TOEFL Speaking Question 1: Template and Guide

I’ve just finished my new video guide and complete template for the first TOEFL speaking question.

First of all, here’s a video that describes the various question types and provides a template that works every time:

Next, if you want to read a long article that describes the question, check this page out.  Most people coming here are looking for speaking templates, though, so if you just want those you can read on:

-Main point
“A time when I…”
“In my opinion…”
“I would advise my friend to…”
“I think that…”
“I feel this way for two reasons.”
“This was ——- for two main reasons.”
“I would make this suggestion for two main reasons.”
-First reason
“First…”  + “To be more specific…”
-Second reason
“Second…” + “For example…”

That template works just about every time.  The article I linked to above (as well as the video) contains a sample answer that makes use of this template.  They also describe the various question “types” in part one (pure experience, three reasons, giving advice and opinion) but note that the template is basically the same for each one.

If you have any questions just leave a comment below.

TOEFL Writing Type 2 Video

And, finally, I have updated our guide to the independent TOEFL essay.  This version reflects everything I have learned over the past 14 months about writing solid essays and about which strategies are easiest for students to grasp.  Next, I plan to update all of my videos about the speaking section.  Stay tuned!

Sample Type Two Essay

I have just uploaded another sample essay.  This one is on the old “a restaurant is opening in your neighborhood” question that has been in the Official Guide for ages. I actually dreaded writing this one (and, indeed, skipped it last year) as I find the question a bit tedious, but I am happy that I was able to come up with something at least somewhat logical and convincing.  You can find the essay here.  Enjoy!

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.

How to Write a Perfect TOEFL Integrated Essay

Well, this is an old video that I made a few months ago, but I forgot to post it here on the blog.

The video demonstrates how to structure an integrated essay using the templates included on my site that I’ve been perfecting and modifying over the past few years.  It uses an example from the “Official Guide” to walk students through the process of crafting an excellent introduction and three good body paragraphs.

Check it out!  The method works.  Really!

New Video: How to write a high-scoring independent TOEFL essay

I’ve uploaded a new video!  Finally!

This one is all about how to write an independent essay that will score more than twenty-five points.  It is similar to my earlier video, but includes slightly more complex strategies for advanced students.

Let me know what you think.

TOEFL Writing Type 2 Templates

These have been on our main site forever, but I thought our blog readers might like to see our Type 2 Essay structures.  So here they are!

Paragraph 1 (introduction):

  • Sentence one:  A “hook.”  This is an interesting sentence that describes the topic of the essay without yet stating your main opinion.  Example:  “Children have a variety of interests and so there are many possible gifts to give them on their birthday.”
  • Sentence two:  Your main point/opinion.  Example:  “In my opinion, the very best gift to give to a child is…”
  • Sentence three:  A transitional sentence.  Example:  “I feel this way for two reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.”
  • Sentence Four:  “First…..” (quickly summarize your first reason) // Optional
  • Sentence Five:  “Second….” (quickly summarize your second reason) // Optional

(Leave out the last two sentences if you are running out of time)

Paragraph 2 (body paragraph 1):

  • “First of all… FIRST REASON.”
  • One or two sentences that give general information about this reason
  • “For example…” (a personal example from your life that proves this reason)
  •  Three or four sentences that talk about this example

Paragraph 3 (body paragraph 2):

  • “Secondly… SECOND REASON.”
  • One or two sentences that give general information about this reason
  • “My own experience is a good example of this.”
  •  Three or four sentences that talk about this example

Paragraph 4 (conclusion):

  • In conclusion… MAIN POINT.”
  • “This is because REASON ONE and REASON TWO.”

You can see these in action by visiting our collection of sample essays.

Sample TOEFL Independent Essay

I’ve started writing sample TOEFL essays. My first essay answers the following question:

“The widespread use of the internet has given people access to information on a level never experienced before. How does this increase in the availability of information influence life in today’s world?”

Here’s the first paragraph:

Most people agree that the Internet affects society in many different ways. In my opinion, the most prominent effect of the Internet is that it has strengthened democracy. I feel this way for two reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.

You can find the entire essay on our main page. Enjoy!

TOEFL Writing Templates Video

I just uploaded a video that shows how to write a TOEFL Independent essay using the templates that I’ve written about on this site many times. Let me know if you like it, as if the reaction is positive I will make one about the integrated essay as well.

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.

TOEFL Resources

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