CEM 11 Plus

Tuition & Preparation.

Coaching; practise; tuition and preparation are often used interchangeably, but are strictly speaking different.

  • Coaching is when people are actually taught the best way to answer the test questions.
  • Practice is simply attempting questions that are similar to the ones in an actual real test.
  • Tuition is teaching a child (and may actually include coaching and practise) and is aimed at GL 11+ (Grade Level 11+).
  • Prepping is simply preparation and can encompass tuition, coaching and practise.

Preparation and tuition does not have to be formal. DIY tuition or preparation is no different to professional tuition or preparation. Claims that children were not tutored should be not be taken at face value, as often children were "home" tutored or prepared. One to one parental preparation is highly effective.

There has been a great number of debates relating to the 11+ tests set by CEM Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring Cambridge 11+). The claim is that the CEM 11+ tests are less prone to prepping. We have yet to see any evidence to substantiate this. All 11+ tests can be tutored for.

Our first hand experience is to view this statement "with a pinch of salt".

Children can and are encouraged to prepare for "A" levels, GCSE exams and Sats tests, so why not for an 11+ test? Exactly what is the difference? If the test is based upon what has been covered at year 5, then why cannot one prepare?

Our experience has shown that in Birmingham; Walsall; Warwickshire, and Buckinghamshire there is a huge tuition culture. The CEM 11+ has resulted in an explosion in tutoring, be it professionally or parent led. We just do not believe the CEM 11+ is resistant to preparation. We believe the CEM 11+ has the opposite of the intended effect, as it seems to increase prepping. We believe this in inevitable and would happen irrespective of whichever organisation was selected to create a test that covered a wider subject area for assessment. Parents simply want their children to win a grammar school place.

It appears that CEM "recycles" similar questions, many of which have been constructed by tutors and websites, which are used to prepare children. We have found in the most selective areas, many (not all) children, who do not get homework, are studying for two hours a day, preparing for CEM 11 plus tests. They cover English and Maths to begin with and later cover NVR.

Those who say children cannot be coached in NVR are naive. Why does Bond® publish a book teaching NVR concepts? As an example, children have been given a Bond® NVR test for the first time; score around 30% within the time allocated and 50% if given extra time. After going through the Bond® book, they increased scores to 50% timed and 60% untimed. Over the next 3-4 months as they apply the concepts they learnt more effectively their scores increased to 75% timed and 80% untimed, peaking at 85% to 90% timed, just about managing to complete tests within the allocated time. We found children reach an effective ceiling to their scores. Prolonged practise resulted in negligible improvement in their earlier ceiling scores. We found that after 30 hours of tuition and practise children were close to their peak. An additional 10 hours slightly increased their scores. Further work simply maintained their scores. Obviously some children figure out how to handle NVR questions quicker than others and not all children would benefit from 30-40 hours tuition. It may be relevant, that we found Bond® NVR tests more challenging and difficult than what was found in a CEM 11+ test, which has in effect become a 10+ test.

This demonstrated children can be prepped for NVR and with practise can substantially increase their scores. We also found that in the same tests 10-11 years old children can perform as well as University graduates and post graduates, who have not prepared.  Age had little impact upon improvement in scores when compared to a 10 year old and older children (hence the programme "Are you smarter than a ten year old?").

Many children in Birmingham cover the entire year 6 maths syllabuses by the December of year 5 and effectively practise Sats style questions for months. They progress to level 6 papers and in effect are taught to foundation GCSE standard. They are taught basic algebra but are taught how to handle complex ratio and proportion questions that many year 7-8 children struggle with. By covering the entire syllabus they find the entire year 6 a year when they learn relatively little in maths. The year 5 children could sit a year 6 Sats paper and beat some year 6 children, who had not prepared for a CEM 11+ test. But, for some, when additional practise stops in year 7, the child's may end up making little additional progress in year 7 and find they knew more a year earlier.

This seems to indicate the real effect of the CEM 11+ is to increase and not decrease tutoring. It means children accelerate their learning. Websites such as CoolCleverKids reported children in Birmingham were using the site for an average of 7 hours a week and on some days, spending up to 2 hours. This was in addition to time spent on English sites such as WordBuilder. The total average total time spent on all subject preparation was 14 hours a week, excluding reading for pleasure. Over one third of this time was during weekends. Of course other children prepared using other means and spent much less time.

This may be a shock to non-competitive areas such as Buckinghamshire, but in reality the children who undertook 14 hours a week also participated in leisure activities. Many studied up to an hour before school followed by an hour after school, which meant the children were free from studying after 5:30pm. They had over 4 hours each evening for other activities. Put in context, it does not sound so bad, and is better than spending 3 hours a night playing with game consoles. Some parents stated that their younger children, who attended private schools, spent 1-2 hours per night doing homework whilst those at state schools did one hour a week. The time spent by state school children preparing for 14 hours a week was a step towards parity with the independent sector.

Then again some younger children spent as much time on websites provided by schools, as it was perceived as fun or challenging. Not all study is forced! Some children actually enjoyed challenging themselves.

On the subject of English, a rich vocabulary was seen as critical. Understanding comprehension relied upon vocabulary as do synonym and antonym questions. Those children who practise cloze passages and had a rich vocabulary soon realised they could work out a cloze word without having to read the sentence to understand context. This saved them valuable time in the speed tests. This relied upon formal vocabulary building and practise: prepping.

With the new Buckinghamshire, 11+ instead of preparing for VR tests, the same tuition companies extended their offerings to include maths and NVR preparation, and increased the amount of tuition.

How exactly, does a CEM 11+ reduce prepping remains much of a mystery. Cover the syllabus and exceed it means you are better prepared.

If a CEM 11+ means less prepping it would be interesting to put this to the test in a super selective and a low selective area. Let 100 Birmingham 11+ candidates undertake the Bucks 11+ in addition to their own and let 100 local Bucks 11+ candidates take the Birmingham 11+ and compare the results.

This should also be compared scores with those who received tuition, to those that did not.  If the claim of reduced "prepping" has any substance, there should be no difference is scores between tutored and non-tutored children and between performances of children in a highly and lower selective area. Somehow we believe results will show those spending the most time in preparation gain the highest scores, as is usually the case in GCSE and A level exams.

It is unlikely that any 11+ test will ever be really resistant to prepping, whoever the 11+ supplier. The amount of preparation appears to be proportional to the selectivity. Super-selective areas such as Birmingham will see the highest preparation and low-selectivity such as Buckinghamshire will show less preparation. The competition within a region and personal circumstances determine the amount of preparation.

Preparation can only improve performance and is unlikely to have the reverse effect. Many "bright" children do not win grammar school places, because they simply were not prepared. It is always wiser to be prepared than not. It is straightforward to prepare for any 11+ test. We believe preparation is key to success.

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11+ English (Verbal Reasoning)
online preparation with

Spellings; Vocabulary; Synonyms; Antomyms; Conundrums; Cloze Passages; Comprehension, and Jumbled up sentences. Ideal for 11+ tests set at the CEM Centre, at Durham University®.
11+ Maths (Numerical Reasoning)
and NVR online preparation with

Free maths question generator
Lesson notes; presentations (videos); worksheets; games; Sats style tests from Year 2 to 6 including mental maths audio tests; private school 11+ tests, and CEM style past questions.
Now includes Non-verbal Reasoning.
Ideal for 11+ tests set at the CEM Centre, at Durham University®.

The 11+ information site
Helping children pass the 11+
Free advice and resources with
recommendations for preparation.

Children’s Educational Material 11+
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7641 6970 
Email: cemelevenplus@gmail.com
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