Simone Braverman of IELTS-blog.com has recently released new versions of her books Ace the IELTS and Target Band 7. These are detailed guides intended to help IELTS candidates prepare for the exam and work towards getting a high band score.
Whilst neither of these are new books, they are updated versions of already popular books. Today, I will be reviewing them to let you know whether they are worth your time and money.
Ace the IELTS
Let’s start with Ace the IELTS, which is a guide to the IELTS general training (GT). This book covers all parts of the exam and examines both the paper-based and computer-based IELTS exams. Whilst it is not a very visually attractive book (with a heavily text-based layout), it is dense with information and advice covering pretty much every aspect of the test. There is also some downloadable content that can be accessed via a URL given in the book.
At the offset, Braverman explains that “This guide is here to teach you the IELTS test, not the English language.” Indeed, you will not find any grammatical instruction here. Rather, it is about techniques for approaching the exam. She says, at the start, that this will involve dealing with time, which is certainly a huge challenge in each section.
The book begins with a guide to the IELTS listening test, for which Braverman offers some tips. These include things you can do before and during the test, such as listening to passages over and over to differentiate between words and – of course! – reading the instructions carefully for each part of the exam. There are many different pieces of advice here, some being more useful than others. There’s certainly something that could benefit almost everyone.
The same approach is taken for the reading test. There are various tips given for how to tackle the different questions included. She explains how to approach each of the most common question types with specific pieces of advice to help you locate answers quickly and effectively. This is one of the highlights of the book.
For the writing section, Braverman gives some information about the two tasks and looks at a few different types of letter that you may be asked. She explains formal and informal language and gives some examples of phrases that may be useful. There are some sample letters, which are useful although perhaps the layout is not very intuitive and so you need to go back and forth between pages to fully grasp the value and function of each part of the letter.
For task 2, Braverman explains that there are three types of essay. I was surprised by this because there are in fact more than that, but her method of presenting these is to combine different essay types into three broader categories: Argument, Point of view, Situation (APS). She gives some generally good advice and has an interesting approach called “baby steps” that guides the candidate through the whole process of writing an essay. I did not agree 100% with everything suggested here, but overall it was reasonable advice. One thing I disliked was this suggestion:
Try to start body paragraphs with a linking word (such as However, Therefore, Moreover, Nevertheless, etc.) to get a higher score.
It is certainly not a bad idea to start a paragraph with one of these words, but it is not exactly something that would get you a higher score. An essay that is logically structured would not need this and I feel it is a little reductive and misleading to suggest it as though it were some sort of trick to please the examiner. There was also a suggestion to “use ‘smart’ words” that felt a little problematic to me. I personally dislike the approach of using “advanced vocabulary” (as I talk about so often here and in my videos) because it is certainly not a way of getting a higher score and usually backfires. However, I’m not sure what the inference here was because it was not explained further. Later on, there were some phrases suggested and these were quite useful, so perhaps that is what she meant.
For the speaking section, there was a little less advice than elsewhere and it was less practicable than for the reading or listening sections. This section was mostly made up of sample questions and a few answers. There was, however, a good list of things to avoid doing (like speaking too quickly).
This is all followed by a study plan. This only includes a suggested list of practice exercises and is focused on making the most of your current English level. I think honestly it would be better to point out that IELTS, as an English test, is best approached through a balance of IELTS practice and English practice and that the one-month timeframe would be best utilised polishing your grammar skills, for example, but the scope of the book is IELTS-specific techniques rather than English learning, so I guess this makes sense.
There are various practice tests and these look pretty good to me. If you’re looking to prepare for IELTS GT and want to develop your exam skills (especially listening and reading), then this is a decent book and you should consider purchasing it.
Target Band 7
This book is basically the same as the first one except it is intended for IELTS academic candidates. It aims to show you how to prepare for IELTS by understanding the test format, overcoming the problem of time limits, and avoiding logical problems that might trip you up.
As with the first book, it covers all four parts of the test and looks at both the paper-based and computer-based IELTS exams. It begins with an overview of the exam, then runs through tips for the individual sections. Because the academic and general tests only vary in a few places, these books are largely the same.
The main differences between the tests are found in the writing section and specifically task 1, so that’s where these two books primarily differ. Braverman gives some examples of IELTS task 1 questions including line graphs and maps and so on, then explains how to write the essay. Here, I would disagree with the recommended structure. She advises writing an introduction and then an overview, but I do not think that is the most effective way. Combining these into one paragraph is a far more effective way to show development and structure in your writing. Having two paragraphs of just a single sentence is really not going to help you when it comes to Coherence and Cohesion. Another issue was that in talking about the importance of verb tenses (which are very, very important!) she omits present perfect, which is phenomenally important in some task 1 questions. When there is data from the past and present, you will almost certainly need this, but she does not include it in that section. However, the rest of the advice here seems solid and I like that she repeatedly reminds people to not use their own opinion. That’s a sort of cardinal sin in IELTS academic writing task 1. (This was discussed in last week’s video lesson.)
Overall, these two books are quite useful and could certainly help prospective IELTS candidates to prepare for their exam. Most of the advice contained here is useful and if followed would certainly help you to avoid common mistakes and approach the exam in a sensible way that – as she tells us – would allow you to get the best possible score with your current level of English. I like that there were plenty of sample exercises and these would certainly give you lots to work with during your home practice sessions. The advice is definitely strongest for the listening and reading tests, so if you struggle there then definitely consider purchasing one of these books.