Best TOEFL Books of 2016

Well, it’s now 2016 so I think it’s time for a new list of the best TOEFL preparation books available.  Here’s what you need to know:

The Best books for Everyone

The Official Guide to the TOEFL.  This is still the very best book on the market.  It’s written by the same people who design the TOEFL, and it is full of both general strategies and sample questions.  It contains three complete practice tests on CD-ROM, as well as a great number of realistic practice questions within the book itself.  Students should note that it is a bit out-of-date and contains a few inaccurate questions (the integrated writing question in test one should be ignored) but this is the book that I recommend to 95% of my students.

Summary:  The Official Guide will give you a great overview of the test, and a good amount of practice questions.

The Official Test Collection Volume 1 and Volume 2.  There are now two volumes of official practice tests available in textbook form.  Each book contains five practice tests.  I highly recommend these two books. Most students need accurate practice tests more than anything else, and these ten tests are enough to really prepare for the test.  If you have the Official Guide and you have these two tests collections, you probably don’t need anything else.

Summary:  The Official Tests Collections are the absolute best source of practice tests.

Best Books for Skills Practice

Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL.  This is an old book that hasn’t been updated in a long time, but I still rather like it.  That’s mainly because it contains more skills practice than any other book on the market.  Most students are really looking for skills practice but if you are… this is the best book available.  It also contains seven practice tests on CD-ROM, but it must be said that these are out-of-date and some of the speaking and writing questions are out-0f-date and inaccurate.  Only use these if you don’t have access to the official tests collection above.

Summary:  The Cambridge Guide is still a great resource for skills practice, but the tests are not useful anymore.

Cracking the TOEFL.  Princeton Review has published a new edition of their book for 2015/16!  This also contains a lot of good skills practice exercise.  If need more of that stuff, it’s almost as good as the Cambridge book.  Sadly, it only contains one full length practice test on CD.  Also, the sample integrated writing questions are not very good.  To know more, you can read our full-length review.

Summary:  Some good skills practice!

Terrible Books

Kaplan TOEFL Premier.  I really wanted to like this book.  The book itself is actually pretty good, as it includes a lot of great strategies for all sections of the test.  The language used to describe these tasks is pretty advanced, but for some students that might not be problematic.  My problem with this book is the practice material.  Student should know that they get nothing on CD-ROM.  That’s right – the book comes with NO practice tests.  Students are required to go online to get the tests.  That sucks.  Not only that, but students can’t jump between sections of the test.  If you want to do the writing section you will have to click “next question” through all of the reading questions and then sit through all of the listening and speaking content.  Not only that, but the accuracy of the questions is only mediocre.  There is no reason to buy this instead of the Official Test Collection.

Barron’s TOEFL.  This book is terrible.  It’s been terrible for a long time.  I don’t know why Barron’s refuses to fix it, even when the publish “new” editions.  Students are drawn to it because it has eight complete practice tests.  That’s nice, but the speaking and writing sections of those tests are quite inaccurate.  Indeed, the integrated writing questions are some of the worst I’ve ever come across.  Get this if you want some extra reading and listening practice… but don’t depend on it for help in the speaking and writing parts of the test.  Read more about this book in our full-length review.

What IELTS Books are the Best? (2015-2016 Edition)

The best IELTS book depends on your individual circumstances, but based on my experience, I can recommend a few great book.  Feel free to ask questions about these selections below.  If you have any favorites that I have not listed here, I would love to add them to the list!  Post a comment!

(Updated July 30, 2015)

The Best Books for Most Students

1. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS (2014) is the absolute best book for most students.  Published by the people who actually produce tofficial ieltshe IELTS, it includes a great overview and introduction to both the General Training and Academic Moduieltssuperpackles.  It includes eight practice tests, and the included DVD contains videos of the speaking test being administered.  Individual  chapters of the book really focus in on specific skills necessary to get a high score.  You can’t do much better than this one.

2. Barron’s IELTS SuperPack (2013) is a great value. You get the guide to the test, a test collection (six tests) and a fairly useful vocabulary book.  The guide to the test is quite detailed and is almost as useful as the official guide.  The vocabulary book includes exercises that you can follow to develop your vocab before test day.

targetband73. Target Band 7: IELTS Academic Module – How to Maximize Your Score (2012) is a short and sweet overview of the test.  It is also quite cheap.  It doesn’t include audio or practice tests, so I can’t recommend it all by itself, but if you have a bit of extra money to spend it complements the above books quite well by providing some extra tips and suggestions.  Don’t be scared off by the short length, as independently published books like this one usually cut out all of the general introductory crap that no one really needs.

The Best Books for Practice Testsbarronsieltstests

1.Barron’s IELTS Practice Exams (2013) contains six academic and six general tests, delivered on CD.  A good value is to purchase this as part of the SuperPack, above.  There isn’t much by way of instructional material, but the tests are pretty realistic.

cambridgepracticetests2. Cambridge IELTS 10 Student’s Book with Answers (2015).  As of right now this is the latest official collection of practice tests from Cambridge.  You get four good practice tests… and not much else.  If you already have one of the above books to give you an overview of the test (and strategies to score well) this is a pretty good value.  Cambridge publishes one of these every few years and they stay in print, so you can probably buy volumes eight and nine as well.  Used copies of the even older volumes are usually available (and are a nice value).

The Best Books for Writing Practice


1. IELTS Writing Section (Academic): How To Achieve A Target 8 Score (2013) is very short and is independently published, but I do recommend it.  It focuses on structures and patterns and will show you step-by-step how to answer the writing questions on the IELTS.  It also includes as lot of helpful sample answers.  The best writing-only book I’ve yet encoutered.

cambridgevocab2. Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS Advanced Band (2012) is a great way to ensure that you’ve got the vocabulary skills necessary to deliver solid written responses. It includes a lot of activities that should improve your overall vocabulary before test day as well as your ability to paraphrase. It handles collocations quite well, which is an area that a lot of students struggle with.

Which TOEFL Books are the Best? (2015 Edition)

This is another question that I’m often asked.  The “best” book depends on your individual circumstances and what you are looking for.  Here’s a few suggestions (updated August 6, 2016):

 The Best Textbooks for Most Students

1. The Official Guide to the TOEFL (4th Edition) is the best book for new students who need an overview of the test and some basic help. This guide is published by the people who create the TOEFL, and comes with three practice tests on CD. The tests are pretty good – the only better source of practice tests is in the Official Tests Collection (link below). Just note that the first integrated writing question (about altruism) is somewhat outdated.  There is nothing revolutionary in this book, but I do recommend it to students who are just beginning to study for the TOEFL. Many students find that this is the only book they need.  It also contains a somewhat useful grammar guide.  Amazon sells an electronic version of this guide.



nova2. Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT is a great book that breaks down and simplifies the speaking and writing sections of the test.  Many students find these sections most difficult to study for. This short book details exactly what should go into a good essay and speaking answer without wasting too much space on unnecessary explanations and descriptions of the test. It assumes that you know about the test already and concentrates on giving you the strategies you will need to deliver solid answers.

The Best Textbooks for Advanced Students


1. Delta’s Key to the TOEFL iBT: Advanced Skill Practice (2011) is recommended for advanced students. This book contains page after page of practice exercises and study tips. Use this book to “fine tune” your skills, or if you need to focus on certain areas. It could help you squeeze a few more points out of your current ability level! The book also includes four practice tests, which are completed on paper (with the necessary audio provided via CD).

cracking2. Cracking the TOEFL iBT (2016) from Princeton Review is my secondary recommendation. It is perfect for students who are very confident about their overall English ability and want to focus on specific strategies and techniques for mastering the TOEFL. It contains one full-length practice test.  Don’t be dissuaded by the fact that there is just one practice test here, as the book also contains a great number of “drills” which are complete practice questions for each section.

The Best Textbooks for Practice Testsofficialtests

1. The Official TOEFL iBT Tests Collection (2012) is the best source of practice tests. This book contains five actual tests administered in the past by ETS.  Amazon sells it in a bundle with the Official Guide (above) which I highly recommend.  Note that a second volume of tests is now available.
 2. Barron’s Guide to the TOEFL is a very popular practice textbook.  It contains an incredible eight practice tests.  I recommend it, but I must point out that the integrated writing practice questions are not accurate.  Students should only use this collection to prepare for the reading, listening, speaking and independent writing sections of the test.

3. Students who are looking for graded speaking and writing practice should check out our TOEFL essay evaluation and grading service.  For a small fee, a native speaking TOEFL expert will evaluate your practice essays, correct your grammar mistakes line by line and estimate how your essay would score on test day.  Our service has been used by hundreds of students and it really works!

Best Textbooks for TOEFL Grammargrammarules

1. TOEFL Grammar Guide: 23 Grammar Rules You Must Know To Guarantee Your Success On The TOEFL Exam (2013) is a good, concise guide to the grammar skills you need to succeed on the TOEFL. This book just runs through various grammar rules, focusing on the ones that you are most likely to use on test day, while ignoring rules and tenses that you probably won’t use in your written and spoken answers. It’s very short and very cheap.

2. Ccollinsollins Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test (2013) is a great new book that also focuses on the grammar skills that students will need on the TOEFL (and ignores rules that aren’t very helpful). It contains more practice exercises that the above pick.

Best Textbooks for TOEFL Vocabulary

1. 400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL (2014) is a wonderful vocabulary textbook. It focuses on subject-specific words that will help students in the listening and reading sections of the test.

2. The Essential TOEFL Vocabulary flashcard kit by Princeton Review is a good way to start practicing vocabulary, though I suggest combining it with your own home-made vocabulary cards.

Which TOEIC Books are Best? (2015 Edition)

I am often asked which TOEIC preparation books are the best. The “best” book for a student depends on individual factors, but here are some that I strongly recommend. Hopefully you can find one that works for you.

Best Overall Books

1. Barron’s TOEIC, 6th Edition (2013) is the best overall guide to the test. It covers the TOEIC listening and reading test in great detail. It covers barronstoeicevery possible question type, and tells you which grammar points you should study in order to correctly answer the questions that you often miss. It includes a “model test” you can use to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, as well as four short practice tests.toeicsuperpack

2. Barron’s TOEIC Superpack is the same as the above, but includes a collection of six full-length practice tests and a vocabulary textbook. It’s a good value!

kaplanvocab3. Kaplan TOEIC Vocabulary Prep (2015) is a wonderful book that will strengthen your vocabulary before you sit for the test. The book includes more than 500 useful words along with sample sentences that show them in context.  It also includes a list of useful idioms. Studying vocabulary for the TOEIC can be difficult, as it is a test geared toward business and cultural communication, so this book is invaluable.mastertoeic

4. Master the TOEIC: Strategies (2011) also covers the whole test in depth, but it targeted toward slightly lower-level students than the Barron’s book described above.

Best Book for Practice Tests

toeictests1. Barron’s TOEIC Practice Exams is the best source of practice exams. It includes six full-length practice exams, the audio of which are provided via MP3 files on CD.

Best Books for Speaking and Writingtoeicspeaking

1. Tactics for TOEIC Speaking and Writing Test is one of the few good books that cover the infrequently taken speaking and writing test. It covers both sections in great detail, and includes plenty of practice exercises. It also includes sample answers for each type of speaking question, which is excellent.

2. Korean speakers should be aware that there are many good Korean books focusing on the TOEIC speaking and writing sections, as that country is where the test is most often administered.

Best Books for the TOEIC Bridge Test

1. Barron’s TOEIC Bridge Test is the best book for students taking the TOEIC Bridge. Barron’s produces the best books of this sort, and the Bridge guide is up to their usual standards. It describes the test in detail, and provides practice questions via CD.

Best TOEFL Practice Tests

It can be really hard to locate good TOEFL practice tests. That’s bad news, because taking good practice tests are essential to scoring well on the TOEFL. But never fear… there are some good resources both online and in textbooks. Here’s my favorite resources:

Best Practice Test Books

1. The Official TOEFL iBT Tests collection, from 2012, is the best source of practice tests. This book contains five tests that have actually been administered by ETS in recent years. There is nothing better than this book.

2. Delta’s Key to the TOEFL iBT: Practice Tests, revised in 2013, contains seven solid practice tests. It complements Delta’s “Advanced Skill Practice” textbook.

3. Barron’s TOEFL iBT , also from 2013, contains seven good practice tests. I don’t like this as much as the Delta textbook, though, as the practice integrated writing activities feel a little unrealistic.

4. Kaplan TOEFL iBT Premier 2014-2015 contains only four practice tests, but I like it because it is the most recent book on the market, published in March of 2014.

Online Practice Tests

1. ETS, but I don’t recommend them as both the speaking and writing sections are graded by computers… NOT by human beings. I feel that these score estimations are not accurate. In addition, the practice tests are REALLY expensive.

Other Resources

Do you have any favorite sites or books? Post ’em below!

Best Textbooks for Teaching in Korea

I spoke recently to a teacher who is heading to Korea to teach English, and he asked me to describe some of my favorite textbooks. I worked in Korea for four years, and found that a difficulty which many teachers face is the order to “just teach” the students, or “play fun games.” Sometimes it seems that everyone else knows how to do these things. But it isn’t always so easy. Good resources can help a lot.

Here’s what I kept on my Korean bookshelf, organized by topic:

 The Best Textbooks for Games and Activities

My favorite books for games and activities is the Oxford Basics series. The series editor describes the Oxford Basics books as being for the thousands of teachers going overseas to teach English without much formal training or much experience. There are about twenty books in the series. All are slim, cheap volumes which describe (in simple, step-by-step terms) how to plan and carry out a few dozen educational ESL games. The games are all described in “lesson plan” format, with notes about timing, materials required, target vocabulary and recommended age level. Each volume is centered around a particular theme.

My personal favorites include:

Another book I have used a lot is Games for Language Learning from Cambridge University Press. This book has been around forever, but was revised in 2006. It contains hundreds of games (some simple, some complex) that you can use in the classroom. It isn’t as good as the Oxford series above, but is a great resource when you need to find something fast.

The Best Textbooks for Teaching Young Children

The absolute best textbook series for teaching young children is the Backpack Series from Pearson. The textbook comes with good CD content, cut-out story books, stickers, a separate workbook, and other stuff that makes the textbook experience “fun.” Nothing compares to this series. It includes editions for grades one through six (Amazon has them all). Be sure also to look for a matching Backpack Teacher’s Edition for lesson plans, flashcards and classroom posters. I am very fond of those posters… they make a Korean “English Zone” look like a real classroom.

Note that Backpack seems to be the successor to Pearson’s “New English Parade” series (which I have fond memories of).

Another good resource for teaching young children in Korea is the Oxford Basics for Children series. The books in this series are just like the Oxford Basics series I described above (simple, easy-to-use games and activities), but geared toward learners between the ages of four and seven. My favorites include:

Best Books for University and Adult Conversation Classes

My absolute favorite books for conversation classes are Jazz English Volume 1 and Volume 2. These two books were written by a long-time foreign resident of Korea. And that is what makes them great for teachers in Korea – it is conversation that is grounded in the Korean experience and life. Each book has about a dozen chapters, each focused on one topic of conversation. The chapters each contain a list of vocabulary (English and Korean), sample conversation questions and answers, a “find someone who” activity and a dialog (in print and on the CD). The overall layout is fantastic. Various “extras” are scattered throughout the book. I’ve used these two books more than any other conversation book or website.

Best Books for Theory

Want to turn pro? Every so often I pull Jeremy Harmer’s How To Teach English off the shelf and brush up on the basic theory of what the heck we are doing in Korea. It isn’t always practice, but it often is… and it reminds me of what I ought to be aiming for at the end of the day.

And that’s all. Have any favorites? Please share!

TOEFL Resources

This blog complements TOEFL Resources, a collection of guides to the TOEFL iBT.