Lisa’s Study Corner. THIS WEEK – What are the best books for self-study?


Students often ask me to recommend books so that they can continue to study at home. Obviously there is no one book that is perfect for everybody’s needs but some books suit self-study better than others.

Below, I’ve provided a summary of my favourites:

  • Grammar Books

Elementary – Pre-Intermediate: Essential Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

Intermediate – Upper Intermediate: English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

These books are classics. They have a really easy-to-use format of two pages per topic, with clear explanations of grammar points on each left-hand page and exercises to check understanding on the right. There is also a diagnostic test so that students can learn what areas of grammar they need to study.

Both books are published by Cambridge University Press and costs around $30 without CD or $40 with.

  • Cambridge Exams (FCE/CAE and even CPE)

FCE Organiser by John Flower

There are two main reasons why I always recommend this book. Firstly, it contains all the language that trips students up in the Cambridge exams: prepositions, phrasal verbs, word formation, verb forms and essential vocabulary by topic. Secondly, it’s really easy to use for self-study. Again, it’s presented in a two page format. This time the left-hand page practises and the right-hand page organises and reviews. Furthermore, there are really useful sections on easily confusing words and common grammar mistakes to avoid.

FCE Organiser is published by Cengage Learning and costs around $35


Focus on Academic Skills for IELTS by Morgan Terry, Judith Wilson and Sue O’Connell

This book really suits self study because it’s presents tasks in a very step-by-step way. With the Writing Tasks, for example, you learn first about the different types of Task 1 and Task 2 questions and then are introduced to the key skills and vocabulary you need to succeed. The CD provides lots of model answers for the Speaking Tasks and also a good range of Listening Practice tests.

Focus on Academic Skills for IELTS is published by Pearson Longman and is available with CD for about $64.

  • Dictionaries

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

All students should invest in a quality English/English dictionary and, in my opinion, this one is the best. It makes it really easy to look up words, phrases, phrasal verbs and idioms and provides excellent example sentences and details or origin and formality so that you can clearly see how to use the target language in real life. There are also some additional useful features like the “Other ways of saying…” boxes and the 30-page Focus on Writing section.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is published by Cambridge University Press and can be found online for around $40. A version with an accompanying CD-ROM is also available.

To summarise my advice for this week, I would say don’t rush into buying a book for home study. Make sure you consider your needs very carefully first. Then look for a title that is specifically aimed at studying alone and which is really clearly laid out and easy-to-use. Ask your teacher for recommendations or try out my recommendations above. Happy self-studying.

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