What is the difference between Verbal Ability and Verbal Reasoning?

A number of local authorities that retain the 11+ and a significant number of individual grammar schools and grammar school consortia have changed their entrance examination from the GL Assessment to CEM.

GL Assessment tests are single subject (verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, maths and English) and schools used these 50-minute tests in various combinations. Some schools used all four papers, others opted for verbal reasoning only; or verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning; and still others, just Maths and English. These papers would always receive equal weighting when marked.

The CEM 11+ exam purports to test children in all four subject areas. However, in reality the exam consists of verbal ability (another name for English), numerical reasoning (problem solving or wordy maths) and non-verbal reasoning (which can now include 3-dimensional rotation). Buckinghamshire LEA revealed that the weighting for the CEM test is 50% for verbal ability, 30% for numerical reasoning and 20% for non-verbal reasoning.

In a strict technical sense, what is referred to as ‘verbal ability’ in the CEM test actually consists of the testing of English skills to quite a high level. This includes testing a child’s knowledge of antonyms, synonyms and homonyms, their vocabulary skill, spelling ability, syntactical skill and their capacity in being able to read and comprehend unseen passages and answer questions on them. GL Assessment Verbal Reasoning tests did include some of these elements, such as synonyms and antonyms, but there were also coding, logical reasoning and alphabet reasoning questions that tested a child’s ability to accurately follow a logical process. These elements did not require high levels of English ability. The CEM ‘Verbal Ability’ component of the new tests has none of the logical process elements found in GL Assessment verbal reasoning tests and children can only do well in this if their English skills are well honed.

What does this all mean for children sitting the CEM test? It means they require highly developed English skills to do well in this test. A 50% weighting on English is extremely high. There is less chance of a child being able make up ground in the other subject areas of numerical reasoning and non-verbal reasoning with such a high concentration on English. Therefore, it is crucial that parents focus on developing the English skills of their child. Starting early is the best policy, as improvements in English are not achieved quickly.

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