The new CEM test - what's the idea?

CEM 11 plus test

The CEM test is provided by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, part of the University of Durham. It was first used in Buckinghamshire and Bexley in 2012 and since then it has been gradually introduced to other areas, for example Torbay and Devon in 2015 and Wirral in 2016 [note: Buckinghamshire and The Wirral no longer uses the CEM test]. So why was it introduced? The CEM 11 plus (or transfer test as it is known in some areas) is supposed to be "un-tutorable" so more and more schools and local authorities are taking it up in a bid to make the process fairer for those who do not have tutoring.

What efforts has the CEM made to make it harder to tutor for the exam? Previously the verbal reasoning section of the 11 plus contained a significant proportion of questions such as word ladders (changing one word into another by changing one letter at a time), alphabet reasoning, alphabet codes, alphabet sequences, number codes, number links, hidden words, word changing patterns etc which have specific techniques which can be learnt in order to significantly increase performance in the test. The CEM has got rid of these questions and replaced them with verbal reasoning questions which rely more on the children having a wide knowledge of vocabulary (for example questions on synonyms and antonyms). It is fair to say that a child who is performing well at school, but has not had tutoring would perform better in the CEM verbal reasoning questions than in the GL assessment verbal reasoning tests. The other major change the CEM has made is to "bring back" non-verbal reasoning (NVR). NVR questions are similar to those used in IQ tests and are supposed to test innate intelligence rather than learned ability. I have two objections to the use of NVR, the first is that it tests specific skills which are not directly related to any of the skills needed for the academic subjects taught at secondary school. The second is that it is clearly possible to tutor for it as I know from personal experience. I tutor children for the Torbay 11 plus and, until the CEM was introduced last year, NVR had not been used in the 11 plus since I started tutoring. So last year I took some timed NVR tests and my scores were abysmal! Since then, after tutoring around 50 children in NVR, I find that I am significantly better at working out the answers. The CEM test is not the only 11 plus test to use NVR, but some providers have dispensed with it as they believe it is too easy to tutor for it.

The CEM has tried to ensure that the English and maths topics in their exam are compatible with those taught in primary school. It stands to reason then that children who are doing well in English and maths at school will do well in these topics in the CEM test. However it is also true that if children have extra tuition in English and maths they will do better in the CEM 11 plus test.

In conclusion, if you want your child to do well in the 11 plus you have two options: engage a competent and experienced tutor or thoroughly research the exam your child will be taking and make sure that they do the correct preparation.

For more information on the CEM 11 plus see our CEM page.