Exam Materials

Cambridge English Exams The First Hundred Years

Cambridge English Exams The First Hundred Years

This book is an official Cambridge publication marking 100 years of ESOL qualifications like FCE, IELTS and CELTA from the very first CPE (Cambridge Proficiency in English) test in 1913.

I have to state straightaway that it is difficult to imagine any school or teacher actually paying money to buy this book, and I’m saying that as someone who is rather obsessed with industry trivia. However, the book does have some fascinating information, some of which I’ve shared below. I also imagine there’ll be lots of copies given away by Cambridge to celebrate their centenary, in which case it is certainly worth a look.

The book traces the development of Cambridge ESOL qualifications from CPE in 1913, what was to become FCE in 1939, PET and what was to become IELTS
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Review ~ Compact First
Reviewed May 2013 by Vanessa Pasini
Compact First

Compact First

Compact First is a textbook for students preparing for the Cambridge: First exam, commonly known as the FCE. Compact First was my main text early in 2013 and, I think this is one of the best such texts that I’ve come across. Its clear and thorough approach makes it very easy to teach from but still allows teachers to adapt exercises.

The ten units are divided thematically, each tackling a separate grammar and vocabulary point as well as one or two parts of each paper in the FCE. In addition to this there is: a writing guide supplying model answers for each writing question; a speaking guide with tips, visual materials and useful phrases; a wordlist; a grammar reference; and the CD ROM. All these elements made my class feel they had a good understanding ofwhat was required in the exam.

One thing I really appreciated was the fact that no space is wasted in this book. Although the content of the units only make up about half the total space in the book, there is more than enough material to cover. Any pictures are either directly related to speaking tasks or can be adapted for this purpose.
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Review ~ Objective First
Reviewed May 2013 by Carmela Chateau
Objective First

Objective First

This third edition of Objective First consists of a Student’s Book with CD-ROM (with or without answers), a Workbook with audio CD (with or without answers), and a Teacher’s Book with CD-ROM. This review focuses mainly on the Student’s Book with answers. All are for preparation for the high-Intermediate exam Cambridge: First (also known as FCE and Cambridge First Certificate).

Any book which aims to help students prepare for a standard test faces a major problem, since standard tests are designed to assess, with a fair amount of accuracy, the level of English that the candidate has reached. Any book helping students to pass a standard test without actually reaching the level of English certified by that test would undermine the credibility of the test itself. Teachers and editors alike therefore face a quandary, and CEFR level B2 is often a major hurdle. Level B1 is the first stage as “independent user”, and it is within the reach of most candidates. Level B2 demands greater depth of knowledge and much greater mastery of language. The Association of Language Testers of Europe (ALTE) recommends a certain number of guided teaching hours for each CEF level, indicating that it takes at least 100 guided teaching hours for a student to progress from level B1 to B2.
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Review ~ Complete IELTS: Bands 5-6.5
Reviewed Mar 2013 by Margaret Bade
Complete IELTS: Bands 5-6.5

Complete IELTS: Bands 5-6.5

Complete IELTS: Bands 5-6.5, written by Guy Brook-Hart and Vanessa Jakeman and published by Cambridge University Press, is a welcome resource for teachers preparing students for the academic module of IELTS (International English Language Testing System) at the intermediate level (B2). The eight-unit Student’s Book is designed as a short course for IELTS preparation of around 50-60 classroom hours. It includes a full IELTS practice test as well as all grammar and vocabulary considered relevant to this level, informed by the Cambridge English Corpus, not to mention plenty of well-explained IELTS practice exercises in each unit. The full set of answers and CD-ROM are a bonus. There are also two Class Audio CDs which contain additional listening practice, as well as recordings for all the listening sections.

