I’ve been getting a lot of reports about extremely late score reports from students who have taken the TOEFL Special Home Edition.  Students have told me that they are still waiting for their scores two, three or even four weeks after taking the test.  Scores are supposed to arrive six days after taking the test.

Delays occur when  a technical failure occurs during the test, or the automated anti-cheating software detects something, or when the proctor notices something abnormal.  When this happens, your test result and testing experience are manually checked by a human expert.  This is called “Administrative Review.”

Don’t worry, though.  To talk to someone about this, you should contact the TOEFL Office of Testing Security.  I highly recommend calling them at the following numbers:

1-800-750-6991 (in the USA)

+1-609-406-5430 (all other locations)

You can also email them, but I don’t recommend it.  If you want to try, their email address is: otiassist@ets.org

They will answer the phone from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.  Note that you are supposed to wait four weeks before calling them.  You can, of course, call before then but they may just tell you to keep waiting.

I do not recommend using the regular TOEFL customer support phone number for this problem, but I guess it can’t hurt to try it as well.

 

 

There is now an  Amazon listing  for an updated edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL.  According to the guide, the sixth edition of the guide will be published on July 10.  This will be the first version of the guide to reflect the changes to the test that were introduced in August of 2019.

Update: According to McGraw Hill’s own site, the book will be published on June 19.

The listing does not indicate much about what else has changed in the book, but fortunately the audio and software content will be provided online instead of on a DVD.  It is also mentioned that the book will still contain just four tests.  Previously,  updated editions of the book included a new practice test.

In addition, there are also listings for updated editions of both Volume 1 (4th ed) and Volume 2 (3rd ed) of the “Official TOEFL iBT Tests” books.

Well, the TOEFL iBT Home Edition is still not available in China.  Since it is unlikely to ever be offered in China, ETS has just introduced an alternative – the TOEFL ITP Plus.  A general introduction is  available here

It appears to be the same as the existing TOEFL ITP currently marketed by ETS to institutions as a way to assess the English proficiency of students, but with an added video interview conducted through Vericant.  It is taken on paper (no computer). Scores, and the interview, are sent electronically to designated recipients.  The interview is not scored.

The test measures reading and listening comprehension (with questions similar to the TOEFL) and written expression (questions totally unlike the TOEFL).

Curiously, this test is offered at test centers.  It is puzzling that test centers are able to be used for this test, but not for the regular TOEFL iBT.  Perhaps it is easier to distance students who are taking a test on paper.

Sample questions for the ITP are available here, but I don’t know if the test uses “level 1” or “level 2” questions… or if adjustments have been made for this particular use.  ETS once had an “Official Guide” to the TOEFL ITP, but it is mostly out of print now.

For more information, consult this graphic:

 

 

I‘ve never had a student ask me about McGraw-Hill Education’s main TOEFL book.  It must have had a tiny print run, as I haven’t even seen people talking about it online.  Regardless, a copy just came into my hands, so you guys get a quick review of the book. 

To make a long story short, it isn’t very good.  I actually had high hopes for this one, since McGraw-Hill has the licence to publish official TOEFL materials (they publish the Official Guide and the two iBT Tests books).  However, it doesn’t look like they have access to insider information or notes about test design from ETS.  Most of the sample questions in the book are inaccurate.  This includes really major problems like integrated writing questions where the reading has just two paragraphs, and minor problems like “campus announcement” speaking questions where the opinionated student gives three reasons for their position.  Or reading questions where you have to search through the whole article to find the article.  For these reasons I don’t recommend the book to anyone.  Note, meanwhile, that this book was published before the TOEFL was changed (August, 2019) so it is dated in a general sense.

Regular readers of my reviews will know that I am not particularly enthusiastic about TOEFL vocabulary books (I think it is probably better to just study the Academic Word List), but McGraw-Hill’s “400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL Test” (2014) is a book I’m happy to recommend to students.

