By Adam Muckle
The CEM 11 Plus was instigated to address concerns in recent years that children were being over-prepared for entrance exams, and that they were being ‘taught to the test’.
Developed by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at the University of Durham, the CEM 11 plus was introduced in 1999. It has become popular for school entry requirements as unlike other examination boards it does not produce or endorse practice papers; it continuously changes its format and has a perceived increasing difficulty. Drawing from research identifying “the best predictors of later achievement” it aims to make the tests as fair as possible for all candidates, prepared or otherwise. It therefore stays very close to the National Curriculum Key Stage 2, stating that it aims to “reduce any disadvantage created between children who are tutored for tests and those who are not.”
The CEM examinations themselves, with most being sat in September and results released in October, are either paper-based or computerised. One contains English and Verbal Reasoning, with an element of comprehension, the other is a mix of Maths and Non-Verbal Reasoning, as well as Spatial Reasoning. The exam technique being tested is one of problem-solving and speed. There may be more questions than may be able to be answered. Therefore children must learn to be able to manage their time effectively. Answers are either given in spaces provided or through Multiple-Choice. Parents and Guardians should check with their local authority and school whether the CEM 11 plus is being used. They should also check from them where and when their child will be physically sitting the CEM exams, whether that be at the primary school, the senior school or test-centre.
In terms of any preparation, the CEM advise that “children can best prepare for our 11+ selection assessments by learning to work quietly on their own, completing their homework set by their school and by reading and trying to understand all the words in any books they read.” This is certainly the advice I give as a tutor too, to encourage children to read as much as possible, use a dictionary and broaden their vocabulary in doing so.
There are CEM-style exercise books which purport to prepare children for the style of questioning they may face, without there being a set bank of questions to draw from. There are also general English and Reasoning exercise books which can help broaden children’s vocabulary, as well as grammar, punctuation and spelling. These explore homonyms, homophones, synonyms and antonyms, figures of speech, word analogies and other such areas. There are similar for Maths and Non-Verbal Reasoning to consolidate the foundations and for practice purposes. They do this in fun and inventive ways so that children can learn well. A bi-product of this learning is that they will be ready to expect the unexpected in the exam and be confident entering and being in the exam room. So in this way any preparation for the CEM exams will be useful for another exam board.
They should have nothing to fear or be anxious about, and be able to perform at their best.