The 166 pages include a map of the units and an IELTS Academic Module: Content and Overview at the front, and at the back a speaking, writing and language reference (giving the additional descriptions of grammar covered in each unit) to give students more of what to expect “on test day”. A detailed word list of useful words from each unit is also provided here but some teachers could consider the detail given a little complex, and students might be better off finding the meaning for themselves.
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Review ~ IELTS Language Practice
Reviewed Aug 2012 by Belinda Molnar
IELTS Language Practice

IELTS Language Practice

IELTS is the International English Language Testing System taken by many students who need an English exam in order to study or work in English speaking countries. The IELTS Language Practice book is aimed at students of all levels preparing to take the IELTS exam.

IELTS Language Practice can be used as preparation for the IELTS exam. It is divided into sections covering grammar, units based on different vocabulary themes (e.g. on the natural world, the arts and attitude and opinion), and sections that focus on topic-linked words and phrases, including sections on academic essay writing.

The first 40 units deal with different aspects of grammar with three to four pages dedicated to each aspect such as the various tenses, articles, and modal verbs. Each section starts with an explanation and examples, followed by exercises. The explanations
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Review ~ Examining Speaking
Reviewed Jun 2012 by Jesús García Laborda
Examining Speaking

Examining Speaking

How about “Due to the importance of external tests (IELTS, ToEFL, Trinity tests, PET, KET, FCE, BULATS, and others), testing has become an increasingly important topic in EFL. In many parts of the world today it is also difficult to find a school in which exam classes are not a vital part of their business. Consequently, the number of publications in the field has also expanded, especially in the last three years. Although generally the new publications tend to be simple but comprehensive manuals, large collections like this book have also become more common.

Examining Speaking is one volume of the Studies in Language Testing (SiLT) series edited by Dr Michael Milanovic and Prof Cyril J Weir. The series addresses a wide range of important issues and new developments in language testing and assessment. This volume
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Review ~ Talking Trinity (Elementary Stage)
Reviewed May 2012 by Vanessa Pasini

Talking Trinity (Elementary Stage)

Talking Trinity Elementary, written by Jeremy Walenn and published by Garnet Education, prepares young learners for Grades 4-6 of the Trinity GESE exams. It seems aimed at students aged between 9 and their early teens and is designed to be used in a classroom environment. The book covers both the topic and general conversation sections of the exam.

With eight lessons per grade, the book takes a thematic approach to the exam with topics taken from the conversation topic areas as laid out in the Trinity syllabus. One of the best things about Talking Trinity is the focus on pairwork, which allows for lots of personalisation and exam-style practice, and maximises student talking time. In addition to this, Walenn uses listening, gap fill and matching tasks to draw out the grammar and vocab of each grade in an engaging and fun way. Each lesson ends with a summary of the language aims and possible questions for the general conversation part
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Review ~ Direct to TOEFL iBT
Reviewed May 2012 by Theresa McGarry
Direct to TOEFL iBT

Direct to TOEFL iBT

As the title makes clear, this book aims to prepare learners for the computer-based TOEFL iBT test. It is organized in six sections. The introduction orients the student to the project of preparing for the TOEFL iBT and addresses general format characteristics of the exam and skills that will be useful throughout all the exam sections. Following that, are sections corresponding to each of the four parts of the test: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Each section contains practice test items, and the final section is a complete practice test. The website provides sound files for the listening tasks, audio scripts of the sound files, an answer key, and three more practice tests that can be taken like an actual TOEFL test or with more student control over the format in “practice mode”. A particularly nice feature is the “My Exams” page, where the student can review the exams they have taken. The code given with each book provides site access for one user for 18 months.
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Review ~ Talking Trinity Initial
Reviewed Feb 2012 by Vanessa Pasini
Talking Trinity Initial

Talking Trinity Initial

Talking Trinity Initial by Jeremy Walenn is the first in a series of books published by Garnet Education and aimed at preparing learners for the Trinity General English Speaking exam. The book is designed to be used with young learners in a classroom environment and would be most suitable for children under the age of 12. . An audio CD is also provided to support the materials given. This publication focuses on the Initial stage of the exams, which is divided into grades 1, 2 and 3 and, as indicated on the back cover of the book, is comparable to CEF A1-A2.

