Hey, it’s time for another installment of “You Should Read More!”  This month’s installment is heavy on magazine articles, since I wanted to clear my queue of unread magazines.  I get about four magazines in the mail each month, and they tend to build up.  But don’t worry – I’ll have a lot more book length stuff next time.

Science News - August 2020First up, I read the August 1 issue of “Science News.”  This issue has an absolutely wonderful article that could form the basis of a TOEFL integrated writing question.  You can find the article online.  It discusses how DNA from South America  was present on certain Polynesian islands more than 800 years.  This means that South American navigators may have sailed 7000 kilometers to reach those island.  Or maybe it means that Polynesian navigators reached South America… and then went home.  It’s a real TOEFL style debate! 

Science News MagazineNext up, I read the September 26 issue of the same magazine.  It contains a fun article about Stonehenge, which can also be found online.  Reading it will improve your ability to deal with challenging history articles in the reading section of the test.  For something a bit more challenging, check out this article about the geology of the early Earth.

National Geographic - October 2020Moving along, I read the October 10 issue of National Geographic.  The title story about dinosaurs is available online, and is perfect preparation for the integrated writing section!  Those of you who read TOEFL practice materials from ETS will know that they have used a ton of questions about dinosaurs.  And many of the dinosaurs that have been mentioned in those materials are also referenced here!  In the article you’ll hear about:

  • The debate about how heavy dinosaurs could take flight
  • How rapid growth rates suggest that dinosaurs were warm-blooded
  • What the sinosauropteryx’s tail was for
  • How the edmontosaurus lived in herds

That’s like a greatest hits list of the old TPO questions!

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningFinally, I read a book!  Specifically, Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”  This one is available for free on the Open Library, so go borrow it!  Or you can buy it on Amazon.  The book is a sort of memoir that covers the author’s four month preparation for the New York City Marathon, but also discusses why and how he writes his popular books.  I absolutely devoured his fiction when I was young, but somehow missed this one… despite being an avid runner myself.  Anyways, I recommend the book for two reasons:

  1. It might nudge you toward his fiction, which is fantastic.
  2. Murakami has an interesting writing style that uses a lot of idioms and phrasal verbs (and idioms AS phrasal verbs) that you might learn a lot from.  Improving in this area could make your spoken and written English sound a bit more natural.

The second point was really emphasized by a prior reader of my copy who actually underlined all of the author’s interesting word and phrase choices.  Here are a few that caught their attention:

  • “…free time is increasingly at a premium.”
  • “The thing is, I’m not much for team sports.”
  • “By sticking my nose into all sorts of places…
  • “I’ve gotten older, and time has taken its toll.”
  • “They figured that [I] wouldn’t be able to make a go of it.”
  • “…things I had to rack my brains about.”
  • “I was finally able to take a breather.”

And that’s just in the first twenty-six pages!  The whole book is full of stuff like this. Of course the book was originally written in Japanese, and translated to English by someone else.  I wish I could read Japanese and understand what these sentences looked like originally.  I read somewhere that Murakami sometimes writes parts of his own work in English first, and then self-translates into Japanese.  Perhaps the translator had no choice but to include all of the idioms!  Anyways, it’s a fun book… even if you don’t like running.

Okay.  That’s all for now, but I’ll be back in a few weeks time with more recommendations.  Keep reading.


I often see students mix up “boring” and “bored.”

Remember that a thing is boring.  Like a movie, a speech or some homework.  This means we say:

“This movie is really boring.  I hate it!”


“The president’s speech was boring.  I almost fell asleep.”

People feel bored.  So we say:

“I feel really bored today.”

“The movie made me feel really bored.”

“Baby, I’m bored.  Let’s watch a different movie.”

This is the most common error I see, but there are a few similar pairs.  For instance:

  • We feel interested.  Things are interesting.
  • We feel excited.  Things are exciting.
  • We feel confused. Things are confusing.

Speaking of public transportation, be careful when using the plural “subways.”

