Instant IELTS ‘experts’ are everywhere. You need to know the danger signs. You could easily waste a lot of time and money, and send your IELTS mark downwards. In this post, I’ll look at the …

“We teach using the Cambridge IELTS Practice Test Books” syndrome.

This links to another 'TTWOF': "We use original IELTS Tests; we've got old IELTS Test Practice Material". It all sort of sounds good, doesn’t it? You’re doing the IELTS test, so the school or teacher uses the Cambridge IELTS Practice Tests books. Good idea? Guess what? It is a bad idea. Here’s why.

  1. The books are badly formatted, oddly-shaped, black and white, boring, and difficult to use.
  2. They include no material designed for actually teaching or improving you, for getting your interest, or developing your skills.
  3. Following from Point 2, the ‘teaching’ your teacher does is probably based on simply practising tests. This isn’t teaching at all. You can do that yourself at home.
  4. The ‘teacher’, by wanting to use that book, is revealing his/her lack of real teaching technique, or inability to produce material designed to actually teach and improve your skills.
  5. The ‘model’ writing answers at the back of the book are often not the best.
  6. You may be using illegally-copied versions of the book. Professional TEFL teachers should care about this.


Points 2 – 4 deserve some explanation. The more times someone lifts weights, the stronger their muscles will be. Right. Similarly, the more IELTS tests someone practices, the higher the band score they will get. Wrong! Preparing for the IELTS test is not like lifting weights. I’ve had students arrive at my studio, stating that they have done the IELTS Test 6 or 7 times [and how much money would that have cost] – yet they always get approximately the same band score. Why? Because they have never actually been taught to get better.

This is the big problem. The ‘teaching’ these students have experienced is only a strange mixture of ‘techniques’ and memorisation from unqualified people, together with doing IELTS practice test after practice test (or using ‘original’ test material [See TTWOF: "We use original IELTS Tests; we've got old IELTS Test Practice Material"]. These students have never had teachers analysing and discovering weaknesses (grammar, structuring, ideas), and developing and advancing specific IELTS/English skills through carefully designed material, PowerPoint programs, and focused systematic feedback. This is the key to actually improving.

Practising old tests with the Cambridge books is like trying to use an old broken-down car [hence the picture at the top of this post]. It's based on a thinking from long ago. Do you really want a teacher to be thinking like that? 

[To be continued in the next post.]

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