There are twenty-four lessons in the book, eight lessons per grade, each tackling a different grammatical or lexical requirement. Depending on the length of lesson, these may need some padding or alternative resources, but the teacher’s book has good suggestions for extending activities
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Review ~ IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills
Reviewed Jan 2012 by Clare Welch
IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills

IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills

Writing is undeniably challenging and an area in which many students struggle to achieve a good exam score. Given that the IELTS Academic exam has two quite different writing tasks, practice is essential. Knowing and understanding what is needed to achieve a good mark is really useful, and in this book the authors, both IELTS writing examiners, clearly guide the reader through the different sections, practising key skills and building a range of expressions.

One great feature of the book is the “Try It First” sections. People using the book are encouraged to write an essay before studying the unit, in order to gauge how much they already know and what they need to work on. This should be effective in motivating them, and shows them the worth of the book by giving them the knowledge to fill the gaps identified. The book could be used as a self-study book or as a class course book.
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Review ~ Testbuilder for TOEFL iBT
Reviewed Oct 2011 by Clare Welch
Testbuilder for TOEFL iBT

Testbuilder for TOEFL iBT

Exams are challenging to prepare students for, and as there are not an unlimited number of practice tests out there this book is a useful addition to a TEFL resource library. I was excited by the idea of reviewing this new “testbuilder” with its promised “tests which teach” and was keen to see whether it lived up to its claim.

The book offers two full length practice exams along with an answer key. Unlike a traditional answer key, it explains the reasoning behind the correct answers, as well as detailing the type of question each one is: vocabulary, gist, fact, inference, and so on. For the reading and listening parts of the test this information about why an answer is correct is just what a student needs!

After doing this so well, the book then falls down. For the speaking and writing test components, although sample responses are offered, there is no indication as to whether these are good or appropriate responses, what kind of mark they’d have achieved in the exam, what could have been improved, or any guidance for the student as to what a good response would be like. I was disappointed by this.
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Review ~ Ready for IELTS
Reviewed Oct 2010 by Tom Alder
Ready for IELTS

Ready for IELTS

Ready for IELTS is another title for preparing students for the Academic IELTS exam. IELTS (in case you didn’t know) is usually a prerequisite for university entrance in the UK and other English-speaking countries, and is also used on CVs and visa applications. IELTS course books have come and gone, and most teaching institutions have shelves stacked with them. Why buy another? After all, the last time the exam had any major revision was in 2000 (although there have been a few minor changes to some of the rules since then). Well, giving the matter some serious thought during a recent ‘section 4’ listening activity, I have come up with the following possible reasons:

  1. Previous books have shortcomings that the new ones address
  2. The new ones are more up-to-date in terms of media, subject matter and the methodology they draw on
  3. Older books have been exhausted; long-term students have been through them all and teachers are sick of them
  4. The ‘newness’ itself
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Language Testing Matters
Reviewed May 2010 by Lara Promnitz-Hayashi
Language Testing Matters

Language Testing Matters

Language Testing Matters is another book in Cambridge’s Language Testing series and is a collection of twenty edited papers presented at the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) Conference held in Cambridge in April 2008. Like others in the series it is very simple and academic in appearance but its size makes it easy to use and place with your other reference books. As I had reviewed other books in this series I knew what to expect when I opened it. Not surprisingly, as with other volumes it is well set out and very easy to navigate. The Contents page lists all papers by title and author, making it easy to find what you are looking for. The Contents page is followed by a detailed Introduction. If you have time I recommend reading through the Introduction, as it summarizes what you will find in the book and will save a lot of time as you will know what each paper is about and can just skip to the papers you are interested in reading. The book itself is then
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Review ~ IELTS Target 4.5
Reviewed Aug 2009 by Clare Welch

