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FCE Gold Plus Pack

Studying for FCE can be motivating as well!
Reviewed for by Jesús García Laborda

This is a good time to be reviewing FCE books as the First Certificate in English exam has had a number of changes, such as cutting down on the length of the test. In summarizing those changes, I would say that the test did not change qualitatively or in the test construct’s deep structure, so Cambridge ESOL was probably aiming to make the test measurement more communicative. Things are obviously changing in testing, trying to get rid of that old fashioned idea that testing is done mainly to find whether a student has proven his or her competence at a certain stage and moving towards the idea of finding out whether any student will be able to communicate in a given situation that requires certain competences. For instance what kind of possible communication acts can be expected from a higher intermediate student (B2 in the Common European Framework)?

The FCE Gold Plus book also has had some major changes from the previous edition. For example, more motivating topics are included in the book, such as students’ attitudes towards social matters (“Material world”, unit 5), and personal relationships and friendship (“It’s your call”, unit 6; “We are family”, unit 8). In this edition of the book, there is also a new approach to communicative genres such as blogs (p. 124), daily language (like fixing a house, p. 113) or songs (p. 100). There also seems to be more of an emphasis on learning as a circular process, with regular review sections, progress tests, exam tips and strategy building activities.

The Student’s book is divided into 14 units which address the different sections in the test and different kinds of language that could come up: Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading, Writing, Use of English, Listening, and Speaking. The book also includes three progress tests, a few extra speaking tasks, communication activities (do not miss this one because it can bring some life to the test’s rather repetitive activities), a grammar reference and a writing reference section.

The Exam Maximiser and additional exam activities on the CD-ROM are rather interesting and well planned. The Exam Maximiser could be seen as simply a simply but it goes beyond by providing continuous practice on test formats and strategies. Like in the book, each unit includes several sections of grammar and a listening section which includes each of the four test parts and gives advice on how to approach listening in the test. These listening tasks increase in difficulty so that by the end of the book they are as demanding as those found in the test. The reading section also includes specific strategies and the vocabulary is well fitted to meet the FCE test criteria. Each unit concludes with a writing section. The book finishes with a mock exam equivalent to the one that students will face later.

Especially interesting are the iTests, which permit the students to build their confidence through monitoring their performance on the tests and additional activities by checking in the iTest website. These iTests are useful to get immediate feedback on the multiple and single response items, thus getting trained in the exact format of test items in the test. Although the book does not specifically mention when or how to use iTests, iTests can be used progressively according to the course development as an autonomous learning element within the test preparation process.

The CD ROM is an excellent extra and shows the publisher’s interest in renovating and updating the teaching methodology. The interface design follows the same guidelines as IELTS, which suggests that in a near future FCE could also go online.

The teacher’s book is also very attractive and includes a set of pictures to practice the oral skills specifically designed for the FCE test. The Listening activities include a combination of accents and different genres as demanded by the FCE’s syllabus. The teacher’s book pays special attention to mixed ability classes and includes additional photocopiable activities, the necessary unit and progress tests, and many notes and adds on in each section to make the class attractive.

One of the drawbacks would be the little exploitation offered in the book for the iTests. This is somewhat understandable, as this is a pen and paper test, but nevertheless it would be motivating to devote some time in the classroom for online readings and other activities.

Overall, this is quite an interesting approach to FCE because the computer and web elements can be exciting for both the teacher and the students. Teachers may find the new materials more demanding as the interest in language education moves progressively from knowledge to communication and from the teacher to the student. This can be seen in interest of the new communicative tasks to develop fluency in writing and listening and speaking. Nevertheless, committed teachers will find this volume challenging and worth a try.

Reviewed by Jesús García Laborda for February 2009
Dr Jesús García Laborda teaches in the Masters of EFL teaching and the Faculty of Business at Universidad de Alcalá (Madrid, Spain). His main research interests are testing and CALL.


  • pantea Tehrani says:

    Dear sirs,

    I’ve found this book really useful, but unfortunately I can’t find the teacher’s book here in Iran, will give a site to download it for free?!

    Thanks & best regards,

  • David King says:

    Jesús makes some valid points in his review, but for me, one of the most serious drawbacks is the haste with which this book has clearly been put together. Errors abound, and it’s absolutely crucial that you double check – the mistake on conditionals in the grammar section of the course book very nearly undid an entire lesson.

    Were there just a few errors such as this, it would be easy to charitably ascribe them to poor proofreading. However, there are so many that in our school we’ve compiled a list of them and now distribute this to teachers so that they are aware of the potential pitfalls. That alone says this book isn’t good enough.

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