Don’t use “There are lots of subways in my city” or “Lots of people take subways in my city.”

There is only one “subway” in your city. That refers to the whole network of trains and tunnels and stations. It is generally referred to as “the subway.” So you should say:

“Lots of people take the subway in my city.”

To express the same thought as “there are lots of subways in my city” you should use something like:

“There are lots of subway lines in my city.”

Or in a more natural way:

“The subway runs very frequently in my city.”

The plural “subways” is used mostly to talk about multiple subway systems. As in:

“There are many dirty subways in America.”

That means there are many dirty subway systems in cities across America.

I see this error a lot in TOEFL essays as they often require students to write examples about their everyday life and how they get around. A classic error is something like:

“There are a lot of busses and subways for people in my city.”

This is annoying to fix because it requires something like:

“There are a lot of busses and a great subway system for people in my city.”


“There are a lot of busses and subway lines for people in my city.”

In case you are wondering, the compartment you sit in on the subway is called a “subway car” and the whole bunch of cars plus the place where the driver sits is called a “subway train.” I have probably never spoken the words “subway train” out loud in my life.

There ya go. A ton of writing about a simple error. Life is suffering.

Don’t even get me started on “I am on a bus” vs “I am on the bus.”

Here is how the scores are reported if you take the test at a test center:

  1. Right after the test = unofficial reading and listening scores
  2. Six days after the test = official reading, listening, speaking and writing scores are posted in your ETS account (source)
  3. Eight days after the test = you can download the PDF score report
  4. Between eight and sixteen days after you take the test = scores are sent electronically to score recipients (source)

Note that the unofficial reading and listening scores are almost always the same as the official scores.

Here is how the scores are reported if you take the TOEFL Home Edition:

  1. Right after the test = unofficial reading and listening scores
  2. Between six and ten days after the test = official reading, listening, speaking and writing scores are posted in your ETS account. Two days after the scores are reported, you can download a PDF score report. (source)
  3. Between eight and sixteen days after you take the test = your scores are sent electronically to score recipients (source)


ETS has just published a searchable list of universities which accept the TOEFL Home Edition.  You can find it on their site.  Currently, the site lists 394 schools.  Actually, I think the list sort of under-represents the popularity of the test, since it just lists schools which mention it on their website (or elsewhere).  Many more schools accept it, but haven’t specifically announced that they do.

Don’t use “public transportations” (with an “s”).

Just use “public transportation” (non-count).

If you want to turn it into a countable noun, try something like “public transportation systems.” Or even “public transportation options,” depending on the context.

Like this:

“I always use public transportation to get around.”

“Most cities want to improve their public transportation systems.”

“There are a lot of public transportation options for commuters in my town.”

I see this error quite frequently since the independent essay can often be written using personal examples about going to work or school.

Use: “I want to lose weight.”

Do not use: “I want to lose my weight.”

Use: “I lost weight.”

Do not use: “I lost my weight.”

Treat “gained weight” in the same way. 

Say:  “I gained weight”

Do not say: “I gained my weight.”

Since talking about your health is a good way to approach a lot of the TOEFL independent essay questions, I see the above error quite a lot. 

I totally understand the error, as we do say things like “I lost my hair” and “I hurt my back.” Just remember that “weight” is not a body part!

Nowadays I get a ton of essays which mix up the verbs “value” and “evaluate.”

Here’s what you need to know:

Evaluate (v) = to assess, judge, grade, etc.
Value (v) = to consider or rate highly, or consider of importance

If you write  “my boss valued my English skills” it means that your boss considered your English skills important.  He liked them.

If you write “my boss evaluated my English skills” it means he assessed your English skills.  Maybe he gave you a test.  The sentence does not imply whether they were good or not… just that he tested you.

Hey, the TOEFL home edition is now permanent. Well, in their advertising ETS uses the phrase “here to stay.” The website says that it will be available “for the foreseeable future.”  See below.

