use separate papers for each subject with answer formats varying within each paper; they will include a mix of multiple choice and standard format.

  • English: 49–56 questions in 50 minutes
  • Maths: 50 questions in 50 minutes
  • Verbal reasoning: 80 questions in 60 minutes
  • Non-verbal reasoning: 80 questions in 60 minutes

What is CEM Select?

CEM Select computer assessments are designed for selective independent schools, partially selective state schools, Grammar Schools and schools with fair banding admissions. They enable children to demonstrate their academic potential, ensuring a fair admissions process. CEM Select Entrance Assessments can help you identify if your child is likely to succeed in your chosen school. The assessments measure verbal, non-verbal and mathematical skills that form the vital foundations of further learning. Students can demonstrate their academic potential and ability without coaching and excessive preparation. The assessments “support developed abilities in reading and maths that rely on genuine understanding rather than learning through repetition.”

According to the CEM website guidance for schools:

“Each student completes the assessment independently, working at a computer and guided by on-screen instructions. You can carry out the assessment with as many candidates as you can cater for in a sitting. Feedback is available to download from the secure website within 72 hours.”

 As schools, at their discretion, have the right to choose their exam format, it’s best to look at the individual websites of the schools you are considering for your child. Note the exams they will be using and any familiarization papers they have posted. Also note that not all schools, within an area, will follow the same exam format. 

What skills does my child need? 

  • Develop your child’s vocabulary. ( SmartStepZ has a blog for that!)
  • Encourage your child to read regularly.  ( SmartStepZ has a blog for that!)
  • Help your child manage their journey by structuring their learning time.


  1. Give your child a timed test
  2. Mark the paper immediately upon completion
  3. Get your child to do their corrections while the questions are still fresh in their mind.
  4. Mark corrections immediately
  5. Questions still not correct are the gaps identified and need to be taught. 
  • Don’t take away all of your child’s clubs or sporting activities; it’s how they stay grounded and your stay sane!
  • CEM has a lot of crossover with the KS2 curriculum and requires a good understanding of text and vocabulary.
  • GL covers similar topics as CEM but differs in the Verbal Reasoning with regard to the questions asked; once strategies for these questions are learned, speed follows. 

Reading with understanding is the foundation and key to success in these exams and, indeed, the future. If your child understands what they are reading, the process of preparing for the 11+ becomes a journey of relative ease.

Scroll to Top