What you get here are 41 chapters, each containing a themed list of 10 words with detailed definitions and practice exercises (fill-in-the-blanks, matching).  The last page of each chapter contains a paragraph “excerpted” from a larger TOEFL reading and two accompanying questions .  What sets this book apart from, say, Barron’s TOEFL Vocabulary is that these questions are not just vocabulary style questions.  Instead, all of the TOEFL reading question types are represented.  Those, specifically, make this a valuable study resource for anyone preparing for the TOEFL reading section.

The lists themselves are meant to represent the various topics used in the writing of the reading passages on the TOEFL.  The authors have included a few topics that probably don’t ever appear on the test (spirituality and ghosts) but most of them are relevant.   The words themselves are a mix of those which are mostly just used in discussion of the given topic, but also words used beyond the given topic.  That means that the list in the chapter on agriculture contains the words “irrigation” and “photosynthesis” but also the words “adversely” and “aggregate.” 

The vocabulary here seems to be a bit more challenging than words in the aforementioned Barron’s book, and are much more challenging than those in the Princeton Review’s TOEFL Power Vocab.  That’s a good thing!

Note that the second edition is quite similar to the first edition.  The main difference seems to be the addition of a single chapter on “Parenting.”  There may be some revisions to the other chapters, but I didn’t look that closely.

Today I want to write a few words about an interesting new (December, 2019) text from ETS.  “Automated Speaking Assessment” is the first book-length study of SpeechRater, which is the organization’s automated speaking assessment technology.  That makes it an extremely valuable resource for those of us who are interested in the TOEFL and how our students are assessed.  There is little in here that will make someone a better TOEFL teacher, but many readers will appreciate how it demystifies the changes to the TOEFL speaking section that were implemented in August of 2019 (that is, when the SpeechRater was put into use on the test).

I highly recommend that TOEFL teachers dive into chapter five of the book, which discusses the scoring models used in the development of SpeechRater.  Check out chapter four as well, which discusses how recorded input from students is converted into something that can actually be graded.

Chapters six, seven and eight will be the most useful for teachers.  These discuss, in turn:  features measuring fluency and pronunciation, features measuring vocabulary and grammar, and features measuring content and discourse coherence.  Experienced teachers will recognize that these three categories are quite similar to the published scoring rubrics for the TOEFL speaking section. 

In chapter six readers will learn about how the SpeechRater measures the fluency of a student by counting silences and disfluencies.  They will also learn about how it handles speed, chunking and self-corrections.  These are actually things that could influence how they prepare students for this section of the test, though I suspect that most teachers don’t need a book to tell them that silences in the middle of an answer are a bad idea.  There is also a detailed depiction of how the technology judges pronunciation, though that section was a bit to academic for me to grasp.

Chapter seven discusses grammar and vocabulary features that SpeechRater checks for.  Impressively, it just sticks them in a list.  A diligent teacher might create a sort of check list to provide to students. Finally, chapter eight discusses how the software assesses topic development in student answers.

Sadly, this book was finished just before ETS started using automated speaking scoring on high-stakes assessment.  Chapter nine discusses how the technology is used to grade TOEFL practice tests (low-stakes testing), but nothing is mentioned about its use on the actual TOEFL.  I would really love to hear more about that, particularly its ongoing relationship with the human raters who grade the same responses.

I’ve been meaning to write a review of Magoosh TOEFL for ages.  Magoosh has been around forever and is still really popular with students.  But is a good source of information?  Well, I recommend it for reading and listening practice.  It is a poor resource for writing and speaking practice.

Let’s take a closer look…

The Lessons

The lessons aren’t flashy, but they are functional.  They are mostly just the Magoosh teacher talking over a whiteboard style presentation.  Thankfully transcripts are provided, and students can speed up the videos if they find them too slow.  The lessons have all been updated for the 2019 version of the TOEFL, except for a few minor instances which the site’s editors missed.

I like the reading lessons provided by Magoosh quite a lot.  The site provides 19 video lessons, totaling about three hours of video.  Each question type is described in detail with a sample of each one.  Common “answer traps” for each type are described in separate videos.  There aren’t a whole lot of “strategies” other than pacing techniques, but I think that’s probably a fine approach.  As I’ve talked about in my own content, using strategies is probably a bad idea for this section of the test.

