Review: How to Write Exam Preparation Materials (Roy Norris / ELT Teacher 2 Writer)

A growing trend over recent times in ELT has been e-publishing. From independent groups like the round to self-publishers like Phil Wade and others featured at ELT ebooks, there is a definite shift from big publishing houses to smaller-scale' instant access titles.

Of course, self-publishing in ELT has been around for much longer in the form of shared resources and materials. These have often varied in quality, however, with several gems available online but many duds as well suffering from lack of editing, inadequate planning, and poor design (not to mention violations of copyright!)

One independent publisher which aims to address such issues is ELT Teacher 2 Writer, a group of experienced authors from the world of ELT publishing, passing on their advice through a series of titles forming an e-book delivered "Training Course for ELT Writers".

Image taken from
The titles available cover preparing and writing activities for different language skills, vocabulary, digital media and video, and there are even e-books covering authoring graded readers and course book components. The remainder of this review will focus on 'How to Write Exam Preparation Materials' by Roy Norris, a sample pdf copy of which was kindly provided to me by ELT Teacher 2 Writer.

As is often the case in ELT publishing, the author got into materials writing by first preparing his own practice materials for his own students before being invited to write an exam preparation book for FCE. This is reflected in the book as many of the chapters offer advice on both preparing activities to use in class and writing tasks intended for sharing with a wider audience through publishing.

Roy discusses the pros and cons of exam preparation books in the introduction and specifically focuses on the challenge of meeting the need for well-defined and accurate practice materials while also providing the variety and opportunities for interaction that are vital to a successful learning environment. He also emphasises the need for teachers and materials authors to be highly familiar with the exam they are focused on, not only in terms of task types but also in terms of level and expected range of language.

The book itself is presented in the style of a self-study training course, including a number of tasks to review each chapter. These encourage the reader to engage with the input and apply the ideas rather than just skim through. Each task has a commentary from the author, accessible from a link immediately underneath.

The topics covered are:
  • preparing multi-choice cloze tests
  • open cloze tests
  • multi-choice listening
  • multi-choice reading
  • writing tasks
  • speaking activities
The advice is not based on any exam in particular, though most of the examples are suitable for B1+ level tests such as FCE and above. The advice is adaptable but I felt that the reader could benefit from direct examples for lower level tests such as KET.

Each section contains advice on writing good questions which meet the exam criteria along with a very useful and in-depth look at the 'art' of choosing distractors for multi-choice questions. There are also plenty of tips on writing and/or selecting the content material as well to ensure it is at the right level and matched thematically to the exam syllabus.

The writing task section focuses quite heavily on sample answers, with good reason as the questions themselves are usually very straightforward. There are also a number of useful suggestions for exploiting those sample texts to help students prepare to plan and write their own answers.

Each section also features time-saving tips such as preparing your multi-choice key before writing your answers to avoid later needing to rearrange everything after realising you have hour 'c' answers in a row!

Overall, the book gives a clear impression of the potential difficulties involved in writing exam practice materials and yet manages to do so without being off-putting to potential authors. It gives a strong sense of 'can do' to the reader, with the chapters on cloze tests and multi-choice activities particularly useful.

The only section I thought could benefit from more detail was the chapter on speaking (also an area many exams could do with focusing on more). This chapter is quite brief with a look at using images and discussion questions but without the same depth of examples as the other chapters. Exam activities involving two or more candidates interacting with each other, as used in KET and PET, are also not covered.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of useful information here for those who would like to write materials, whether that be for a publisher, to showcase and/or share online, or simply to help their students better prepare for a specific exam. The advice on writing the questions could be useful for students too, so they can see the thought process that goes into each task. After all, the ultimate aim of any preparation material must be to help the student transcend the distractors and achieve the best score they can.

This title and all the other ELT Teacher 2 Writer Training Course for ELT Writers materials are listed on the ELT Teacher 2 Writer website. At the time of writing, these titles are available at a discount as part of a September Sale - visit the Facebook page for details. Please note that the sale is scheduled to end on September 23rd, 2015 (tomorrow!)


  1. Hi Dave
    On behalf of ELT Teacher 2 Writer, thanks for reviewing Roy's book. Glad you found it informative, and hope you enjoy the rest of the series as much.


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