In 2013, here at 11 Plus Leap, we welcomed the introduction of CEM 11+ testing in our county.

We believe that the 11+ in its current format has resulted in selective schools finally awarding places to students who truly deserve that offer of a prestigious grammar school place.

We believe that the new year 7 intake each September now consists of students who have excellent maths skills and read widely and therefore have solid vocabulary skills.

We have found that year on year since 2013, our 11+ courses have proved to be hugely rewarding both in terms of the obvious progress that we see in class each week but also to see the student’s confidence improve as they begin to move up into the top sets for maths and English at their respective schools.

What is the CEM 11+ Paper And How Is It Different?

The CEM style paper, which is written by the University of Durham, is being billed as resistant to tutoring, but it certainly isn’t true that it is resistant to teaching.

How to pass the CEM 11+ Test

In order for your child to pass the 11+, whether you prefer to engage a professional tutor or choose to do the work with your child at home, we think the secrets to success are:

When to start, and how long to spend tutoring your child

The earlier you start, the better! Leaving preparations until the last minute create a multitude of problems, all of which can be easily avoided by giving you and your child adequate time. Besides the obvious danger of not being able to cover all the necessary material, leaving preparation to the last minute will create an unhelpfully fraught working environment for your child.

At such a young age, children should not, in an ideal world, ever feel stressed about things like exams, and as such the more relaxed your child feels about his or her 11 plus tuition, the better. A sad reality of the 11 plus is that every year over-stressed children come out of the exam in floods of tears, and nothing will make your child more panicky on the day than a stressful couple of weeks leading up to the test.

We would recommend that you begin light preparations for your child while they are in year 4. In the early days, it must be stressed, this work should indeed be light. No more than a couple of hours a week should be necessary in the early days, and no more than four or five hours each week even as it gets closer to the actual test. Burdening your child with too much work too soon will simply put them off the process all together. If you are finding that you need to spend huge amounts of time tutoring your child, perhaps it would be wise to question if grammar school is the best environment for them.

How to motivate your child

At such a young age, most children simply don’t understand fully why attending a grammar school could potentially be of huge benefit to them. Make sure your child understands this before preparations start. For some children, going to grammar school open days is a good motivator because, if they take a shine to a particular school, it gives them something tangible to aim for.

A system of carefully selected rewards or bribes can often prove effective!

Don’t make the sessions too arduous. Try to make learning fun and sit with your child whilst they work. Maybe task your other child or children with chores to do at the same time so that he or she doesn’t feel that their siblings are having fun whilst they are having to knuckle down and work.

Have tuition times that suit your child; when they aren’t tired or over excited about some activity that they might be doing later in the day.

Too much pressure and not enough encouragement will create what is termed a negative learning environment. This means the child will be miserable and view practice as a chore. In short, they won’t want to learn. Creating a situation whereby the child actually wants to learn, even if they may not enjoy every second of it, is the aim.

Employ short diversions and apply different learning methods that will make the work less monotonous and help it all sink in.

Play word games on the school run, buy your child workbooks that are designed to be entertaining.


As part of the long term strategy, and from a very early age, we would strongly recommend encouraging your child to read. We believe that this advice applies to every child, whether they are hoping to go to grammar school or not, but it becomes especially important with regard to the 11 Plus.

Reading allows your child to expand his or her vocabulary beyond the typical range of topics; as the old adage goes, reading truly does broaden the mind. The 11 Plus has been known to feature words like ‘dormitory’, which are challenging because they are slightly old fashioned.

Unless your child is one of a small minority that goes to boarding school, he or she is very unlikely to have come across this word in everyday speech. Unless of course, your child has read Harry Potter. Whether it be the latest instalment of Percy Jackson or something nonfiction, (We would recommend the Horrible History series for some light-hearted factual reading) as long as your child is engaged in the subject, reading will always be a useful exercise, and hopefully, a fun and enriching one.

In general it’s better to allow your child to choose his or her own reading material, as it will ultimately become frustrating if they come to see reading as a chore.

What to teach:


With regards to maths, it’s best to ensure that your child is confident with everything on the KS2 maths syllabus. Reports from your child’s school should give an indication of whether your child has any major gaps in his/her knowledge. Use Key Stage 2 maths revision resources to fill any of these gaps, and be sure to revisit material that your child struggles on regularly.

Schools often take a modular approach to maths, which means that, if they cover fractions in September of Year 4, they may not cover them again until September of Year 5, by which time they’ve completely forgotten how to do them! Try to resist the temptation to ‘overrule’ your child when examining different methods with which to tackle the basic operations in maths; they will have been taught differently in their primary school and it is better to try and understand how they arrive at their answers, rather than try to impose the method that you were taught!

The most important thing is to ensure that your child is confident with the basics in the following areas and then move up to more complex worded problems in each area.

Students need to be proficient in the following:

Place value, square and cube numbers and roots, prime numbers, factors. Fractions – finding fractions of amounts, equivalent fractions, simplifying fractions, proper fractions, improper fractions, mixed numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions.

