Review ~ Compact First

A great FCE prep course with a CD ROM for further independent practice.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Vanessa Pasini
Compact First

Compact First

Compact First is a textbook for students preparing for the Cambridge: First exam, commonly known as the FCE. Compact First was my main text early in 2013 and, I think this is one of the best such texts that I’ve come across. Its clear and thorough approach makes it very easy to teach from but still allows teachers to adapt exercises.

The ten units are divided thematically, each tackling a separate grammar and vocabulary point as well as one or two parts of each paper in the FCE. In addition to this there is: a writing guide supplying model answers for each writing question; a speaking guide with tips, visual materials and useful phrases; a wordlist; a grammar reference; and the CD ROM. All these elements made my class feel they had a good understanding ofwhat was required in the exam.

One thing I really appreciated was the fact that no space is wasted in this book. Although the content of the units only make up about half the total space in the book, there is more than enough material to cover. Any pictures are either directly related to speaking tasks or can be adapted for this purpose.

These images are up-to-date and seem chosen with a multi-lingual, multi-cultural group in mind. Different parts of the world and nationalities are represented and I found this encouraged and supported my students in their discussions and helped build rapport between them. However, some of the listening texts had “non-native” English speakers who were clearly actually native English speaker actors putting on accents. This is not really a criticism as this happens in a lot of textbooks, but was a bit distracting.

The reading and listening papers are approached in a similar fashion. Parts of the paper are introduced separately and the students are guided step-by-step through the task using example questions and a “tip box”. This support lessens a little as the book progresses, leading the learner towards more autonomy. The inclusion of the listening transcript at the back provides support for weaker students and is much more useful than a simple list of answers. The answers for reading tasks are accompanied by explanations, which, again, is a valuable resource. As a personal preference, I much prefer learners to have the answers available to them rather than the answers being doled out by the teacher, as it makes catering for students who work faster and setting homework a lot easier and encourages a more independent class. As I was teaching a part-time course, I was not able to cover all the material in the book, but by having the answers in the back of the book the students’ were able to study at home independently and felt they really got their money’s worth out of the text.

I do have a minor criticism about the grammar exercises. As this is an FCE prep text, the assumption is the students will be of no higher than B2 level, but at times there was too much grammar presented on one page. For example, the unit on modal verbs deals with past and present, obligation, permission, possibility and deduction, which overwhelmed most of my class. I found I was spending a lot of time explaining the grammar points, as the book assumed a grammar knowledge higher than my students’ level. This wasn’t a huge problem, but I’d recommend anyone using Compact First to prepare their own grammar presentation and practice material. The book uses the reading, listening and speaking texts to contextualise the target language, so there is a nice clear segue into these exercises. However, the grammar exercises eventually lead to using the target language in the Use of English, Writing or Speaking papers and I found it difficult to cover both the grammar and the exam task in the same two-hour lesson.

In spite of my criticism of the way the grammar is presented in the book, the exercises are relevant and challenging enough and the CD ROM tackles grammar in a very good way. It is an excellent resource and has a variety of engaging vocabulary, grammar and writing tasks – including timed matching tasks, re-ordering a model writing answer, and other exercises that cater to different learners.

All in all, I think this is a great book. It’s clear, thorough, modern and relevant to the exam. I enjoyed teaching from it and my students enjoyed using it too. I’d definitely recommend it.

Reviewed by Vanessa Pasini for May 2013

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TEFLnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Exam Materials, Level B : Review ~ Compact First