Note: I only review the speaking and writing sections of TOEFL books, since those are my main areas of expertise.
My overall grade for Cracking the TOEFL iBT: B-
Skills Building Content: This book has some fine content when it comes to building the skills students need to take the test. It starts with a few “drills” that help students work through the basic skills needed on the test without actually giving them real TOEFL questions, which is a nice approach. I find that it needlessly mixes skills related to the integrated and independent writing tasks instead of separating them from each other, but that isn’t too much of a problem. Some students might find the organization of this section a bit cluttered, but at least they have tons to work with.
The book later moves on to chapters that show them how to “crack” each of the sections and utilize actual TOEFL questions to do so. This is where the book starts to get bad. The problem is accuracy. I’ll cover that in the next section. Grade: B
Accuracy (Speaking): The book has good descriptions of speaking tasks one and two, but it fails to account for all possible question types. In question one it ONLY uses “describe a thing” prompts, and in question two it ONLY uses “paired choice” prompts. It totally fails to mention multiple choice, giving advice, and advantages/disadvantages questions. That’s a problem, and it suggests that the Princeton Review hasn’t been sending writers to actually TAKE the test on a regular basis. Stupid.
The book accurately depicts speaking question three and provides a good template, but the sample answer given is way too short (page 382). It took me about 30 seconds to read. That won’t score well.
The book accurately depicts speaking question four, but has a somewhat strange description, stating that the reading is “followed by an academic lecture that will either agree or disagree with the reading” (page 383). The lecture is supposed to be illustrative in nature (expanding on the content of the reading) rather than presenting an argument about it. This could seriously mislead students.
The book has an accurate depiction of question five. Sadly, this question will be removed from the test starting August 1, 2019.
The book has an accurate depiction of question six.
Accuracy (writing): This section is mostly accurate. The integrated writing questions are excellent… some of the best I’ve seen in a major textbook. I give Princeton Review a lot of praise, since most publishers mess these up badly.
The independent writing questions, however, only use the “agree/disagree” prompt type. The book totally ignores multiple choice and paired choice prompts. This means, of course, that the book has none of the “longer” question types we have observed since 2018. Again, this just feels like The Princeton Review doesn’t care enough to take the test now and again.
The book also fails to include the new warning about using memorized examples. That is a small detail, but had they sent some writers out to take the damn test they would know about it.
The book provides fine templates and some good sample essays of both types, though.
The Sample Test: Well, the book only includes one sample test, and it hasn’t been updated since at least 2016. It is probably even older than that, but that’s the oldest copy of the book I could find to compare it to. Again, the integrated writing question on the test is great… but the independent writing question is (again) an agree/disagree question.
Likewise, the independent speaking questions suffer from the limitations I noted above. Speaking questions 3 and 4 are accurate… but the order is mixed up on the test! This mistake has been in every edition of this book since at least 2016. That makes me think that Princeton Review doesn’t care. Speaking questions 5 and 6 are accurate, though, and in the right order.
Warning: Note that this book (like all books) will be somewhat out of date when the TOEFL changes on August 1, 2019.