a brief review of some IELTS preparation materials

books for practice tests

the Cambridge IELTS series

The Cambridge IELTS series has been published by Cambridge University Press since 1996. The first book of this series named Cambridge Practice Tests for IELTS 1 was designed by Vannessa Jakeman and Clare McDowell and released in 1996. The second edition was renamed Cambridge IELTS, however, and the author was University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. During the course of this series, there have been other changes in the name of the edition or the author, not to mention the split between the academic training materials and the general training materials, yet the numbering is preserved. Right below is a brief bibliography of the published editions:

  • Cambridge Practice Tests for IELTS 1 (1996)
  • Cambridge IELTS 2 (2000)
  • Cambridge IELTS 3 (2002)
  • Cambridge IELTS 4 (2005)
  • Cambridge IELTS 5 (2006)
  • Cambridge IELTS 6 (2007)
  • Cambridge IELTS 7 (2009)
  • Cambridge IELTS 8 (2011)
  • Cambridge IELTS 9 (2013)
  • Cambridge IELTS 10 (2015)
  • Cambridge IELTS Academic 11 (2016)
  • Cambridge IELTS Academic 12 (2017)
  • Cambridge IELTS Academic 13 (2018)
  • Cambridge IELTS Academic 14 (2019)
  • Cambridge IELTS Academic 15 (2020)
  • Cambridge IELTS Academic 16 (2021)

Each book of the series contains four complete sample IELTS tests, each comprising Listening and Speaking modules and Academic Reading and Writing modules. The series is highly recommended by high-scoring test takers.

IELTS Trainer

Author: Hashemi Louise, Thomas Barbara

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Year: 2011

Apart from the Cambridge IELTS series, Cambridge University Press and Cambridge English also published another book for practice tests called IELTS Trainer (2011). The book includes six practice tests, with some notes for advice and tips. It was followed by IELTS Trainer 2 (2019)

Barron’s IELTS Practice Exams

Author: Lin Lougheed

Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series

I supposed this is also a series, although its self-help styled cover design always confuses me with so many pop-up chunks of information. The one I have right now is the third edition, which includes 6 practice tests for the Academic module and 6 practice tests for the General module. This book might complement the practice tests by Cambridge University Press in training. Personally, I prefer using the Cambridge tests for students’ homework and the Barron’s tests for achievement tests.

books for intensive training

The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS for Academic & General Training

Author: Pauline Cullen, Amanda French, and Vanessa Jakeman 

Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge English

Year: 2014

As the name suggests, this book is supposed to be a blueprint for IELTS training. Its contents revolve around the four skills, each comprising the guides and the test tips, with relevant examples. The second half of the book contains 8 practice tests with key answers. This could be used as another source for achievement tests.

Action Plan for IELTS

Author: Vannessa Jakeman and Clare McDowell

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Year: 2006 

This book also breaks down the IELTS test into four sections, and each section is presented in its chronological order of the test, with remarks on the nature of the common question types and tactics to deal with them. There’s also a practice test at the end of the book.

Insight into IELTS

Author: Vannessa Jakeman and Clare McDowell

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Year: first published in 1999, updated edition in 2001, fourth printing in 2002

The book is also written based on the four skills tested in the IELTS exam, with guides and tips for both Academic and General Training modules. And yes, at the end of the book, there’s 1 practice test.

In 2008, the authors revised the book and published a new version called New Insight into IELTS

books for extensive training

By extensive training, I mean the sort of training that might last from 3 to 12 months. This is in fact a skill-based training course where the students are not only provided with action plans and test tips but also with vocabulary and grammar. While extensive training books are written based on the topics, the intensive training books are written based on tasks.

There are several collections of extensive training out there. The thing is, if I were to choose some materials for skill-based long-term training, I would pick the preparation books for Cambridge English exams (Key English Test – KET for A2, Preliminary English Test – PET for B1, First Certificate in English – FCE for B2, Certificate of Advanced English – CAE for C1, and Certificate of Proficiency in English – CPE for C2), other than IELTS.

But anyway, we are reviewing the IELTS materials, so let’s examine some relevant names for the present.

Objective IELTS

Author: Michael Black, Wendy Sharp, Annette Capel

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Year: 2006-2007

There are two sets of books for two levels: intermediate and advanced, each comprising 1 student’s book, 1 teacher’s book, 1 workbook, and 1 student’s book for self-study. The intermediate version was written by Wendy Sharp and Michael Black whereas the advanced version was written by Michael Black and Annette Capel.

These 20-unit books cover a variety of topics ranging from technology to animal science. By engaging in these topics, students might learn a lot of phrases and grammatical points helpful in tackling the test.

Complete IELTS

Author: Guy Brook-Hart, Vanessa Jakeman, Mark Harrison

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Year: 2012-2013

Mindset for IELTS

Author: Greg Archer, Joanna Kosta, et al.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Year: 2017

This is a series available at four levels: foundation, level 1 (target band 5.5), level 2 (target band 6.5), and level 3 (target band 7.5). Similar to Objective IELTS, this set of materials also covers a wide range of topics so as to equip the students with as much knowledge about English language and skills as possible. The strength of this set is that it is more up-to-date than Objective IELTS, with fine editorial design and the corroboration of authors from all over the world. 

IELTS Masterclass

Author: Simon Haines, Peter May

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 2008

This book has 14 units that correspond to 14 major themes commonly found in the IELTS exam. 

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