Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Benchmark written by Guy Brook-Hart
Pre-Intermediate to Intermediate-BEC Preliminary. (B1) ISBN 3-12-534303-8
Who are these books for?
Benchmark is a new three level series aimed at those students taking a Cambridge ESOL exam, either the new BULATS exam or the Business English Certificate series. The student’s books and CD’s are specific to the exam but the teacher’s books cover both exam types. They are suitable for working with a teacher and self-study too though many of the speaking exercises require a partner.
One useful feature of the students books is the Exam skills and exam practice section that contains a clear description of the exam as well as some testing material for each specific question type. There are also sample answers to the writing questions for the students to use to compare their own answers.
Pre-Intermediate – Intermediate
I have been teaching the Cambridge suite of exams for many years and have had my best successes with books that were tightly focused on the exam syllabus and contained regular exam practice. However, the books I have been using are starting to become a little dated and so I was very interested in looking at this new series.
Structure of the book
The book contains twenty-four topic-focused units that have reading, listening, speaking and writing components. Not all components are covered in each topic however there are also additional vocabulary and grammar sections.
In the exam section the exams are explained and skills necessary are discussed, there is also a practice exam for each section in the back of the book. Following this are the full answer keys for the book and the exam, a unit-by-unit vocabulary section and the tape scripts. Unfortunately the vocabulary is only explained in English which will mean more dictionary work for the students As well as the student’s book there is also a personal study book that contains additional exercises for revising the vocabulary of each unit. This also has its own key making this useful for homework exercises and self-study.
The book contains an interesting variety of exercises that make it suitable as a general course book the main components that I miss are exam type question in the normal units and notes tying the tasks to actual parts of the exam. The teacher’s book confirms that the tasks in the units do not replicate exam activities. This might make it more difficult to use for the student working alone or a teacher unused to the exam style. The occasional task tips are a useful addition also.
Would I use it with my students?
Yes, I think I will be trying it, with a group who have a longer time to study than my normal groups. I like the additional photo copy able activities in the teacher’s book and the modern layout of the student’s book.
Upper-Intermediate (BEC Vantage)
Upper-Intermediate - BEC Vantage. (B2) ISBN 3-12-5343131-5
The layout of the book is essentially the same as the preliminary version, with each chapter containing some of the essential elements for the exam. In my opinion there is too little writing practice, many of my students find this the most difficult aspect of the exam. The Vantage book especially pays too little attention to the writing of reports. This has become one of the favoured exam questions at Vantage level recently and it is not covered in enough detail here as far as I can see. Again this is acceptable for an experienced teacher who can add additional material but would be a problem if the student were working alone or perhaps with a less experienced teacher.
Will I use it with my students?
Yes, I will, I think it will prove an acceptable source of material and refresh my BEC classes, it so easy to become stale when using the same books over a long period. Thanks to Guy Brook-Hart for giving us this reasonable alternative resource.
This review was previously published in English Teaching Matters.