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Advanced Trainer

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 30 Number 2 Spring 2013

Felicity O’Dell

Six Practice Tests with Answers and Audio CDs (3)
Cambridge University Press (2012)
ISBN 978-0-521-18700-8    
256 pages and a 24-page colour Speaking appendix

If you are looking for new resource material which offers both an introduction to the Cambridge English Advanced (CAE) exam as well as practice tests, here is another book designed for you. It can either be used as a supplement in a ‘standard’ advanced course designed to fulfil the function of a CAE preparation course and where there is explicit need for practice tests , or as the main course material for very intensive, ‘lean’ CAE courses (spreading only over a few weeks/months), offering advanced learners direct exam practice from the start.

Considering the fact that there is exam guidance at the beginning of the book as well as an explanatory answer key including tapescripts, this practice resource definitely also lends itself to any ‘lone rangers’ trying to conquer more ground on their own at home, alongside the tutored course.

“Do we need another practice test book?” you may ask. CUP has already published several past exam paper books. Well, rather than just offering a set of past practice tests, this publication opens with two tests through which the testee is escorted from the beginning to end, thus acquiring important success-guaranteeing strategies and gaining exam confidence step by step. Tackling each paper therefore becomes a lot easier and seems less frightening for the candidate. Action plan sections, tip and advice boxes, as well as follow-up questions all contribute towards more task transparency for the learner. A regular Cambridge materials writer, O’Dell has consulted the bank of real candidate exam papers (Cambridge Learner Corpus) to ensure that typical learner errors are highlighted in order to help exam candidates avoid common mistakes. Therefore the extra training and support provided alongside the first two tests are especially valuable if you are an inexperienced Cambridge exams teacher or you simply want to make sure that all the tips you give in class are not forgotten, but can be reread at home.

Looking at the sections of the book in more detail, the following facts pop out:

  • The Introduction section includes a meticulous instruction for the use of the book, providing learners background on grading as well as a reference address for further information.
  • Training sections are extensive in Test 1; in Test 2 they are more condensed, reassessing the given tips and adding more; Tests 3-6 are simply bare, unaided practice. However, lots of extra help is given even for those tests in the very detailed and illuminating answer key. The comprehensive explanations clarify when options are correct or wrong, offering more instructive information where necessary (e.g. underlined sections in tapescripts), and including notes and model answers for writing tasks.
  • There are photocopiable answer sheets to help familiarise potential exam candidates with the layout they would have to cope with in the exam.
  • The hungry-for-colour-pictures teacher, who occasionally has to play the role of the examiner, will certainly appreciate the visual material for six different Speaking papers! These provide enough examples for students to see and practise with. Unfortunately, this book, like so many others, does not provide the learners with Speaking paper model answers of any kind.

This last point brings me to the main drawback from my perspective – an experienced CAE teacher – even though this issue is something that has been neglected not only by this volume but by most other comparable books on the market. My experience shows that scores of students have been craving for good speaking sample answers they could listen to, which, regrettably, are rare. Like the scripting and recording that is done for listening tasks, material writers could ‘design’ various answers for the speaking tasks and have actors ‘perform’ them to have different models for each question. Detailed comments in the answer key, similar to the ones otherwise provided in this book for all the other papers, would then highlight the ups (and possibly downs) of each ‘performance’. It is, therefore, a pity that this new book, otherwise practically indispensable, has not risen to the occasion.

Nevertheless, Felicity O’Dell’s Advanced Trainer is a valuable addition to any CAE teacher’s or student’s collection of materials.

Ketrin Murihiah