As usual, I read a bunch of stuff this week. I’ll get right to it.
First up, I checked out the January 2023 issue of “History Today.” A few articles seem relevant to TOEFL test-takers.
- Hawk this Way describes the street sellers that hawked their wares on the streets of London around 1900. Apparently there were more than 12,000 hawkers at that time in London alone. Some great vocabulary in here with bits like: “though they traded without formal sanction and frequently fell foul of the law…”. The article paints a really vibrant picture of an aspect of the city that disappeared around the time of the first world war. Plenty of historical background is presented. This article is somewhat similar in length and reading level as a real TOEFL reading passage.
- The Madman of the North is a fun article about Charles XII of Sweden and his thirst for war. Today one doesn’t often think of Sweden when thinking of European military history, but apparently people in the early 1700s sure did.
- The Cold, Cold War is about rival nations trying to be the first to reach the Arctic. It touches on the life of explorer Robert L. Peary who appears in a TOEFL integrated writing question I’ve checked hundreds of times. I can’t remember if it is from an ETS source of a third party source, but it questions whether or not he actually reached the pole. The best part of this article is its depiction of the schemes of Arctic explorer Henry W. Howgate.
- Decline and Fall is about concerns throughout history regarding decadence. I’ve already added “the decadent movement” to my list of TOEFL speaking questions in the works.
Next, I checked out the February 2023 issue of the same magazine. Here’s what I liked:
- Vile Verse and Desperate Doggerel is about poet William McGonagall. Was he the worst poet in history? Was he a visionary? You decide. The article brings to mind an old TOEFl speaking question from ETS about “Outsider Art.”
- The Land Between Rivers is about efforts to establish a steamship service down the Euphrates River in the 19th century. It’s a long article.
- The ‘Lost’ Emperor is about a mystery! A pair of old coins were found that might depict a previously unknown Roman Emperor. But maybe they don’t. These coins have been studied. People have opinions. There are disagreements. This would make a perfect Integrated Writing question!
I think I’ve got one more copy of “History Today” on my shelf. I’ll probably write about it next month.
Meanwhile, I read the July/August 2023 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. I read every issue of this magazine, but I rarely mention it here because the stories and articles aren’t really available online. I know it is a bit cliche, but I think the world would be a better place if more people read science fiction now and then. There are bigger things to think about than the allegiances that divide us. This month I really enjoyed David Ebenbach‘s “Everybody Needs a Conditions Box” which features the establishment of a colony floating above the surface of Venus. That’s a topic that has appeared in TOEFL integrated writing questions (and I think I’ve mentioned other stories from the magazine that explore the concept). This particular story also explores AI in a fun way. Read it if you can find it.
I also read the October 2023 issue of Apollo. I suppose it is important to read about art and architecture now and then, as those topics do show up on the TOEFL (and they are often ignored when people seek out “academic reading” material). A few articles stood out this month:
- The Women Who Keep Appearing in Reuben’s Paintings is about, well, what the title says.
- The Baroque Edwardian Buildings of Edwin Rickards is, again, self-explanatory. Look… not all of the stuff I link to here can be immediately interesting. Sometimes you’ve gotta read boring stuff to sharpen your skills. Needless to say, sometimes the TOEFL is boring. This article has a length similar to what you might get on the real test.
Finally, I recently discovered a wonderful podcast called The Academic Minute. This series features very short lectures on various topics by leading academics. Each episode includes a short introduction and a transcript. This is perfect practice for the TOEFL speaking section. I feel like I am the last person to learn about this wonderful resource. I think I will mine the podcast for topics I can use when writing practice questions.