Guide to the selection of materials for an exam preparation course

How to choose a coursebook for an exam class

How to choose a coursebook for an exam class


  • Grammar
  • Cambridge English
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

It goes without saying that the success of the course greatly depends on selecting appropriate course materials which is not so easy. When we talk about an exam preparation course, it may turn out to be an even a more complicated task. This is largely due to the fact that the choice of exam preparation coursebooks  is not so wide in comparison to the General English textbooks. 

In this article, we are going to discuss what you should pay attention to when selecting a coursebook for your exam preparation course.

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Coursebook evaluation criteria

Generally, when we talk about the coursebook evaluation for a General English course, we tend to take into account the following criteria:

  • how the material corresponds to learners' age and level;
  • whether the coursebooks help the learners to learn and use the language effectively according to their purposes;
  • addressing the learners' needs;
  • being teacher-friendly and performing the role of a support for learning.

Criteria for evaluating exam preparation materials

However, when talking about exam preparation classes in particular, there should be some more specific criteria to consider.

Authentic and up-to-date tasks in accordance with the latest exam standards

The main aim of an exam coursebook is to offer learners complete preparation for the exam in order to pass it successfully. Therefore, the contents and the tasks should reflect real exam tasks. What is more, the format of the exam may undergo some changes, e.g. new tasks may appear or the tasks may be modified. Thus, in order to provide the learners with the correct knowledge of the exam format, the activities should correspond to the exam specifications. 

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Developing all the skills required by the exam

While selecting the exam coursebook, make sure it includes enough practice of all the skills which are tested in the exam. If the exam contains a Use of English section, then it is supposed to also provide extensive grammar and vocabulary activities. 

The units of an exam coursebook usually centre around a particular topic, e.g., "Education" and contain the practice of all the skills. Most coursebooks tend to use the principle of the material overall progressing in terms of complexity, i. e. learners do simpler tasks in initial units and in such a way they develop a better understanding of exam strategies and boost their confidence in doing exam tasks. It is also advantageous if the topics in the coursebook are stimulating and up-to-date.

Learners then are likely to be more motivated to complete the tasks and are even able to use the knowledge acquired during the course in real-life situations. 

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Developing exam strategies, not just doing exercises

Since the course aims to ensure thorough and systematic exam preparation, it is of great importance if the coursebook contains extensive exam practice activities which cover exam tasks in depth. Apart from that, check if the coursebook provides explanations of exam strategies and useful practical tips for learners. In order to develop learners' autonomy, it is also essential to have activities that encourage self-evaluation and enhance understanding of the language.

Another benefit is also examples of the exam areas and tasks which are likely to cause problems for candidates. 

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Level of the materials

If the exam aims to test a particular level, e.g. C1 Advanced, then it is easier to select the materials, as the name of the exam is clearly stated in the title. However, if we are talking about the exam for all the levels, such as IELTS, then there can be a variety of materials that aim at different levels, for instance, 5.5-6 or 7+. 

In this case, the choice depends on the following factors: the current level of the learners, the score they need to receive in the test and how much time they have for the exam preparation

Being teacher-friendly

Although a coursebook is primarily designed to contribute to learners' progress and therefore, should address the learners' needs, check if it also provides all the necessary information and support for the teacher. Here we mean such components as a teacher's guide with not only correct answers but also explanations of why this or that answer is correct.

It is also helpful if suggested answers for speaking and writing are added as well as useful tips, a writing bank with the analysis of writing tasks, and a vocabulary and grammar bank.

Practice tests

Apart from the main activities, many coursebooks also contain practice tests. It is also a great advantage for several reasons. Doing mock tests and practicing exam tasks under exam conditions is of utmost importance as it can give learners a better understanding of how well they can perform in the actual exam.

In addition, learners will have an opportunity to analyse their weak points and mistakes and might make the necessary changes to avoid them in the future. 

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We hope that the above-mentioned characteristics will be helpful for you and your learners and will make the exam preparation more systematic and productive.

Article authors & editors
  • Olena Bochkarova

    Olena Bochkarova


    DELTA, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English, IELTS Prep, International Speaking Examiner



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