TOEFL Home Edition

Update: here is the e-mail sent to institutions that use the scores:

In response to the needs expressed by institutions and test takers, ETS is pleased to announce that the at home TOEFL iBT® test and GRE® General Test are here to stay and will become a continuing part of each brand’s product portfolios. The TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition will also get an updated name: TOEFL iBT Home Edition. At home testing appointments are currently available around the clock for both tests through the end of January, and future appointments will be available soon.

7 months ago, we proudly announced that we had quickly introduced a solution for students who had been impacted by COVID-19 to take the TOEFL iBT test and the GRE General Test at home until in-person testing could resume. The tests have the exact same content, format, on-screen experience and scoring as the tests given in a test center. And thanks to artificial intelligence and remote proctoring, institutions can feel assured that the tests are administered securely and that the scores are reliable.

Since launching the at home tests in March, we at ETS have learned a lot, and have been making continuous improvements to the products and experience. Early on, the tests were only available on PCs, but we quickly expanded that to include Mac® computers. We worked diligently to increase accessibility for people with disabilities and health-related needs. We increased test taker convenience by increasing testing capacity and reducing the registration deadline. We also addressed test takers’ needs to better understand the new delivery method and registration process by posting videos, developing registration checklists and hosting Facebook® Live events. And, as test centers began reopening around the world, we informed test takers that the decision to test at home or in a test center was theirs to make.

More than 400,000 individuals have registered to take the at home tests for the TOEFL iBT test and GRE General Test in 163 countries and territories since March. We have learned through surveys that many test takers prefer to test at home, and now they can choose whether testing at home or in a center will work best for them. As we move forward, we will continue to make further improvements in service to you and your prospective students.

Thank you for your continued partnership and support of ETS’s high-quality assessment solutions; your trust means the world to us. Should you wish to direct students to learn more, please suggest they visit the websites for TOEFL test takers and GRE test takers. For updates intended for institutions, visit the TOEFL and GRE pages created for you. And should you need ETS’s support during this time, or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at TOEFLnews@ets.org or



Srikant Gopal
Executive Director, TOEFL® Program

Alberto Acereda
Executive Director, GRE® Program

There are a few good TOEFL books.  There are a lot of bad ones.  I hope that this article helps you pick the best TOEFL books.   I’ll update and revise this list throughout the year as new books are released. At the end you can find a list of stuff I don’t like, and a list of stuff that will be published in the future.

Last Updated: October 31, 2020

Best Overview of the Test

The Official Guide to the TOEFL (6th Edition)  is  the best overview of the test.  I’ve been teaching for a decade and I still open it up now and then to look up some specific detail. Needless to say, it will teach you about all four sections of the test and the different types of questions each section contains.  It is also illustrated with plenty of examples.  But note that is also contains a few errors and inaccurate sample questions (particular in the chapter on integrated writing and the first practice test).  Note that the 6th edition matches the new version of the TOEFL that started in 2019. For more details, check out my complete review.

Other Books Updated to Match the New TOEFL

Barron’s TOEFL iBT (17th Edition) was published on April 7, 2020.  This is the first edition that matches the new version of the test. This is by far the best book not from ETS this year. However, it still has some issues so make sure to read my full review of the book before you use it.  In short, it has fairly good reading and listening content, decent writing content, and weak speaking content.  It also has a huge amount of practice questions. Audio content and practice tests are provided online (not on CD).  For what it’s worth,  a Superpack featuring this book (and a couple others) is also available.


Princeton Review’s TOEFL iBT Prep is the second best book this year.  However, it has a lot of problems.  The most obvious are in the chapters about the reading and speaking sections.  You can read about all of them in my full review of the book.  There is only one complete sample test (which can only be done on paper as there is no test software included), but there are additional practice questions throughout the book. The only part of this book I really recommend is the collection of skill building exercises found at the beginning.   Note that this book used to be called “Cracking the TOEFL.”  That was a stupid name.

