Eight awesome grammar and vocabulary self-study resources

Want to improve your Basic AND advanced English grammar?

We often get asked “advanced English grammar and vocabulary – how can I learn them?”.  Or sometimes “what are the best resources I can use to improve my grammar or vocabulary?”.  These are good questions and we answer both in some detail in our Academic Language Skills lessons.  If you find yourself asking questions like:

  • How can I make my writing more academic?
  • How can I find useful academic vocabulary?  What is the Academic Wordlist (AWL)?
  • What is English for Academic and Professional Purposes?
  • What advanced English grammar should I learn?  What is useful grammar for academic writing?

 Then you might want to check out the above lessons.  Don’t have time now?  No problem, we’ve put together a range of grammar and vocabulary self-study resources below.  Best-selling grammar textbooks?  Yep.   Vocabulary learning apps?  Sure thing.   Self-study resources from world-leading universities?  Yessir – enjoy!

Murphy’s "English Grammar In Use" (Intermediate)

Raymond Murphy is arguably the world’s best-selling author of grammar books for English learners and English Grammar In Use is his masterpiece.  Over the last 30 years it has been used by millions of language learners and teachers around the world*.  I’m a huge fan of this book given that its explanations are clear and there is lots of practice activities – really important.  Now in its fourth edition, the book is now available as an app (Android and iOs), and an interactive ebook (with a new edition due late January 2019).  That said, this book is so popular worldwide that you’ll almost definitely find copies of it in your local public or university library.   A good chance to check it out before you buy.

Finally, as with all things, there are some drawbacks to this book.  It is written for Intermediate level language learners – meaning that quite a bit of this book will be review for many university level students.  That said, it’s a great source for review for more advanced students.  After all, when people progress in skills sometimes small problems can emerge behind them when they forget or don’t practice things.  That’s what this book is probably best for.  For those people looking to improve their grammar, we would recommend checking out the next entry on our list.

*An estimated 100,000,000 learners and teachers around the world have used Grammar In Use books!

Hewing's "Advanced Grammar In Use"

This the book you want if you want to improve your advanced English grammar.  The most advanced of the three English Grammar In Use books, Hewing’s Advanced Grammar In Use textbook is written in a similar fashion to Murphy’s book (i.e., clear, simple explanations supported with lots of great practice activities).  Again though, this is written for an Advanced English language student (we’re talking IELTS 6.5 and above) so it’s worth bearing that in mind.  For those students not at that level yet, it might be worthwhile starting with Murphy’s Intermediate level book.

The Academic Word List (The AWL)

We discussed the AWL in a blog post a while back but it’s so important that it’s definitely worth a quick review.  The AWL is a list of 570 of the most important words that students needs to know to be successful in their university studies.  Forget IELTS or TOEFL lists – if you want to succeed in your university/college study then these are the words you need.  The AWL is useful for all students – the AWL was specifically designed for students studying subjects in the Arts*, Business**, Law, and the Sciences***.  Beyond those, students studying other subjects like Engineering and Medicine will get huge gains out of studying the AWL, too. 

*Subjects like communications, education, sociology, etc.

**Subjects such as business, finance, marketing, etc.

***Subjects including chemistry, IT, mathematics, etc.

We discuss how you can use the AWL in some detail in our blog post. Or you can find the original AWL here or a helpful Memrise list that’s been put together here.  

The Academic Phrasebank (The University of Manchester)

Developed by Dr John Morley, the Academic Phrasebank is described as a general resource for academic writers.  Originally designed for non-native English speaking academic and scientific writers, native speaker writers find a great deal of the material useful, too.  The Academic Phrasebank provides a wide range of ‘nuts and bolts’ phrases needed for all kinds of academic writing.  For example, when referring to sources, describing methods, discussing findings, etc.  It also addresses more general language functions such as being cautious, being critical, describing trends, etc.  The Academic Phrasebank is an excellent additional vocabulary resource that is well worth checking out.

The Khan Academy

The Kahn Academy aims to “provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere”.  With an estimated 100,000,000 people using the platform worldwide every year, they must be doing something right!  The Khan Academy uses a combination of video and practice activities to deliver their courses and classes.  These courses cover a wide range of different subjects – something for everyone!  For advanced English grammar you might be interested in checking out their work on Grammar and Punctuation

Improve your Writing (The University of Bristol)

The University of Bristol’s Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies is potentially one of the best schools for EAP around.  Why do we say that?  Well,  the boss there is effectively the head of EAP for the whole UK (Maxine Gillway).  The Improve your Writing Guide focusses on Grammar and Punctuation with a few extras on using quoted material, etc.  With explanations and interactive practice activities it’s potentially well worth a look.  And finally the price can’t be beaten – it’s free!

BBC Learning English

The BBC (or British Broadcasting Corporation) probably needs no introduction.  The UK’s voice to the world it offers a great deal beyond just BBC World, Dr Who, and panel shows – one key part of this offering is BBC Learning English.

While the BBC Learning English isn’t just a grammar and vocabulary learning resource it does contain some great resources on these two areas.  Further, the resources cover a wide range of different topics (from the news to lifestyle to popular topics of interest and beyond).  Resources are also broken up according to level which is pretty handy too.   This allows runs from elementary topics to more advanced English grammar.  The price is fantastic too – free!

HeadStart Academic English


Obviously we’re biased but we like to think we left the best for last.  Our staff are world-class with decades of teaching and curriculum writing experience at some of the best universities in the world.  That experience has led to understand the importance of engaging, interactive lessons with clear explanations, examples, and models – something we include in all of our lessons.  Our Academic Skills and Language Package has 30+ lessons (over six hours) of unique instruction and we’re continually developing new lessons.  If that’s not for you, there’s a whole bunch of other lessons and courses that we have available on our courses page.   However, if there’s something that you think we’ve missed or you want us to develop – just let us know.   

Want to check out a sample of our grammar and vocabulary lessons?  Awesome – follow the link.  Otherwise, we regularly post with resources that can be useful in learning new vocabulary and grammar.  On that, eep an eye out for the upcoming blog post on a range of general and subject-specific academic reading practice resources – coming next week.  Enjoy!


Hope this has been useful for you!  As always though,  we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below.  Or follow us on Facebook.  Or if you have a question or a topic that you’d like us to write a blog post (or even better – a full lesson) about – email us!


10 thoughts on “Eight awesome grammar and vocabulary self-study resources”

    1. Hi Dzeutcho

      We’re glad to have you here! Let us know if you have any questions and keep your eyes out for the upcoming special on language modules – coming later this week!

      Talk soon

      The HeadStart team

    1. Hi Mohamed

      Thanks for getting in touch! Sorry though – not quite clear what you mean here – get back to us and we’ll see what we can do to help.

      Talk soon

      The HeadStart team

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