The IELTS exam has been growing in popularity and is now a commonly used marker of a students’ level of English, especially for universities and employers. As a brief background for those not familiar with this exam, there are two different IELTS exams that you can do- Academic and General. Assessment is based on a scale from one (low) to nine (high) and as a rough guide universities generally require a score of 6.5 or above on the Academic exam from non-native speakers, while lower scores on the General exam are sometimes okay for less academic studies
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BEC Higher Testbuilder
Reviewed Jun 2009 by Tom Alder

The Testbuilder series from Macmillan comprises collections of practice tests for various English exams -FCE, CAE, IELTS and the like. What makes them different from the official exam books is that they include additional materials- the ‘testbuilding’ aspect- which focus on exam skills and analyse the various part of the test in detail. They are intended to be, as the covers announce, ‘tests that teach’.
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Spotlight on FCE Exam Booster
Reviewed May 2009 by Lara Promnitz-Hayashi

The Spotlight on FCE Exam Booster is designed as a supplement to the Student’s Book by the same name, and is really good. Like the Student’s Book, it is well set out- but I actually found it much easier to navigate. It is jam-packed with useful
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Spotlight on FCE Student’s Book
Reviewed May 2009 by Lara Promnitz-Hayashi

I will admit that before opening this text I had to look up what FCE actually was. FCE stands for the Cambridge ESOL First Certificate in English, which made me apprehensive about opening the textbook as there are so many test preparation books on the market that I was prepared to ‘yawn’. I was pleasantly surprised. It is very colorful and extremely easy to follow and full of
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Review ~ IELTS Foundation Study Skills
Reviewed Apr 2009 by Dave Allen

Full title: IELTS Foundation Study Skills: A self-study course for General Training Modules
Authors:
Amanda French, Rachael Roberts, Joanne Gakonga, Andrew Preshous
Publisher:
Macmillan
Components:
Textbook and Audio CD
Summary: A basic self-study text for IELTS learners at around the IELTS 4.5-5 bands, including all four skills and aimed at General Training Exam

Review
When I received this text and saw the word ‘foundation’ I was reminded of the conundrum facing many teachers in the UK and probably all around the world too: A prospective student comes into the teachers’ office and says something like ‘me… (points at own chest)…IELTS’. Now, as the teacher you have to fill in the blanks. Is this student doing a Tarzan impersonation or does he/she want to take the IELTS exam but can barely string a sentence together? (Answer: It is most often the latter.) After trying to dissuade them as best you can, you will probably end up agreeing to a general English language course with a bit of IELTS exam training thrown in. If there are enough of these students you have what some teachers lovingly refer to as a ‘baby-ielts class’
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Review ~ Common Mistakes at IELTS Advanced
Reviewed Mar 2009 by Saul Pope

Full title: Common mistakes at IELTS Advanced…and how to avoid them
Author:
Julie Moore
Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Review by:
Saul Pope
Summary:
An important component of any advanced IELTS course

Review
IELTS can be a notoriously tricky course to teach, especially for the more inexperienced teacher. You’re almost guaranteed to have a mixed ability group, students may want to take the exam at different times to one another, and some will simply not be capable of reaching the lofty targets their future place of learning has set them in the time you have. On top of this, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to concentrate upon as spiky profiles are often the order of the day, and, unless you’re an IELTS examiner, it can be tricky to know where students tend to go wrong in these exams. Common mistakes at IELTS Advanced cannot solve all of these problems, but it is very useful in
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CAE Gold Plus
Reviewed Mar 2009 by Jesús García Laborda

Components reviewed: Student’s Book, Exam Maximiser with answers and audio CD, Audio CD, iTestsAuthors: Nick Kenny, Jacky Newbrook, Richard Acklam and Elaine Boyd
Publisher:
Pearson Longman
Summary:
Many new elements make this pack attractive for both teachers and learners. Do not miss the computer- and web-based practice.
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