A new edition of Barron’s TOEFL iBT Writing by Lin Lougheed was published last month.  I wrote a review of the previous edition a couple of years ago.  This is basically the same book, so I will keep this review short.  There are just a couple of things I want to emphasize.

The first point is that this book has inaccurate practice questions.  It seems quite clear that the book was originally based on a very close reading of the first edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL (which you can borrow from the Open Library) and has not been revised to reflect more recent developments.  That’s problematic, as the first Official Guide was mostly written before the iBT even launched, and it contains quite a few bad questions.  Both of its integrated questions are totally unlike what is used on the real test.  It also contains a big list of independent questions that were used on the old TOEFL CBT. 

Sadly, the Barron’s book reproduces these flaws.  It contains a bunch of integrated questions based on two paragraph articles (instead of four like on the real test), and some that are descriptive instead of argumentative.  The former flaw is right out of the first Official Guide.  To my eye, only one single integrated writing question in the book (the one about Shakespeare) resembles the real test.  Meanwhile, the parts of the book about the independent writing question mostly reproduce the exact questions included in the Official Guide, including a lot of open-ended questions that will never show up on the real test.  The end result of all of this is that students will be confused on test day, and will waste their time studying in an inefficient way.

It has been sixteen years since the TOEFL iBT launched.  The editors of this book need to read some of the materials published by ETS in the years since the launch to gain a better idea of what the real test is like.  A quick perusal of the sixth edition of the Official Guide, as well as the  two Official iBT Tests books will give them a clear idea of how to write accurate integrated questions.

The second point I want to emphasize is that the book does have some fantastic stuff about creating essays.  I love the sections about how to craft clear thesis statements.  It also has sections on parallel structures and vocabulary variation, which are topics I have to teach my students about every week.  Not only that, but it has an amazing bit about writing simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.  That is critically important subject material, and no other TOEFL book touches on it.  It is a shame that this wonderful content is paired up with such shoddy practice questions.

I really want to love this book.  The other two TOEFL books in the Barron’s line have improved quite a lot in recent editions.  My hope is that this one improves just as much when the eighth edition is published.

Note:  Barron’s sometimes has problems with its online audio files.  I haven’t checked them all.   Good luck.

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