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A parents' guide to CEM Select

By Atom | Nov 3, 2023, 12:32 PM

Young child and mother sitting on a sofa with a laptop and smiling at each other

Is your child applying for a school that uses CEM Select as part of the admissions process? Keep reading to:

  • See the question types used in a CEM Select exam

  • Learn which subjects and content are tested

  • Understand out how CEM Select exams are marked and scored

  • Find out how to support your child for CEM Select success!

What is CEM Select?

CEM Select is a computer assessment designed by the Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM). It's used by lots of independent schools in the UK to assess children applying for entry.

The test is designed to make the selection process fair for candidates. Schools use the exam to get an idea of a child's academic potential and ability, rather than what they have learned through repetition.

The CEM Select exam has a time limit of one hour and is split into six sections. Unlike other entrance exams such as the ISEB Common Pre-Test or the London 11+ Consortium, CEM Select is non-adaptive. All the questions are pre-selected and children will see the exact same questions in the same order. They can also move back through the questions to double-check their answers.

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What do CEM Select questions look like?

There are three different types of question used in a CEM Select test.

1. Multiple-choice

Most CEM Select questions are multiple-choice. Children need to use their mouse or trackpad to select the correct answer from a group of options. The option they select will then be highlighted in yellow.

Multiple choice.gif

2. Drag and drop

For some questions, your child will need to use their mouse or trackpad to drag an answer and drop it into the correct place on the screen.

Drag and drop question type on CEM Select

3. Auto-complete

In auto-complete questions, your child will need to type the correct letters into the answer to complete the word. If they type incorrect letters it will not auto-complete.

Children will need to type the correct letters into each answer to auto-complete the word. If they type the incorrect letters, it will not auto-complete.

Complete the word.gif

Which subjects are tested in CEM Select?

The CEM Select exam tests verbal, non-verbal and numerical ability. It is usually split into five or six smaller sections.

The core sections are comprehension, missing words, numerical ability and pictures. These are supplemented with one or two more sections which test verbal reasoning ability.


Comprehension is one of the longest sections in the test.

On the left side of the screen, children will see a passage of fiction or non-fiction text. They can use their mouse or trackpad to scroll through the text.

Questions will appear on the right side of the screen. These questions assess their understanding of the text and the extent of their vocabulary. There are 23 questions to work through.

Missing words

Candidates will be shown two passages of text (one after the other). Both passages will contain missing words.

For the first passage, pupils will need to type in the correct first two letters for each of the 25 missing words (the rest of the word will auto-complete). They will then need to repeat this process for the second passage, which has 20 missing words.

Numerical ability

Numerical ability is a maths test. Questions are aligned to the Key Stage 2 maths curriculum.


The pictures section tests non-verbal reasoning. This is a measure of how well your child can analyse visual information and solve problems.

For each question, your child will see 8 pictures on the left side of their screen. One of the pictures will be missing. On the right side of their screen, they will see a further 4 pictures. Your child will need to choose a picture from the right which completes the set on the left.

Some of the other sections your child might see include:

  • Shuffled sentences: children will see a sentence made up of jumbled words, including an extra unnecessary word. They will need to drag the unnecessary word into the Word Bin and rearrange the words to create a completed sentence.

  • Anagrams: in an anagram question, your child will see a sentence with one jumbled up word. They will need to drag the letters into the correct order.

Free CEM Select practice questions

Download this free resource to help your child practise drag-and-drop and missing word questions for the CEM Select exam.

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CEM Select free resources

How is CEM Select scored?

After completing the test, your child's scores will be age-standardised. This is a statistical process that takes into account your child's age at the time of the test.

Your target school will see your child's results within 72 hours. Parents will not be able to see the results.

There is no universal pass mark. Each school will set its own pass mark depending on other factors, such as the number of available places in the year group and any other selection criteria.

Which schools use CEM Select?

The following independent schools use CEM Select for 11 plus entry:

  • Bancroft's School

  • Cheadle Hulme School

  • City of London School for Girls

  • Dunottar School

  • Edgbaston High School for Girls

  • Exeter School

  • Farnborough Hill School

  • Guildford High School

  • Heathfield School Ascot

  • Leicester Grammar School

  • Mill Hill School (Somerset)

  • Moreton Hall

  • Newcastle High School for Girls

  • Nottingham High School

  • Princethorpe College

  • Queen Anne’s Caversham

  • Rendcomb College

  • St Edmund’s College

  • St George’s Weybridge

  • St Paul’s Girls’ School

  • The Grange School Northwich

  • The King’s School, Gloucester

  • The Royal Masonic School

  • Warwick School

What exam technique is needed for CEM Select?

CEM select tests a lot of skills and content in a short space of time. Your child should be able to work quickly, read carefully and trust their instincts.

Work quickly

The CEM Select exam usually has a time limit of one hour. The sections within the test all have their own individual time limits.

Children will need to work quickly but efficiently to answer as many questions as possible within the time limit. If your child is struggling with a question, it's best to move onto the next one. If they have any time left at the end of the test, they can go back to check their work and complete any unfinished questions.

Read carefully

While working quickly is important, your child should also be mindful of reading the question carefully. When both the question and answer options appear simultaneously, it's easy to get distracted.

Remind your child to read each question twice so that they understand what they need to do before answering the question.

Trust your instincts

It can be easy to overthink a question in an exam. Your child should try to trust their instinct to work through the questions efficiently.

If they have time at the end of the exam, they should return to any questions they weren't sure about. They can then use the process of elimination to narrow down the correct answer.

How can my child prepare for CEM Select?

CEM does not provide any practise materials for the CEM Select exam. Here are our top tips to help your child develop the skills they'll need for these types of questions and to feel confident on exam day.

Learn new words

Help your child prepare for the verbal reasoning section of the exam by encouraging them to create a vocabulary log.

Every time they learn a new word, they can write the word and its definition in their log. To help them internalise new words and understand their meanings, use them together in every day conversations.

Read widely

Reading regularly and widely is a great way to build skills in comprehension and analysis. These skills will help your child tackle comprehension and verbal reasoning questions in the CEM Select exam.

Your child should be reading a range of fiction and non-fiction in their free time. Take a look at our guide to engaging your child with reading for more tips to help your child become a natural reader.

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Complete puzzles

Puzzles and games such as Suduko and Lego can help improve logic, attention to detail, and visualisation skills. These are all important for success with non-verbal reasoning.

For more top tips, take a look at our guide to 11+ non-verbal reasoning.

Practise everyday maths

Before the exam, your child should be comfortable with the Key Stage 2 maths curriculum.

Encourage your child to practise their maths skills at home. Activities such as practising their times tables, working out the food shop and cooking together all help.

Encourage your child to practise their maths skills at home. Activities such as practising their times tables, working out the food shop and cooking together all help.

CEM Select practice with Atom

Wondering how to make sure your child gets comfortable with CEM Select questions, stays on track with their progress, and gets help when they're stuck? Online learning is a particularly efficient, cost-effective, and fun way to do this!

Atom is the award-winning online learning platform that gives your child everything they need to prepare for school entrance exams.

Children work independently through over 90,000 interactive practice questions in English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Teacher-created helpsheets and videos help them discover new concepts and consolidate their learning.

Atom's adaptive algorithm keeps children on their ideal learning path. It's tailored to your child's unique learning style and pace to keep them challenged and motivated.

CEM Select pictures question on Atom

CEM Select practice tests

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Looking for support?

We understand that you want your child to do well in the CEM Select exam. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions you may have about the exam or applying to selective schools.

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