Cambridge B2 First (FCE): The 10 Best Books to Study for the Exam
My Top 10 books to prepare for B2 First
Choosing the perfect book to prepare for Cambridge B2 First is very important, and while there are many different options to develop your language skills as well as exam strategies and techniques it depends on the individual.
For me, these are the best options:
- Objective First (Cambridge University Press)
- Complete First (Cambridge University Press)
- Straight to First (Macmillan Education)
- Open World First (Cambridge University Press)
- Cambridge English First (Cambridge University Press)
- First Trainer (Cambridge University Press)
- Cambridge English Exam Boosters (Cambridge University Press)
- Grammar and Vocabulary for First and First for Schools (Cambridge University Press)
- English Grammar in Use (Cambridge University Press)
- Common mistakes at First Certificate…and how to avoid them (Cambridge University Press)
Preparing my list I tried to find a balance between textbooks (1-4), exam preparation books (5-7) and language development (8-10). Each book comes with it unique features, strengths and weaknesses.
Remember, this is my personal list. The books are not in a particular order so you will have to find the one(s) perfect for you and your needs. I’m going to give you some insight as I have worked with all of them in class and they have helped many candidates to pass their exams, no matter if it is Cambridge B2 First or B2 First for Schools, and I hope I can help you make an informed choice.
I provide you with links to sample units as well as a link to bookdepository.co.uk, my preferred website for English language study materials, so you can check the price and get more information. Bookdepository offer free worldwide shipping on all their books and regular discounts on many of the resources sold on the website. I have trusted them for years and you can too.
Objective First might be the most popular textbook to prepare candidates for B2 First. Published by Cambridge University Press it comes straight from the place where the exam is designed so you know that you will get valuable information.
There are 24 units with different topics in this book so you can be sure that you won’t get bored, but the frequent changes might be a little bit tiring after a while.
In each part of the book, you find different sections on language development (grammar, vocabulary) as well as specific exam practice which is always well-connected to the topics discussed in each unit.
One thing I really like is the inclusion of the Cambridge Corpus, a database of common errors, which shows you exactly what many candidates struggle with so you can prepare for those problems and avoid making the same mistakes.
In addition, you can also get the workbook and a CD-ROM with more practice activities so there is really no time to get bored.
This is the series I first worked with when I started teaching B2 First preparation classes and I have to say that I really like it. Just like Objective First, Complete First is published by Cambridge University Press, which is always a good starting point if you want to take an exam designed by Cambridge English.
For me, the major difference between this book and Objective First is the length of the units. Complete First has 14 units, but they are fairly long, which can be very engaging as you don’t need to dive into a new topic every three or four pages.
Cambridge Corpus is also included so you can be sure to find common mistakes and practice exercises that help students avoid them.
Of course, there is also a workbook for extra practice as well as some online materials that can be purchased in a package.
Click the picture below to find out more about the price on bookdepository.co.uk and check out a sample unit by clicking HERE.
Straight to First
Straight to First is one of the few books on my list that is published by Macmillan and not Cambridge University Press. Even though I mentioned earlier that it is always a good idea to go with the publisher that belongs to the same group as the people who design the exam, I believe that Straight to First has some very nice features that make it stand out a little bit.
First of all, the design of the book is very crisp and easy to understand. There are great ‘Help’ boxes with useful tips for the different tasks and a great balance between language development and exam practice.
Additionally, you can find all the extra materials, for example, online access, workbook, etc. that, nowadays, are part of every good textbook series.
Open World First
Open World First is a new addition to the multitude of resources and textbooks in the Cambridge University Press universe. Published in 2019, it gives teachers and students an up-to-date tool to get ready for B2 First and with its unique features it brings things to the table that other textbooks don’t offer.
There are 14 units in this book with tons of exercises and different exam-style tasks to practise. The grammar points are not all just standard stuff you would expect in a B2-level textbook, but specific to what you need to be successful in the exam.
Some nice features I haven’t found in other book are the ‘Real World’ pages which allow students to apply what they’ve learned in a real-life scenario as well as ‘Push yourself’ sections that give you the opportunity to see what C1 Advanced looks like.
On top of that, there are the typical extra resources like a phrasal verb bank, grammar notes, a workbook as well as a writing and speaking bank.
All in all, I’m quite impressed with this new release and suggest giving it a try.
Cambridge English First
The first non-textbook on my list is an important one. I’ve been using these books since I started teaching B2 First candidates many years ago and they are some of the best tools you can imagine.
Cambridge English First is a collection of official exam papers, which means you can practise under proper test conditions and with the answer key (with explanations of the correct answers) and audio scripts you can pretty much self-study in the best possible conditions.
Each part of the series contains four full exams and there are even photocopiable answer sheets so you can practise transferring your answers the same way you would in the official exam.
Last but not least, you have the choice between a version for B2 First for Schools and B2 First, which gives you an even more specific study experience based on which version of the exam you are planning to take.
Now in its second edition, First Trainer has become one of the staples for teachers and students alike when it comes to getting ready for the exam. I have been using this forever and my students always benefit tremendously from this collection of practice exams.
The book comes with six complete exam papers, but it doesn’t stop there. It is packed with useful tips, tricks and exercises, and the training wheels come off one step at a time with the last couple of exams done without any help.
Apart from that, there is an extensive answer key with explanations and audio scripts to make sure that teachers, as well as students, can see exactly what was good and what went wrong when going through a practice paper.
The materials are informed, once again, by the Cambridge Corpus so typical mistakes are shown and worked on from the beginning of this great book.
Cambridge English Exam Boosters
This series of practice materials by Cambridge University Press offers students another great opportunity for self-studying and preparation for B2 First or B2 First for Schools. It is a very nice addition if you study with any of the textbooks described in this article or if you want to intensely focus on exam tasks, for example, just before you take B2 First.
The layout is very straightforward with supporting exercises which work on specific language aspects to lead you to exam practice tasks so you can get a good feel for all the different parts of the test.
A very nice feature are the boxes with ‘Exam facts’ and ‘Exam tips’ which give you great information and useful tips and tricks for each section of B2 First. You can tie them in with your practice very easily and benefit straight away.
Overall, I think that Cambridge English Exam Boosters can be a really good supplementary source on your way to exam success.
You can click on the image below to find out more about the price on bookdepository.co.uk and for a free sample (of Exam Boosters for Key, but they are all designed in the same way), click HERE.
Grammar and Vocabulary for First and First for Schools
Simply put, Grammar and Vocabulary for First and First for Schools is a great supplement for your studies, but I wouldn’t use it as your only source of practice materials when you are preparing for B2 First or B2 First for Schools.
The layout of this book is very easy to understand and follow as the different grammar points are introduced with listening activities followed by the grammar rules and practice activities. Vocabulary also gets thrown in there so you get the total package with each unit or section.
Cambridge University Press claims that this book covers all the vocabulary that candidates might need for the exam and with the extensive materials you can download from the official website once you’ve bought the book, I would agree.
In addition to all the grammar and vocabulary practice, there are also some exam-specific tasks which help you practise, for example, Use of English, plus some tips to avoid common mistakes thanks to the Cambridge Corpus.
If you want to see what the book looks like, you can find a sample unit HERE, and click the image below to find out more about the price on bookdepository.co.uk.
English Grammar in Use
English Grammar in Use might be considered the bible of studying English grammar. It is perfect for all those who want to study on their own and just the breadth of grammar covered in this book is simply amazing.
There are around a couple of hundred mini grammar lessons that cover pretty much every grammar point needed at B2 level and they all follow the same principle: one page of illustrated rules and explanations plus one page of practice exercises – nothing complicated or fancy but very effective.
With the fifth edition of this excellent little helper comes an ebook version with downloadable audio and other supplementary exercises for even more practice.
I have used this book (as well as its brother Advanced Grammar in Use) since I started teaching English and it has always delivered the results I wanted for my students. If I had to recommend one single resource for your language development, it would probably be English Grammar in Use.
Common mistakes at First Certificate…and how to avoid them
This last book on my list is truly a useful little helper when preparing for B2 First or B2 First for Schools because it does exactly what the title says: it shows you typical language mistakes from Cambridge B2 First and teaches you how to avoid them.
Of course, the mistakes covered in this book are not just invented problems, but rather taken from the Cambridge Learner Corpus, a huge statistical database that Cambridge English uses to analyse past exams in order to find out what the most common mistakes are. With thousands of tests available to them, the results of their analyses are very reliable and you will definitely find several sections in Common mistakes at First Certificate… that you will recognise in your own English.
The structure of each section is very simple and easy to follow. There is a short diagnostic part to see if you make the same mistake or not followed by some explanations and practice activities, all on one page per problem.
In my opinion, this is a great little tool to improve in problematic areas and supplement your other learning resources, especially if you work with a textbook or exam-specific practice materials.
As always, you can find out more about the price on bookdepository.co.uk by clicking on the image below, and if you want to download a sample, just click HERE.
The choice is yours
I hope this article gives you a little bit of guidance in the vast world of study materials. The books and resources listed above are the ones I most commonly work with so I speak from experience. I trust all of these materials and they have helped many of my students.
Now the choice is yours. Think about your preferred type of studying. Do you like textbooks or are you more into self-study with only some support. Have a look at the different options and, hopefully, you’ll crush the exam.
Lots of love,
Teacher Phill 🙂