Review: English Live Online TOEFL Preparation Course

Woman on Computer

The TOEFL Course offered by English Live is not very good. Don’t use it.

The questions in the course are not very accurate, and English Live (also doing business as Education First) should know better. To illustrate, let’s look at a few of their sample questions, chosen at random.

Integrated Writing, Question Two (Animism)

  • The reading section in the question has three paragraphs, while the real test always has three.
  • The reading lacks an overall argument and (obviously) three supporting reasons. The real test always has this. In the sample question the reading just describes an academic term.
  • The lecture also lacks the “three counterpoints” structure of the real test.
  • The question prompt asks students to “distinguish between the two views presented on the topic” which the real test never does.
  • Basically, on the real test ETS uses a very specific structure which is not presented here. This limits the usefulness of the practice question.

Integrated Writing, Question Eight (The Titanic)

  • Again, we’ve got just paragraphs in the reading. The real test always has four.
  • There is no argument in the reading. It just describes the building of the titanic. On the real test, students will see an argument with three supporting reasons or a problem with three possible solutions (or vice versa). There is nothing even close to that here… the reading is just a description of the launch and sinking of the Titanic… and the box office revenue of the movie based on the sinking!
  • Obviously there is nothing for the lecture to challenge, which is the sole purpose of the lecture on the real test. In this sample question the lecture just talks about the discovery of the Titanic and exploration of the wreck. There is absolutely no way to turn this into a TOEFL question. This is a completely useless practice exercise.
  • The question prompt says: “Summarize the points made in the reading and explain why the Titanic has continued to fascinate people all over the world.
  • This question is complete and utter garbage and Education First should be ashamed of charging money for it.

It seems to me that all of the integrated writing questions are terrible. But how about the independent writing questions? They are just as bad. Only two out of the ten practice questions match the patterns used on the test. Wow.

Let’s just to a few random speaking questions

Speaking Question Two, Sample 1

  • On the real test, the reading is an announcement of a change, or a letter proposing a change. On this sample question, the reading is just a list of rules for a chemistry lab. No change is announced. This is not an accurate question.

Speaking Question Two, Sample 6

  • The reading is totally fine. It describes a change on campus, and gives two reasons for it.
  • The conversation is pretty bad. On the real test the student first mentions one specific reason in support of her opinion, and then gives a second specific reason in support of her opinion. These reasons directly refer to the two reasons given in the announcement for the change. That doesn’t happen in this sample

Speaking Question Three, Sample 1 (Benedict Arnold)

  • The reading in the sample question is a biography. This isn’t done on the real test. The real test introduces an academic term, process or concept.
  • On the real test, the lecture provides an example (or examples) of the term, concept or idea from the reading. Obviously that isn’t possible here. The lecture just continues the biography. This is terrible.
  • The question prompt says: “The text and lecture cover two distinct periods of Benedict Arnold’s life. Summarize the major points made. ” This isn’t even close to the real test, which will ask students something like ” “Explain the concept of _____ using the examples of ____ and ____ given in the lecture.”

Speaking Question Three, Sample 8 (Eugenics)

  • The reading is fine. It introduces an academic topic with details. It is too long, but only slightly.
  • The real test sure as hell isn’t going to talk about a controversial topic like eugenics, though.
  • The lecture fails to produce an example (or two examples) of the concept. It merely describes the concept in more detail. This makes the question useless for preparation. It is nothing like the real test.
  • The prompt asks students to “Describe the concept of eugenics as it has been applied to humans, and relay racist and classist ideas inherent in the concept.” This is just so different from the real test that I have to believe the author of the question hasn’t even read the Official Guide to the TOEFL, or looked at ANY official materials from ETS.

Speaking Question Four, Sample 3 (Tornadoes)

  • Terrible. The structure is all wrong. I’m tired now. Stop doing this to me, English Live.

But how about the independent speaking questions? Surprisingly, they are pretty accurate. I like that they are really long, which is a recent trend that has been observed. However, are all paired choice types, and there are no agree/disagree, multiple choice or agree/disagree style questions. This is a major problem.

Conclusion

I think I will leave it at that. Overall, the content I looked at was all pretty terrible. I think the source of the problem is that Education First appears to have outsourced the creation of its practice materials to TestDEN. Blindly trusting a third party for your content is not a smart idea, as it involves placing your reputation in the hands of people who might lack the requisite expertise to do a good job. It is worth mentioning here that this is the problem that EduSynch has run into. They have an amazing platform and a lot of enthusiasm… but they are using garbage questions from Best My Test that compromise their whole operation.

Anyways. If you want practice TOEFL questions don’t get ’em from English Live/Education First.

3 Comments

  1. Hey Michael,

    So in summary, the only content that is trustworthy….is yours? Seems like an interesting, “objective” assessment of the market to only recommend content that you create and charge for. Is ETS content even good enough?

    As a lowly TOEFL blog and teacher, I understand why you’d degrade a company like EF, TestDen, and even EduSynch, as they have developed products that you couldn’t create if you had millions of dollars and years of time.

    Anyone reading this, be wary of the TOEFL Resources content. I’ve paid for essay corrections and found the service very expensive and significantly worse than the preparation resources I got for a fraction of the price from EduSynch and EF.

    1. In fact, I don’t charge for any content whatsoever. All of my content is 100% free. I charge for teaching, but never for content or sample questions. Furthermore, nowhere in this review did I mention my own content or endorse my own services. I merely cataloged the many errors in the EF content.

      Here’s the thing. EF and TestDen are selling absolute crap. I mean, just read the blog post you’ve responded to. It is all crap. Can you refute what I said?

      I’m okay if free content has errors. Lord knows mine does. You get what you pay for. But if a company is charging people for something, they have a moral responsibility to actually know what they are talking about. EF does not. And last I checked Best My Test and EduSych were selling content that is just ripped out of the Official Guide and the plagiarized TPO sets! Again, if you are charging people money for something you have a moral obligation to not sell stolen material.

      You didn’t even mention my review of Kaplan. I was even harder on them than EF. That’s a company worth BILLIONS OF DOLLARS that is selling terrible TOEFL textbooks. Go seek it out – I’m sure you’ll love reading that one.

  2. You know, it’s weird, when I look up the names “James Cardigan” and “TOEFL” in Facebook, I find a profile for someone promoting “Edusych” in their timeline and out of the 29 friends you/he/she have, one of them is Sean Lorenzo Killachand, the founder of Edusync, the same site you recommend in your criticism of this article.

    It’s strange to see you trash this article as a self-proclaimed “lowly TOEFL blog and teacher,” and then recommend the site you promote in your FB timeline and have a mutual friendship with on FB.

    ***For anyone else reading this article, look at the source of the information you are getting and decide for yourself who you trust. If you are interested in my own opinion, there is no one who I trust more on TOEFL matters than Michael Goodine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *