As I’ve written here in the past, I dream of students who begin to prepare for the TOEFL far in advance of actually taking the test. A huge problem students have with the TOEFL is that they lack the ability to comprehend academic texts in English. And by the time they realize this problem, it is far too late to really do anything about it. All they can do is familiarize themselves with the question styles, learn a few “strategies” and hope for the best.
In my dream world, though, students start preparing for the TOEFL a couple of years in advance. Or they spend all of their undergraduate years working on their English skills. If someone reads a non-fiction book a month for four years, they’ll ace the reading section of the TOEFL. Really. That person will develop the required comprehension skills and the required vocabulary to do well without using a single “strategy.” Not only that, but they’ll be totally comfortable reading academic texts (something that even native speakers struggle with).
Anyways, I’ve been working on a list of books I’d recommend to such a student. A little while ago I wrote about Reading for Thinking. Today I want to write about a fun book called The Science Class You Wish You Had. This book fits all of my criteria for recommendation:
- It covers a lot of the same topics used in the TOEFL reading section
- It is written using language at a similar level to the TOEFL reading section
- It is divided into chunks somewhat similar in length to the TOEFL reading section
In particular, this book covers scientific topics, and takes a “history of science” approach, which is something that often shows up on the test. It attempts to introduce readers to the “seven greatest scientific discoveries in history” which are:
- Gravity and the basic laws of physics
- The structure of the atom
- The Big Bang
- The cell and genetics
Each of these gets a chapter, and the chapters are each broken into short essays of about 5 to 10 paragraphs in length. Obviously that is longer than what you’ll see on the TOEFL, but it is close enough. This is the sort of book that you might give to a recent high school graduate preparing for their freshman year. That’s absolutely perfect in terms of difficulty level, as the TOEFL reading passages are generally designed to look like they came from freshman textbooks.
To use your time most efficiently, you may wish to skip the chapter on relativity as that is way more abstract than what you will find on the test… but I’ve always found the most difficult TOEFL reading passages are those that deal with abstract concepts, so maybe just struggle through it.
There ya go. Read this book. By the time you finish with it, I’ll have a recommendation that covers history or the social sciences.