Is the CEM exam really ‘tutor proof’?

CEM claims that this test assesses children’s academic ability without them putting in ‘excessive preparation’. Ironically, this test now requires more excessive preparation than ever, and parents will not be put off from paying for extra tuition by these claims. If the CEM exam tests English skills to a high level, then the only way to prepare for this test is not less work but even more work. Who does this test favour? The very people for whom it was supposed to lessen advantage i.e. the middle class English parents who can afford more tuition and whose children are surrounded with reading materials from an early age. This exam is less fair for children from other ethnicities whose English may be poorer because their parents are not as conversant in the language. It is less fair for children from working class backgrounds because they may have less access to a reading culture. It is less fair for all those children who find English difficult anyway, but who are in fact very bright and can demonstrate this through other forms of testing.

Those who have tested IQ for almost a century have always viewed the traditional form of verbal reasoning as a good indicator of academic ability because it tests a range of skills, such as logical processing, decoding, ordering and basic English skills. However, children who do not have a very high level of English skill can still demonstrate their ability on such tests. The CEM tests focus entirely on vocabulary skills (synonyms, antonyms and homonyms), syntax (correct ordering of sentences), Cloze (selecting words from lists and spelling some words) and comprehension (a high level English skill which involves understanding and answering questions on previously unseen passages).

Those who tutor are well aware of the supposedly special content in these tests, which has been so carefully guarded. Information about the examination leaks out from children from every area in which it has been sat, so the content of these tests is already well known. The fact that CEM does not publish materials is immaterial. Publishers are already responding to the challenge of producing preparatory materials. No one would dispute this exam is more difficult to prepare for, a claim incidentally CEM no longer make on their website. Nevertheless, it is possible to prepare children for this test, just as it is possible to prepare children for any test.