If you don’t want to buy a physical book, the TOEFL Emergency Course from TST Prep is the best overview of the test that is actually updated for the new version.  Just note that it is an online course, not an actual book.  It includes a 12 page overview of the test provided via PDF, some sample questions and strategies.  If you just want the overview, choose the “basic” version since it is cheapest.  And if you use the coupon code “goodine10off” you can get a 10% discount.

Best Books for Practice Tests

The two Official TOEFL iBT Tests books are still the best source of practice tests.  Each contains five complete practice tests.  They are the closest you will get to the real test, since they are made by ETS.  The books also reflect the new version of the test that began in 2019.  There are two books you can get – Volume 1 (4th edition) and Volume 2 (3rd Edition) .  Each book contains an access code to download software that simulates the official test.   If you want to know more about these two books, check out my review.


If you want some more practice tests, I recommend the ten test pack from TST Prep.  These are the most accurate practice tests you will get from an unofficial source.  They also include all of the modern independent writing prompt styles, so in some ways they are even better than the official materials.  The price is pretty good, and if you use the coupon code “goodine10off” you will probably get a 10% discount.  Note that these are provided online, and not in an actual book.

Best Book for TOEFL Reading

I recommend Kathy Spratt’s “Mastering the Reading Section for the TOEFL,” which is in its third edition.  It is available only as an Amazon ebook, but remember that you don’t need a special device to read ebooks.  You can just access them in your web browser if necessary. 

Best “Book” for TOEFL Listening

There really aren’t any good TOEFL listening books.  If you want some decent content, though, I recommend signing up at Magoosh TOEFL.  They have some good reading and listening stuff, but note that their writing and speaking content is quite bad.  You can also read my full review of Magoosh.

Best Book for TOEFL Speaking

I still really love “TOEFL Listening and Speaking Skills ” from Collins Cobuild.  It is sort of old (it was published in 2012) but it still has the most accurate speaking sample questions of any printed textbook not from ETS.  It also comes with some decent templates and very concise strategies to use on the test.  And, heck, you get some listening stuff too.  Audio files are provided online (though the company also sells a version with a CD).  Note that the book has not been updated to match the most recent changes to the test, so you will just have to ignore the sections on speaking questions 1 and 5.  That said, Collins has hinted (on Twitter) that this book will be updated in 2020 so just keep an eye out for a newer version.

Best Book for TOEFL Writing

Collins again!  I really like their  “TOEFL Reading and Writing Skills.”  This book has really accurate question samples.  Even the integrated questions, which almost everyone messes up.  It also includes some decent templates and concise strategies.  It isn’t bogged down with “information overload” like the Kaplan book mentioned above.  The independent writing prompts are a bit weaker, though, as they don’t include all of the modern styles.


Best Books for Vocabulary

I don’t usually recommend TOEFL vocabulary books.  I’m not entirely sure that studying vocabulary lists is totally helpful, as the odds that the words you study will actually show up on the test are somewhat low.  Not only that, but the new TOEFL introduced in 2019 has fewer vocabulary questions in the reading section.  That said, you have a few options. 

First up, “Essential Words for the TOEFL” from Barron’s is pretty good.  I like the difficulty level of the words, and I like that it includes some realistic vocabulary questions as well.

An equally good book is McGraw Hill’s 400 Essential Words for the TOEFL. It includes helpful vocabulary, and has accurate practice reading questions of all types.  That’s neat.

Meanwhile, if you just want a whole bunch of words for a really low price (2 bucks) I recommend Darakwon’s “1800 TOEFL Essential Vocabulary .”  It’s an ebook.

Best Books for Grammar

I don’t recommend any “TOEFL Grammar” books.  For now, I just suggest my students get the 5th edition of English Grammar in Usefrom Cambridge University press. This book has been around forever, and it is still the best source of grammar explanations and practice questions.  After getting a copy, you can check out my list of  recommended units to study.  if you want even more content,  Cambridge sells a supplementary book with more practice questions!  For lower level students (writing scores below 20), I recommend getting something a bit easier like “Basic Grammar in Use.”

