Review: IELTS Reading Practice – Peter Clements and Paul Murphy
I am always reading books (as you have all probably gathered by now), but I am often reading older books that I buy second-hand simply because new, flashy books are just a little out of my price range. So, you can bet that I was super delighted to be able to get my hands on a digital copy of Peter Clements and Paul Murphy’s IELTS Reading Practice before it even came out (a massive thank you to Tom from Prosperity Education) – I felt like a little kid excited about having a new toy all to himself. Jokes aside, I was ecstatic to be able to take a look at what has turned out to be an impressive self-study book for learners and a resource for teachers. In this post, I will go over my thoughts on IELTS Reading Practice, what I liked/didn’t like and who should read/use it.
Clements and Murphy’s IELTS Reading Practice aims to take potential test-takers understanding of the IELTS academic reading to the next level, with a very detailed although not confusing analysis of potential task types and, perhaps most importantly, strategies and skills learners will need to develop in order to complete the test with a good band score. The book covers fourteen task types, includes multiple practice sections as well as numerous links to IELTS speaking tasks. This resource certainly seems geared towards learners looking to score a band 6/6.5 or more; however, teachers will also find this book useful for a number of different reasons, including the detailed overview of the exam, the exploitability of the texts it contains or for extra IELTS Academic reading practice materials.
What I liked
- Great overview of the IELTS exam as well as breakdown of IELTS Academic Reading: One important aspect of preparing learners for an exam like IELTS is that they understand exactly what it is that they are going to need to do, what is expected of them, and how the scoring works. At a student level, this book does this quite well. Pages 6 – 11 in the book are devoted to helping the reader understand these points. This being said, I also think this is a good overview for teachers! If you’re like me and you prepare learners for a number of different exams, sometimes they all blend. I find having a resource such as this that I can refer back to handy.
- Tons of info on strategies, tips, things not to do, etc.: At the start of the book, there are a number of pages dedicated to each task type. On these pages, there is information about what to do, what the tips are, and what you shouldn’t do. Throughout the book, these are constantly referenced, which I think is brilliant. Normally you have this information put alongside texts or somewhere really annoying – having it like this makes the reading text pages dedicated to the reading text. It’s a small thing, but something I appreciated. There are little tips around some of the sections, but they are done in a way that they are unobtrusive.
- Layout: OK, so this might be just me and my weird brain but I hate cluttered course books or resource materials (both as a teacher and a learner of languages). I get the whole ‘let’s make the most of a page’ perspective, but I really do think that it is distracting for learners. It is also annoying for teachers when we want to photocopy the materials and exploit them in some way (at least for me!). This book is quite the opposite. In a word: clean. Everything is laid out nicely with plenty of space and there is not a lot of surplus information lying around the page.
- Clearly defined sections: This links to my previous point, but I think it is worth mentioning. Each task has its own ‘unit’ and each of these units has three sections: Think and prepare, Practise, and Put it to the test.
- Think and prepare: This is basically the priming section that gets readers ready to take on the task. Here readers start to ‘think’ about the topic of the unit and work with some of the challenging vocabulary that will be found in the reading texts. It’s interesting that the writers have prioritised pre-vocabulary teaching as opposed to post-task vocabulary teaching, but they say that this is done to help learners “feel prepared when reading the text [as] it can be daunting to read a text that includes lots of new vocabulary” (Clements & Murphy, 2021, p.6). It does make sense that if a learner is going through this without a teacher that they are made to feel ‘safe’ and ‘in control’ with the reading, so I definitely understand this decision.
- Practise: This section is a simplified task and reading text of an actual IELTS Academic Reading task and text. For example, in ‘unit’ 4 the task type is summary completion (i.e. a cloze). The Practise section has four mini-tasks and questions (see below). This stage plays an important role in the scaffolding process, and considering that learners are going to be there by themselves for the most part, this is probably one of the most important sections. It is also the link between the developing reading skills and testing reading skills, something which I feel most resources lack.
- Select a word to complete the summary
- A set of stages for the reader to go through when doing the task – and then they are asked to do them
- An activity in which learners are asked to identify what type of word is missing
- A shortened, four-gap cloze of a summary of the main text.
- Put it to the test: I don’t think I need to go into much detail here. Learners now have the chance to take on a full, unsimplified version of an IELTS Academic Reading task.
- Links to IELTS speaking: In the Practise sections there are speaking tasks that link to IELTS speaking part 3, and in the extra activity units there are speaking activities that link to IELTS speaking part 2. I liked how this was done as it has a good deal of crossover between the two exams.
