5 Differences Between GL and CEM 11+ Exams

‘GL’   ‘CEM’  ‘VR’   ‘NVR’   ‘SPAG’   ‘CLOZE’


Preparing your child for the 11+ exam, with all its acronyms and peculiarities can sometimes make you feel like you’re taking an exam yourself. This helpful guide will give you clarity on what GL and CEM mean, and why it is important to know the difference between them.

Around 90% of 11+ exams are issued by GL (59%) and CEM (27%), with a minority using another exam board or producing their own paper. Although these exam boards are different, they seek to test largely the same disciplines, including Maths, English and Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Therefore preparation for both exams (as well as the few which use neither board) will look similar for the most part.

However there are 5 main differences between GL and CEM that may affect how you and your child prepare for the 11+ exam, namely: coachability, the importance of vocabulary, timing, subject differences and topic differences.

💡 What is the GL assessment?

GL stands for Granada Learning, and is the most common exam board used in 11+ exams.

💡 What is the CEM assessment?

CEM stands for the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring. It was developed by Durham University with a philosophy that access to tutoring should not benefit some students above others, and is therefore designed to be ‘uncoachable’.

1. Preparation Techniques 📝

As previously mentioned, the CEM is designed to be ‘uncoachable’. To the contrary, the questions which appear in the GL test each year come from one bank of 18,000 questions, and therefore their style and format rarely changes from year to year or school to school. As a result, your child can practise GL assessment-style questions in order to become comfortable with this type of exam.

Conversely, the CEM exam requires a more general approach to preparation in the form of revising and growing confident in a range of topics that may come up – which are mostly included in the KS2 curriculum.


GL CEM 2 (compressed)

Ultimately, the GL and CEM exams are very similar as they cover mostly the same topics, and usually follow simple formats such as multiple choice questions. Therefore preparation for both does not necessarily need to differ. Nevertheless, some of the nuances between them are explored in the subsequent points.

2. Vocabulary 📖

In order to pass the CEM exam a child needs a much broader range of vocabulary than is required for the GL assessment. This is due to the emphasis on synonyms, antonyms and cloze tests within the CEM exam’s verbal skills section. One of the best ways to prepare your child for this is by gradually building up their vocabulary over time, perhaps by teaching them a new word each day from our specially-formulated 11 plus vocab list.

GL CEM 3 (compressed)

Having a broad vocabulary is also helpful for the GL assessment, as well as for general advancement in English at school, so even if your child is not taking a CEM exam, this is still a useful practice.

3. Timing ⏳

CEM exams are very time pressured as students are given a set time (6-12 minutes) to complete each section of the paper, and then have to move on to the next part, without being able to go back and check their answers. Due to this, the majority of students are unable to answer every question on the paper.

Do not be alarmed if your child’s practice paper scores are adversely affected by this as the overall scores in the exam itself will be standardised to reflect the difficulty of the paper. However it is important to practise answering exam questions within the time guidelines set out by CEM.


Remember that while mastering the timing is indeed important, firstly your child must focus on having a good grasp of the content of the exams. Therefore we recommend that parents should begin to incorporate timed tests into their child’s preparation around March, and then increase the emphasis on this in the months leading up to the exam.

Another important discipline for your child to remember when taking this exam is skipping questions that they don’t know and coming back to them if they have time at the end, rather than getting stuck and not progressing in the paper.

Again, practising timing is also helpful for those preparing for a GL assessment, although the timings for these aren’t quite as tough and most students are expected to complete them within the time provided.

We recommend that students taking a GL test should aim to get 85% in their 11+ exam to stand a good chance of securing the secondary school of their choice. A child taking a CEM exam may expect to score lower due to the timing constraints.

4. Subject Differences 👩‍🏫

Although GL and CEM generally test the same disciplines, there is a nuanced difference between them. GL tests four over-arching subjects: Maths, English, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning/Spatial Reasoning. Meanwhile CEM tests Numerical Reasoning, Verbal Skills and Non-Verbal Reasoning/Spatial Reasoning.

English and Maths differences

These titles may sound a bit confusing so to simplify, it can be said that CEM’s Verbal Skills aligns with GL’s English, and their Numerical Reasoning generally aligns with GL’s Maths, although CEM has more of a focus on data handling and long maths problems.

Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning differences

CEM’s Non-Verbal Reasoning/Spatial Reasoning mirrors the GL test’s Non-Verbal Reasoning/Spatial Reasoning, however not all GL tests include spatial reasoning. If your school uses a GL assessment, please check with them to see whether it is included. Lastly, GL’s verbal reasoning, which focuses on testing logic and sequences, does not have an equivalent in the CEM exam, so make sure to factor this into exam preparation depending on which paper your child is taking.

MathsNumerical Reasoning
EnglishVerbal Skills (English)
Non-Verbal Reasoning / Spatial ReasoningNon-Verbal Reasoning / Spatial Reasoning
Verbal Reasoning

5. Topic Differences 🧑‍🎓

As stated in section 4, the subjects tested in the CEM and GL tests are largely similar and thus preparation is best carried out holistically. However, there are some differences between what these subjects actually cover. These small differences are helpful to note so that you can work out what your child needs to focus on in preparation for their particular exam.

GL-only topics
  • Maths:

  • English:
    • More emphasis on finding Spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) mistakes in sentences (although this can occasionally come up in CEM).
  • Verbal Reasoning:
    • There are a total of 21 topics that could come up – most of which are not used by CEM
  • Non-Verbal / Spatial Reasoning:
    • Combining shapes
    • Spinning shapes
CEM-only topics
  • Maths:
    • More emphasis on data handling, including sub questions that focus on one set of data (eg a table or chart). This can occasionally come up in GL but only as individual stand-alone questions.
    • Longer maths word problems
  • Verbal Skills (English):
    • Cloze passages
    • Shuffled sentences
  • Non-Verbal / Spatial Reasoning:
    • Cube nets

Now that the differences between the GL assessment and the CEM exam have been cleared up, it’s time to get going with your child’s 11+ journey!


One of the best ways your child can prepare for the 11+ exam is with our free worksheets. Sign up to receive them straight to your inbox here.

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