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Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Classroom Use

With more than a million test-takers annually, more and more publishers are getting into the IELTS textbook market, with varying results. Choosing a coursebook for a group of students is a serious responsibility because, along with the teacher, the book may well be the most important influence on their test preparation over the following months. I’ve taught groups using all the most common IELTS textbooks, and these are the five I’ve found to be most reliable:

Focus on IELTS (New Edition) (Longman)

Focus on IELTS has long been a popular choice for teachers and it’s easy to see why. There’s a good balance between authentic Academic IELTS test items and meaningful group exercises, while the inclusion of a grammar reference guide and extra writing practice make this a solid friend for classroom use. The new edition corrects most of the mistakes in the first edition and adds more EAP elements such as critical thinking and reflective learning. One remaining drawback is the lack of a version with full answer key and scripts. Also available in a Foundation edition that introduces test practice more gradually. Rating 9/10

Objective IELTS Intermediate/Advanced (Cambridge)

One unique aspect of the Objective series is that test practice exercises are mostly written to focus students’ attention on a particular item type. There’s also an attractive presentation, discussion-led format, and strong grammar coverage throughout both books. The inclusion of test items from both the Academic and General Training modules in both books can be either a blessing or a curse depending on your teaching situation. A self-study student’s book with answer key and scripts is available for a slightly higher price, and there’s a teacher’s book with regular practice tests. Be warned: the level of questions in Objective IELTS Advanced is extremely challenging. Rating 8/10

IELTS for Academic Purposes (McGraw-Hill)

An accessible student’s book forms the basis of an eight-unit, 40-hour intensive course, which can be further supplemented by a workbook and book of six practice tests. The level is well suited to the mid-range of IELTS test-takers aiming to get from band 5.5 up to 6.5. Everything about this suite of books is well thought-out, including the lesson notes side-by-side with the original exercises in the teacher’s book. The student CD-ROM is one of the best available, containing all audio files and scripts, complete answer section, comprehensive model writing answers, pronunciation lab, and complete end-of-course test. The only drawbacks are the lack of versions for lower and higher level students, and the difficulty in finding this book nowadays. Rating 8/10

Instant IELTS (Cambridge)

Not a coursebook but a photocopiable resource for IELTS classes that meet on a short-term or occasional basis. Student handouts are presented side-by-side with teacher’s notes. These include precise lesson notes so Instant IELTS, as its name suggests, is ideal for teachers with little time to prepare. Content is weighted more towards the input modules, including both Academic and General Training reading, while the speaking practice consists mainly of cut-out question cards for pair practice. Rating 8/10

Step Up to IELTS (Cambridge)

The key feature of Step Up to IELTS is the step-by-step procedural approach that eliminates wordy explanations and is designed to get lower-intermediate students practicing and picking up new language in class. Presentation is visual and accessible and will appeal to younger learners especially. Be careful, however: Step Up to IELTS does little to explain what students need to do to raise their scores, so it should only really be delivered by an experienced IELTS teacher who can provide this kind of guidance. I recommend making students buy the book with both CDs in order to review listening passages. Answers and scripts, however, are included in both versions. Rating 7/10

No IELTS class near you? Check out the Top 5 IELTS textbooks for self-study.

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