Upcoming TOEFL Books

  • A new edition of  “TOEFL iBT Prep” from Princeton Review will be published in February 2021.
  • A new edition of “TOEFL iBT Writing” from Barron’s will be published in May 2021.
  • Smart Edition will publish their first TOEFL book in May 2021.

Note that the above links are sponsored – if you order the books from Amazon I’ll make a few bucks.

Hey, it’s time for another installment of “You Should Read More!”  This blog series encourages you to increase your TOEFL reading score by reading more stuff.  By reading stuff, you can develop your reading skills. The theme here is “comprehension before strategies.”  

But not only does reading stuff develop your skills, it also increases your ability to concentrate on dense academic content like what appears on the TOEFL.  Personally, I find that unless I force myself to read academic content on a regular basis my mind starts to wander when I am faced with a challenging text.  The problem isn’t that I don’t understand the text, but rather that I can’t focus on it.


This month I read the September issue of National Geographic.  I love this magazine.  Every month I get a ton of great articles, and the cost of subscribing is pretty low.  Right now it’s just $19 per year in the USA, and $59 per year worldwide.  Or you can just read most of the articles for free online.  This month there is a great story about ostrich behavior that I really enjoyed.  And it goes without saying that ETS loves to write questions about animal behavior.


This month I also read two issues of Analog Science Fiction.  Now, you’re probably rolling your eyes at me now… but hear me out!  The issues contained the first two parts of a serialized novel called “House of Styx.”  The novel is about colonists on Venus who live in a station sort of like the “station… floating in Venus’s atmosphere, like a balloon, rather than standing on its surface” described in the integrated writing question of TPO 40!  The science here is well done, and the characters are sympathetic. If you are interested,  don’t waste your time trying to get the magazines pictured here – just get the Kindle version from Amazon

TOEFL Practice ExercisesNext, I’m going to send you to an actual TOEFL book.  I reviewed Pamela Sharpe’s “TOEFL Practice Exercises” last week and observed that the book has somewhat inaccurate questions.  But it does have thirty-four reading passages about topics that commonly appear on the TOEFL.  They are also at the same difficulty level and are of the same length as what you’ll get on the test.  You’ll never find another collection like it.  And you can treat the inaccurate questions as a sort of “skill building” thing that forces you to concentrate a bit more than you really want to.  I know I am really mean when I write about TOEFL books, but I do want to stress that I appreciate the effort made by their authors.  I could never write such a monumental collection of content.  So check it out.

Finally, the late-August issue of “Science News” has an article about a certain beetle that gets eaten by frogs but is still alive after it gets pooped out.  Wild.  Fortunately you can read that article online.  Meanwhile, if you want something closer to what you will find on the TOEFL, the issue also has an article about how smallpox affected Vikings more than 1000 years ago.  


Over on LinkedIn, TOEFL Executive Director Srikant Gopal went on the offensive, with an article challenging other English tests.

What stood out to me is that this was the first time I’ve seen anyone from ETS utter the words “Duolingo English Test”.  And the article didn’t pull any punches:

“Despite having “academic” in their name, these tests have only partial academic English content (50% or lower). The most recent entrant, the Duolingo® English Test, is effectively a test of rudimentary English knowledge and does not even adequately measure English proficiency, let alone the ability of a student to communicate and succeed in a university setting.”

Honestly, though, it must be a bit frustrating for ETS.  The TOEFL is backed by a book-length account of its validity, while the validity case for the DET seems to consist of a few short articles.  Despite that, though, the DET has become very popular since the beginning of the year.

I am a fan of the DET, and you can find a supportive comment I made back in March of 2019 on YouTube.  But, to be honest, I think a lot of universities are rushing headfirst to support a test that might not be ready for high-stakes admissions.

What do you think?