Straight to Advanced has a clearly defined purpose: that of preparing students for The Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) exam. It is an intensive, one-semester course. The pack is composed of a Students’ book, and the Teacher’s book, both of which provide access codes to a rich online resource center.
The fact that CAE covers the four main language areas: reading, listening, writing, and speaking, and that the tasks tested are really varied (as far as reading goes, for example, there are as many as eight different assignments) makes Straight to Advancedwell-suited to a general classroom environment as well.
The coursebook is divided into 10 units. Each one contains all the main language areas around which the exam itself is built. The different types of tasks practiced are clearly indicated, which facilitates the choice of an area to focus on. Each unit contains two types of reading and use of English exercises and often two different listening and speaking tasks. Apart from that, every second unit includes a revision section, which provides a generous opportunity for further reading, vocabulary and grammar practice.
The Additional Material section at the back concentrates on speaking. There is quite a lot of visual material provided, as well as questions and phrases that may come in handy during a discussion.
The Student’s book itself is also peppered with ‘the useful language’ sections as well as those which regularly give exam tips. Units are organised around themes. The word ‘around’ is key here: for example, Unit 5 entitled “Pushing the limits”, deals with stress, sport, and health problems; Unit 4 “Living in the past” is about memory, childhood, homes, architecture, and design. Personally, I appreciate this brainstorming-type of organisation as it makes the course less predictable.
The book is also aesthetically attractive. There is a good balance between exercises and visual elements, which may seem obvious or not important on the surface, but plays a big role in motivating students. Not many publications manage to get these two elements right.
On the positive side again, I find the texts quite engaging and well-adapted to the target audience in terms of vocabulary and subject matter. Let me share some sample vocabulary items from this book to give you an idea of what to expect: whizz through, ubiquitous, to be deemed, embark upon, to be snowed under, face something head on, garner, unwarranted, and a many more.
The writing sectiongives a chance to practice writing essays, reports, reviews, letters, and emails. Each written section contains clearly-explained methodology backed by an example that illustrates the crucial points. There is also the writing bank at the back, which once again provides examples and sums up the practical language areas.
The Grammar items covered corresponds to what we could expect to find at C1 level, i.e. inversion, cleft sentences, passive forms of reporting verbs, adverbs used with gradable and ungradable adjectives, or different ways of talking about the future including expressions such as “to be on the verge of”, “it’s high time” or “to be just about to [do something]”.
The Teacher’s book written by Rhona Snelling provides prompts for managing a lesson with stronger and weaker classes, and contains extra activities. Before each unit, you will find a summary of the content as well as what is available online. It contains two-page long Progress Tests for each unit as well as extra communication activities.
Apart from that, if you still haven’t had enough practice, there is also a large online resource centrewhich gives access, among other things, to an interactive version of the Student’s book as well as the Workbook. The effort you will put into learning how to move around the site will pay off and you will be able to do the exercises interactively, check your answers, and listen to audio files by clicking on icons next to the exercises or get access to the relevant sections from additional material. The online resources are meant to be used both by students who study on their own and teachers who work with classes.
On the negative side, I found questions in the discussion sections quite basic, and the audio files recording using actor voices not authentic enough and difficult to account for at level C1. The sample exam videos are also very formal, but then again, I suppose the exam conditions impose certain restrictions.
On the whole, however, I think that Straight to Advancedmaximises the chances for both students and teachers of preparing for the exam without making the studying process feel like a chore.
ENAAI and ECORIS