The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT Test is a book that everyone preparing for the TOEFL should read. I recommend every edition, and the new sixth edition is no exception.
Note: If you just want to read about what has changed in this edition, start with this blog post.
First, though, a few words about changes to the edition. This edition has, more or less, the same content as the fifth edition. However, it has been modified to match the changes to the test introduced in August of 2019. This means that the reading, listening and speaking practice tests are all a bit shorter. The chapters that describe these sections have been updated accordingly. The only new questions are the speaking questions in practice test one. Everything else is the same as before. A few of the small inaccuracies scattered throughout the the previous edition have been revised, but some of the big errors (particularly in the writing section, as will be described in a moment) remain. Digital content must now be downloaded via an access code provided in the book. I’m glad that a DVD is no longer used, but it is shameful that McGraw-Hill only allows the access code to be used twice, even if the 600 MB download fails mid-download. If your download fails twice you are screwed. Good luck finding a customer support number for the publisher. It ain’t easy.
Anyways, the content here is mostly strong. The book doesn’t really focus on strategies but instead aims to accurately describe how the test is constructed, and what the questions look like. Descriptions of all of the question types are given, along with multiple sample questions of each. This comes in especially handy when students are studying for the reading and listening sections. Overall, this makes the book a really valuable resource, since most third party books provide misleading sample questions and inaccurate descriptions of test items. I find that if students actually understand the patterns of the test and how it is created they are able to improve their performance and study properly. If you want to know exactly what the test looks like, this is the book for you!
In this regard, the reading, listening and speaking chapters are great. The writing chapter falls short, though. Inexplicably, the authors provide a grossly inaccurate sample integrated writing question, with a reading consisting of only two paragraphs in total. The matching lecture is similarly inaccurate. What’s worse is that the integrated writing question in the first sample test is similarly flawed. These two flaws have been part of the book since the first edition was published 15 years ago, and it pains me to see them reprinted in edition after edition after edition. Likewise, the big list of sample independent questions included on pages 210 to 213 contains a bunch of prompt styles no longer used on the test. I’m pretty sure they are all leftovers from the CBT version of the test, as they have also been in the book since the first edition was published.
I will also point out that while the software used for the sample tests is functional, it is quite dated and clunky, which makes it a poor simulation of the real test. It is about time for Mcgraw-Hill to replace that with something more elegant, similar to what Barron’s is now using for their line of TOEFL prep books.