I've got to say - it's got to the point that I almost wonder what the CEM 11+ is actually trying to test.
By which I mean:
It's not an IQ test, so it can't be about finding the 'cleverest' per se.
My DS's experience with synonyms and antonyms is that if he knows the word he gets it right, and if he doesn't, he doesn't, if that makes any sense. He's a keen reader but sometimes he gets 100%, and then other times, maybe 50%.
Timing for the maths is so tight that often DS has to make a judgement call (at 10 years old!) whether to spend the time working it out or move to the next one and chance his luck at that.....
So, is it ability to think on feet? Ability not to crack under pressure? Parents with the ability not to crack under pressure? What are they actually looking for?!?!
My DD started Yr 7 at Kendrick a few days ago so I can only comment for girls but I expect Reading School is similar. From the various information sessions/meetings/open events we've had with the teachers and the Head, I would say they are looking for intuitive, quick-thinking, bright girls who can work under pressure and who want to learn about everything. They really don't want heavily tutored children (they are aware of what goes on) because they want girls who can learn something in one area, internalise it, and apply it without thinking to another area. The CEM test uses timed sections to put pressure on them for their first, instinctive answer rather than working out or remembering how to answer a question, because (IMO) they don't want girls who've learned how to do it but rather girls who can figure out on the spot how to do it.
I can give two examples from my DD re: the test;
1. Marking the answers in the answer booklet - I read some concerns (not here I don't think) that parents thought having to transfer the answer to another booklet and keep track of the right place to answer etc is an unnecessary stress. I asked DD (after I'd heard this) what she did to manage this and she said 'I just kept my finger in the right place and used my other hand to turn the pages in the booklet'. She was puzzled by my question.
2. When there was a word whose meaning she didn't know, she said she automatically disregarded the one or two answers she knew to be wrong, and made an instinctive choice based on the remaining options.
My DD had no tutoring or access to past papers, she saw the familiarisation booklet on the Thursday night before the test. I wasn't keen for her to go there (still have mixed feelings, but proud of her nonetheless and letting her guide her own path) and I wanted to be very sure she would be bright enough to cope if she did get in.
I suppose I have a very 'what will be, will be' attitude - and that's not because the local state school alternative is great (it's not and I've just moved my older DS to another state secondary for Yr 9) or because we would go private (can't afford it). I just think with the grammar schools if they can't get in on their own they're not meant to be there. But I don't have her future career mapped out either, I just want her to be happy and (in the future) earn enough to support herself. She can achieve that anywhere!