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Exam Types


When preparing your child for the 11+ exam, the first thing you need to know is which exam board will administer your chosen school entrance test. Different exam boards assess children in a variety of ways, and as such, preparations will differ accordingly. However, the subject matter generally stays the same with the four core subjects of English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

Please note that it is always worth checking the specific requirements of the schools you are interested in directly with the school, as they may change their assessment criteria at short notice.

The main exam boards used for the 11 + schools’ exams are:

  • GL Assessment (Granada Learning)
  • CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring)
  • ISEB (Independent School Examination Board)
The key differences are the format of the paper, the type of questions posed and the timings of the exams.
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What is GL Assessment?

The GL exams are the most common tests used by grammar schools in the UK. They cover the 4 core subjects: English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Typically GL exams will test for 45/50 minutes per subject. Questions are normally in multiple choice format, although some authorities also use a written answer format for reasoning and maths tests and are drawn from a large question bank of various types and styles.

Grammar schools can choose which combination of these subjects will be tested for entry.

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What is CEM and CEM Select?

The CEM exams do not have separate papers by subjects. Instead, they generally group English and verbal reasoning skills together into one paper known as the Verbal reasoning paper, and Maths (also referred as Numerical Reasoning) and Non-Verbal Reasoning skills into another paper. CEM Select exams are split into six components approx. 20–30 questions each: comprehension, anagrams, missing words, shuffled sentences, mathematics, and pictures. Generally papers are 60 minutes each with each paper being split into shorter timed sections of 6 – 12 minutes.

Most Important is that students can only proceed to the next section when they are told to do so and CANNOT go back to previous sections. They are typically time intensive so often there will more questions than are likely to be answered in the time allocated.

Important note: towards the end of 2022, CEM announced that from September 2023, they will be changing the format of their exams from traditional paper-based tests to online assessments. This change may have an impact on which schools use CEM as their exam provider.

Some schools may continue to use the online multiple-choice format of CEM exams, known as CEM Select.

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What is ISEB?

The ISEB Common Pre-Test is commonly used for entrance exams by independent schools. It is currently used by over 70 independent schools in England as part of their 11+ or 13+ entrance procedures. Independent Schools tend to write their own exams; however the content is generally traditional of a GL style although many are increasingly using the ISEB online pre-test. The ISEB exam consists of four separate tests which can be taken consecutively or separately. The exams in total take approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with:

  • English and Maths: approx. 40 minutes (often English is split into comprehension and SPAG(spelling, punctuation and grammar).
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning: approx. 30 minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning: approx. 25 minutes.

ISEB is an adaptive multiple choice online test, this means that questions will vary in difficulty depending on performance.

The ISEB Test Walkthrough is available to help applicants learn how to navigate the ISEB Common Pre-Tests. This can be found here:

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