- Loads of extras: The extra activities section has plenty of extra stuff (including the speaking tasks). One that I really like is the vocabulary activity that asks learners to go back and review the vocabulary from the unit and complete a table with the headings: Word, Translation, Other word forms, and My example sentence. In fact, there are plenty of extra activity ideas here that teachers would find really useful, and act as good learning strategies for learners (another example is the vocabulary card in which the learner needs to complete a ‘card’ for a word.One the card there are four areas: Definition (in your own words), Drawing, Examples, and Non-examples).
- In-built reflection: Throughout the book, the authors encourage learners to reflect on what they have done, their thoughts, what made it difficult/easy, etc. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that this is something I value a lot. Apart from it being an important aspect in the learning process (see Kolb’s learning cycle for example), it also helps learners really connect to the learning experience.
- Texts are enhanced: Throughout the texts, certain pieces of ‘difficult’ vocabulary have been enhanced, with these words being placed at the back of the book alongside a definition, word type, and the pages where the word comes up. I think back to when I started learning Spanish and the book I was using included enhanced words and then had a glossary for me to check – more often than not this really helped me, so I can see it helping many other learners. It also encourages that ‘go and check’ mentality.
- Exploitability of material: I love taking resource books and being able to do my own stuff that may or may not be exam-related. For example, there is a diagram completion activity that is in unit 13, and it is a perfect example of what I would love to do with my B2 teen class as a TBLT activity, just with some minor changes (or more so additions).
- Range of topics: This last point may seem like a minor one, but it is really important for me. The topics that they have included are wide and are actually really interesting. There are also topics that aim to develop learners as independent and ‘aware’ humans – the whole of unit 10 focuses on cultural and intercultural competence, which I think is great. Also, there is none of this British- or American-culture ‘pushing’ that some course and resource books often do. Take a look here:
What I didn’t like
To be honest, there really wasn’t anything that I didn’t like about it. As a resource book I think it has been done phenomenally. As a self-study book, I think it provides plenty of support to learners. I do think it does what it sets out to do – nothing more to add really.
Who should read this book?
- Learners looking to take IELTS Academic: This is the obvious choice of reader. This being said, this is not a start-from-zero book – the reader is going to likely have to have a good level of proficiency in English already. I carried out an analysis of three of the texts using text inspector – you can see the results below, although please don’t interpret these as the only reading difficulty statistics as there are others. What can we take from these results, though? Well, it depends, but I would say that generally learners who have a B1 should be able to make progress using this book, although perhaps those closer to a B1+/B2 are going to find some of the texts more to their level. Remember, though, that it is not only the text type, but also the questions and tasks as well. The authors have provided plenty of support throughout, so I imagine this will help quite a lot.
|Text 1 (Unit 1, page 30)||Text 2 (Unit 5, page 54)||Text 3 (Unit 9, page 78)|
- Teachers preparing learners for IELTS Academic: For those of us that prepare learners for the IELTS academic exam, this is a really useful resource to have on hand. Plenty of information about the exam itself as well as a useful reference for the skills and strategies that learners are going to need to develop. This being said, I wouldn’t use this as a ‘course book’ with learners. Rather I would take the Practise sections and create lessons around them (there are plenty of ideas from the authors already – you only need to look at what they have done!), making it much more ‘interactive’ and exploiting those learning affordances. If there is one thing that should be taken from the pre-task activities, it is the amount of scaffolding and support that is provided.
- Teachers who are not preparing learners for IELTS exams: So, if you don’t prepare learners for IELTS exams, never fear. I think this book is still a great resource to have on hand, especially with regard to narrow reading. The reading texts in each unit are related (some more so than others) and so one way to really exploit these could be to engage learners in narrow reading with these texts. In fact, there are plenty of ways to exploit the tasks in this book for non-exam classes – anything from jigsaw readings to collaborative writing responses to the content in the texts!
Alongside IELTS Reading Practice: Academic, Prosperity Education Limited are also releasing a book of sample IELTS Academic papers written by Jane Turner. No doubt these would go hand-in-hand for academies and teachers preparing students for the IELTS Academic exam, and also for those learners looking to get plenty of extra exam practice in as well.
Peter Clements and Paul Murphy have done really well putting this resource/self-study book together. Personally, I will be using it with my one-to-one IELTS students, but I have no doubt that other teachers in different contexts will be able to do much more. If you are an English language learner and are looking for a book that will really develop you in terms of reading skills and exam readiness for IELTS Academic, then this is definitely something that is of interest to you. A versatile book that can be used by a wide range of teachers and learners alike.
If you feel like having a sneak peek yourself, I’ve included a number of screenshots here below. Also, when you do get your hands on a copy, let me know what you think. I’d love to know how you use it with your learners.
Title: IELTS Reading Practice: Academic | Student Book, by Peter Clements and Paul Murphy
Publication: October 2021
Get it at: https://prosperityeducation.net/books
An Amazon link will be available from 08 October!
Clements, P. & Murphy, P. (2021) IELTS Reading Practice. Cambridge: Prosperity Education Limited.