The listening lessons are also quite strong.  Honestly, there aren’t any good TOEFL listening lessons online, so I’d enthusiastically recommend this content.  These are presented the same as the reading lessons – videos for each section question type and for common traps.  There is more content on basic strategy here, which is probably more appropriate for the listening section.

The speaking lessons are decent.  Speaking question one is described in accurate terms, which is something that most books and websites don’t do.  Magoosh makes sure to mention the “paired choice” style prompt that is mostly ignored by other sources.  It is quite disappointing that the lessons for questions 2 to 4 use the old TOEFL “Quick Prep” sets from ETS, since students can get those for free on their own, but at least it makes the material in the lessons more accurate that most sites.  Heck… that’s what I do for many of my videos.  The templates and timing suggestions for each question (provided in separate videos) are very good.  Sadly, this is all paired with weak practice questions (see below).

The writing lessons are a bit weaker.  There are a few inaccuracies in the videos.  Early in his description of the integrated writing task, the teacher suggests that the details in the reading might be in a different order than the details in the lecture.  That’s not true.  Likewise, the lesson on the independent writing task leaves out the multiple-choice style prompts.  That’s an unfortunate over site. The lessons about constructing the essay, though, are fine.  They will lead to the creation of effective essays.  These are also paired with bad practice questions (see below).

Finally, there are a bunch of grammar videos.  I checked a few of them out and they seem fine.  Honestly, though, there are better places to study grammar.  That’s not why anyone is buying a Magoosh membership.

The Practice

Well, the writing practice is bad.  Of the seven integrated writing questions provided, only three of them are accurate (Globalization, Rococo, Trade).  The rest are badly created with either too many or too few paragraphs, points that don’t match up, or faulty ordering of points.  Sadly the very first practice question (Gone with the Wind) is especially bad.  I wish that one could be moved to the end of the practice section so fewer students would see it.  The independent writing questions are all accurate, but no multiple-choice prompts are provided.  That makes the material seem a bit dated.

The speaking practice is weak.  The practice questions for task one are all accurate… but they don’t include any of the more modern “good idea” style questions.    The sample questions for task two don’t always follow the same structure used by ETS when they create questions.  They seem to emphasize the giving of details about the changes being announced rather than two two reasons for the changes on the real test.  Moreover,  the students in the Magoosh conversations sometimes address details not mentioned in the reading part, which is unlike the real test.  For what it’s worth, I recommend two of the practice questions (vegetarian meals, college radio).  You can skip the rest.  The task three and four practice questions are fine.  I feel that the prompts are a bit too specific and verbose (the real test is more likely to ask the students to more broadly define the term or concept using the examples) the construction of the questions is acceptable here.  Students might not even notice the difference when they take the real test (which is easier).

I like the reading practice a lot.  The passages and questions all look accurate.  The authors of the passages seem to really understand how the test is put together, and they avoid all of the problems that most textbook authors make.  The tests have been updated for the new TOEFL, and the number of questions for each article has been reduced to ten.  I didn’t count the question type distribution, but it seems accurate.  I would wholeheartedly recommend this section of Magoosh.

The listening practice looks good and updated.  I would also recommend it.  It appears quite accurate.  I would also recommend it.  I love that the questions here all include detailed explanations instead of just an answer key.  A lot of work went into those. 

Verdict

If you can afford it, buy this only for listening and reading practice.  There is a ton of good content here to help you prepare for those parts of the test.  Use the speaking and writing content sparingly, and make sure to supplement with some more accurate practice questions (the Official Guide and iBT Tests books, for instance).

 

There are a few good TOEFL books.  There are a lot of bad TOEFL books.  I hope that this article helps you pick the best ones.   I’ll update and revise this list throughout the year as new books are released. At the end you can find my current list of non-recommended books and websites.

Last Updated: May 16, 2020

Books Updated to Match the New TOEFL

Kaplan’s TOEFL iBT Prep Plus 2020-2021. This was the first TOEFL textbook updated to match the new version of the test.  However, I don’t really recommend it.  The sample questions in the book are not very accurate, especially the reading and writing questions.  The questions in the sample tests (provided online) are also very inaccurate.  They just don’t match the structure and organization of questions used on the real test.  Moreover, there are only three practice tests provided online (instead of the four promised on the book’s cover).  While the book has a ton of strategies, they are organized in such a way that many students will just be left confused after reading them.  You can also read my complete review.