  • Time: Analogue, digital, 12 hour, 24 hour, world time zones.
  • Decimals, fractions and percentages. Rounding to a given number of decimal places.
  • Money, our coinage system, currency conversion.
  • Measurement, metric units of length, mass and capacity.
  • Area and perimeter including compound shapes. Surface area and volume.
  • Mean, median, mode and range.
  • Percentages.
  • Ratio and probability, scale.
  • Angles, shapes, compass points, symmetry

Once all the above areas have been mastered, it’s a good idea to source some short 10 minute maths tests that contain a mixture of maths concepts and ask your child to complete one of these perhaps daily after the Easter break.


Comprehension skills needs to be excellent and most children don’t enjoy comprehensions because at school, they will typically be exposed to the type of comprehensions where they will have to answer the questions with complete sentences. CEM comprehensions are multiple-choice so impress upon your child that at least they won’t have to write much!

The key to success in comprehension is to find a subject that your child might find interesting, try making up your own comprehensions, maybe if you have a football mad son, copy and adapt a match report from a newspaper and think up some questions yourself!

Cloze passages with missing words, again make up your own on subjects that you know will interest your child. You know best what interests your child!

Lots of practice at shuffled sentences is the key to success at this particular element of the CEM test. We find that children improve dramatically with lots of exposure to these question types.

Activities that are less directly related to the 11 Plus, such as word games played on the school run will help build up English skills as will trying to talk ‘just above’ your child’s vocabulary level at home, thereby having to explain the meanings.

Again we cannot stress highly enough that children need to read widely, there is truly no better way to improve vocabulary than to have a love of reading and to explore the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Non Verbal Reasoning:

Be sure to test your child’s ability in the Non Verbal Reasoning (NVR) component as early as possible. Whilst it is generally the case that a mathematical brain will be able to process NVR easily, we have found that this is not always the case and therefore any weaknesses should be addressed earlier rather than later.

There is a tendency to put NVR practice to the bottom of the list of priorities, but historically NVR has accounted for over 30% of the total marks so it is an area where points are vital. NVR tests a child’s spatial awareness, so children who are better at visualising how things fit together will naturally find this easier. Boys tend to excel in this area more than girls (this is counterbalanced by the fact that girls tend to be more verbally fluent and have a larger vocabulary), but this is only a very general trend.

Many girls perform very well in this section, and equally some boys will struggle. As such, you may find that you need to devote very little time to NVR if your child has a natural aptitude for it. If you do need to spend more time on this area, it is good to discover this as early as possible.

The best way to improve at NVR is simply practice, practice and more practice. Acquire a range of resources and work through them at a gentle pace, to build up your child’s confidence and all round ability. The standard of NVR resources available is markedly mixed, more so than with any other type of question, so do be careful which resources you invest in. With NVR the focus should be on a general trend of improvement rather than scoring 100% in every paper, there will always be individual questions that students just can’t ‘see’.

Full Practice Papers:

Towards the end of May, we think it is a good idea to start to work on full length CEM style practice papers at home. It is vital to work with the correct format whether it be multiple choice or standard format. The most common mistake with multiple choice format at this stage is for the student to lose their place on the answer sheet and be ‘one adrift’ with their answers.

Initially, time management should not be a factor and your child should be allowed to complete the paper in their own time, but it is vital that as a parent that you go through any mistakes to determine if there are any genuine gaps in their knowledge or that they are just making ‘silly’ mistakes.

Also, we think it can be an excellent idea if as a parent you actually attempt a CEM style practice paper yourself! We promise that afterwards you will have an awful lot more empathy with your child, especially if you are using some of the more challenging papers available on the market.

You can shop our bundles of practice exam papers for the CEM exam here (available to download via pdf or print).

Mock Exams:

Once that you feel that your child is confident and scoring well in the various tests that you do with them at home, it is important to think about signing them up for some mock exams, which mirror the exact format of the CEM test that they will undergo in year 6. It is vital that the children experience at least 3 or 4 mock tests under exam conditions that are appropriate for your region.

Talk to the mock providers – the best ones are the tuition companies that are completely transparent and allow you as parents to see the papers and give a relative score for the cohort.

Exam Technique:

Focus on accuracy first and foremost, and timekeeping second. Impatient children may have a tendency to focus more on the latter, but the most important aspect of the exam will always be the child’s ability to tackle the two papers in the most intelligent and efficient way. This technique will ensure that this ability is reflected in the score.

Timekeeping and exam technique are important skills to learn throughout your child’s school career. After all, this is just the first of many exams they will be sitting in the next few years. Time management will come with practice, but give your child the following general advice:

  • If you get stuck on a particular question, guess the answer and then go back to it at the end. Spending 15 minutes on one question, so that you then don’t have time to finish 20 subsequent questions, is bad practice.
  • Never leave any question unanswered. If you leave a question blank, you have automatically got that question incorrect.
  • Remember to keep an eye on the clock throughout any full-length tests.

Finally, all the best for your 11+ journey and good luck!