Cambridge University Press, 2014.
As the Cambridge English: First exam is changing from January 2015, this review is one of a series of coursebooks designed to prepare learners for the exam. Reviews are also available for:
The version of the book I looked at was the 2nd Edition, with 2015 exam specifications.
Unsurprisingly for a Cambridge English: First exam preparation book, this is a B2 level coursebook, though it seems aimed at a university age market, somewhere between 18-24. I say that because some of the recurring characters in the book are student age and while some of the content is aimed at older adult students, the feel of the book is definitely young adult. I’m honestly not sure how much material there is in there. The structure is quite bitty – lots of smaller self-contained sections – and obviously it depends how you teach the material as to how long it takes you to cover it. If you just pushed on through, with a bit of bookending to give the lessons a beginning and ending, then I expect it would be about 5 lessons a unit. If you extended out and made some of the smaller sections a lesson focus and supplemented to that effect, then maybe 8 lessons a unit? So somewhere between about 80 hours and 140 hours of material, but then that upper figure does require additional material from elsewhere.
I only had access to the student’s book and the workbook. There is also a teacher’s book and resource CDROM available. And the “Presentation Plus” pack, which seems to be the digital version of the book and teacher’s book, adaptable to projector or IWB. Which I haven’t seen.
The criticism here is one that can be leveled at many exam books: much of the skills work is skills practice, not skills development. Receptive tasks are dealt with in the standard “pre-task prediction / task / one question discussion” model. Productive tasks are dealt with from a model / language input perspective. Which is, again, quite common and not necessarily a bad thing – learners do need the relevant language to perform the relevant tasks after all! The writing sections are quite detailed and mostly seem to use a model for learners to analyse and do lead learners through all the different things they need to consider for exam success, though I’m not sure about the integration of language input work into these sections, it seems a bit split focus to me.
Language input is mostly text based in what I think of as attempted noticing – the examples are often drawn from the text and then analysed, or at least the learners are given the chance to think about which rules apply to what. Followed of course by lots of practice activities. One nice feature is that the language practice is often contextualised into an exam type task, giving practice of the task types without an overt focus, though these do also appear elsewhere in the units.
Not too bad – there’s enough white space on the page so that it doesn’t come across as too crowded or overbearing, though it does get a little bit dense in places. Lots of sunny blue sky pictures with carefully multi-cultural smiling faces….
6.5/10. I think the book has everything it needs, and which learners need, for some fairly thorough preparation. Despite the young adult focus, it feels like quite an old book and just looks a bit dry in places. I think for an adult group it would be fine. My main concern is how easy it would be to work with – I suspect it would need quite a lot of adaptation. Obviously all books need a certain amount of adaptation to fit the needs of their classes, but I feel that Complete needs a bit more work than most – not because the materials are poor quality, they are not – but because this is a book where you need to make constant decisions about what to leave in, what to leave out and what to focus on in class and I think that makes it harder work to use effectively than some of it’s competitors.
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