 

Princeton Review’s TOEFL iBT Prep was the second book this year to match the new test.   This one is much better than Kaplan’s book, but it also has a lot of accuracy 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 software included), but there are additional practice questions throughout the book. The only good part of this book is the collection of skill building exercises in the beginning.   Note that this book used to be called “Cracking the TOEFL.”  That was a stupid name.

 

Barron’s TOEFL iBT (17th Edition) was published on April 7, 2020.  This is the first edition where the entire book and the practice tests match the new version of the test.  Audio content and tests are provided online (not on CD).  Because of the ongoing COVID pandemic I haven’t been able to get a copy of the book yet, but I’ll publish a full review when I do.  I think that a Superpack featuring this book (and a couple others) will be sold in July.

 


Upcoming Books that Will Match the New TOEFL

An updated edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL  will be published in June or July of this year.  The Amazon listing says July, while the publisher’s website says June.  Keep checking here for updated information.  I’m happy to report that for the first time, audio and software content will be provided online, rather than on a DVD.  It will contain four practice tests, just like the previous edition.  I’ll write a detailed review as soon as I can get a copy for myself.

Note that on the same day as this guide is published, ETS will also publish updated versions of Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the Official iBT Tests books.

Kaplan’s 4 Practice Tests for the TOEFL will be updated on September 1, 2020.  It will also be sold as a bundle with the Kaplan book mentioned above.  It will probably suck like most of Kaplan’s TOEFL books.

Barron’s Practice Exercises for the TOEFL (Ninth Edition) will be published on October 6, 2020.  This is the first edition of the book published since 2015.  Honestly, I’ve never used this book, so I can’t comment on the quality.  Apparently it has some material related to the TOEFL ITP (used by institutions), which is neat.  I’ll try to get a copy in October.

It looks like Smart Edition’s planned “TOEFL Full Study Guide” has been cancelled or delayed.  But check Amazon if you are interested.


Best Overview of the Test

The Official Guide to the TOEFL (5th Edition)  is still probably the best overview of the test.  I’ve been teaching for a decade and I still open it up now and then to check some specific detail of the test.  Needless to say, it will teach you about all four sections of the test and the different types of questions.  It is also illustrated with plenty of examples.  Note, though, that it has not been updated to match the changes to the test that began in August of 2019.  It also contains a few errors and inaccurate sample questions (particular in the chapter on integrated writing and the first practice test).  ETS will publish a new version in June or July (see above).

 

 

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

I suppose that 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.  Note, though, that they are not updated to match the changes I mentioned above so you will have to “modify” the tests by chopping out speaking questions 1 and 5 (and by remembering the the listening and reading sections are shorter.  Note, also, that the independent writing questions are a bit old and that the real test has a greater variety of question styles.  Remember that there are two books you can get – Volume 1 (3rd edition) and Volume 2 (2nd Edition).  They have different tests.  ETS will publish new versions of these books in June or July (see above).

 

If you want some practice tests that are updated to match the new format, 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 can also read Amazon ebooks in your browser.  This book has been updated to match the new version of the test.


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 ELSE messes up.  It also includes some decent templates and concise strategies.  It isn’t bogged down with “information overload” like the Kaplan book, for example.  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 seems to de-emphasize 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 reading questions as well.

An equally good book is McGraw Hill’s 400 Essential Words for the TOEFL. It also includes some decent words, and has accurate TOEFL 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.”

 


Stuff I Don’t Like

  • “Writing for the TOEFL iBT” from Barrons – Inexcusably inaccurate sample questions
  • “Essential TOEFL Vocabulary” from McGraw-Hill – It isn’t a TOEFL book (despite the name)
  • “4 Practice Tests for the TOEFL” by Kaplan – Terrible sample tests
  • “Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL” by Nova – Needless complication
  • Edusynch – Questions are the same as the TPO and official books
  • Best My Test – Questions are the same as the TPO and official books