How to pass the CEM 11+ Tests

January 28, 2016

Looking to find out about the CEM 11+ tests for grammar schools in Birmingham? Look no further! In this article we shall we breaking down the different sections in the exam and hopefully providing an insight into preparing your child in the best way possible. If you are looking for extra help with the admissions process, finding out which tutors in Birmingham can coach and mentor you or your child through the process is a good idea. However, with ever increasing competition, pressure on students is mounting, and so creating a good balance between prep for the admissions process and time out from studies should be top priority! 

Let’s begin with Maths:


The CEM papers will test all topics that have been covered up to and in year five. The main subject areas are: Number; Data interpretation; Measurements and Geometry. In addition to this students are expected to show strong mental math capabilities. Times tables, different types of numbers (i.e. square numbers, prime numbers etc) should be committed to memory and useful formulae (i.e. speed = distance/time) should be committed to memory.

Top tip on how to pass the CEM test for Maths: Looking specifically at the Numbers section of the CEM test, it is of paramount importance that all students can manipulate the four basic operations (+, -, x, /) in the most efficient way possible. Also students should cover topics such as: fractions; ratios; sequences; percentages and decimals. Typically students do well on these topics and are great starting points for private study.

Geometry is extremely important in mathematics in general, as well as for this exam. Students should look to cover: 2D shapes; 3D shapes; areas; volumes; nets of cubes; types of angles and angle properties. Typically students do particularly well with angles, but not so well with memorizing the properties of the 2D and 3D shapes.

Being able to convert from one set of units to another is essential! (Converting centimetres into millimetres, litres into millilitres etc.) In addition to this, conversions rates (typically from pounds to euros or dollars), and converting time (hours into minutes etc.), may also be examined. Teaching this topic after studying multiplying and dividing by powers of 10, usually makes this easier for students.

Finally the data interpretation section, usually the more difficult for students to grasp, consists of: manipulating graphs (pie charts, bar charts etc.); calculating the mode, mean, median and range; using bus and train timetables and interpreting scales. Again some concepts here can prove to be slightly challenging however with practice eventually become straight forward.


The CEM papers can prove to be particularly difficult when examining English. Students are required to display an extensive range of vocabulary throughout all English and some Verbal Reasoning sections.

Top tip on how to pass the CEM test for English: Students should expand their vocabulary and engage with more reading related activities. Through reading both vocabulary and comprehension skills are developed naturally. Also reading newspapers and magazines is beneficial, as it gives the student a broader range of reading materials where different language will be used. 

Click here to see words recommend for students undertaking the CEM test to learn.

The use of punctuation is extremely important, students should aim to fully understand how to correctly use both grammar and punctuation, and be able to recognize when it’s used incorrectly. Students should aim to be able to recognize different types of words and appreciate the differences between them. In addition to this, students should also prepare for the Cloze exercises (an exercise where a child is expected to fill in a gap with some given words), as well as using grammar to help determine the appropriate word, students should learn as many different homophones as possible, (such as there, their and they’re, where and wear etc.). Though students show good understanding of these rules initially, reinforcing the need for using grammar in their daily writing is essential.

Comprehension is essential for students in general so usually the skills to successfully answer questions are usually already developed, however the standard of English is much higher than their used to. In addition to this the time limit may feel intimidating to students, therefore the need to develop skim reading skills may be important. In the past my students have found this very beneficial, looking for key words and generalizing a paragraph in a couple of words. Therefore after reading the question, students have an idea where to look. (This is not a substitute to reading the entire passage first).

In King Edwards’s exams, there is most likely going to be a creative writing section. Students generally respond to this section negatively before this is attempted, topics such as sentence structuring, using imagery effectively (similes and metaphors etc.) and how to plan effectively should be covered. Planning is essential. It will allow students to a general structure to their stories and will remind them to set a clear beginning, middle and end. Please proof read! Something my grandmother constantly tells me (even today). Proof reading will allow students to highlight: any areas where they may have repeated themselves; grammatical errors and allow them to rewrite something using stronger imagery.

Here is a link to an CEM English exam with a creative writing section.

Verbal Reasoning

A combination of both Maths and English examined in what initially will feel as unorthodox, the Verbal Reasoning section of the exam requires students to spot patterns and show verbal logic.

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