The eighth edition of “TOEFL Essential Words” by Steven J. Matthiesen was published a few days ago.  So far it is only available as an ebook, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that a printed version will be provided soon.  Note that previous editions of the book were published as “Essential Words for the TOEFL.”

This remains one of my favorite TOEFL books. While it focuses on just a small slice of one’s preparation for the TOEFL it handles that slice very well.  

So what does it contain?

After providing a brief overview of the TOEFL Test, a detailed overview of the TOEFL reading section, and a few notes about “improving your TOEFL Vocabulary,” the book gets to what people really want – words.  Thirty lessons worth of words, to be exact.

Each lesson consists of:

  • About 17 words
  • Dictionary-style definitions of each word
  • A synonym quiz
  • 10 TOEFL vocabulary questions featuring the words
  • An answer key

This is great.  You can use the above to learn about 500 words that might appear in the reading section of the TOEFL.  This makes the book a valuable part of a healthy TOEFL study plan.

A decent (but not perfect) reading practice test is provided at the very end of the book.  It consists of three articles with 13 questions (all types, not just vocabulary) for each.

Curious about the “difficulty level” of the words?  Here is a list of five words chosen via a random number generator:

  • Elicit
  • Partisan
  • Aggravating
  • Exceptional
  • Selective

Note that the words seem to be pretty much the same as those contained in the seventh edition of the book.  I spent a decent amount of time checking the editions side by side, but didn’t notice any differences.  I am sure some edits were made in the preparation of this edition, but I didn’t spot any.  That is a bit of a let down, as every previous edition of this book contained a decent amount of revisions.

That brings me to the bad part of this review. As most readers know, the TOEFL iBT Test was shortened this year. Chapter 1 of this book was revised to reflect these changes… but the revision was done poorly. The chapter incorrectly states the amount of time given to complete the reading section, the number of listening passages, and the amount of time given to complete the writing section.  It also incorrectly states the amount of time given to prepare for the speaking tasks.  Since this appears to be the only stuff actually revised in this edition, I’m a bit disappointed. This doesn’t take away from the value of the actual content people will study, so it isn’t a big deal… but someone should have done better.

It is worth mentioning that the book also attempts to explain the specifics of the TOEFL ITP, which is a whole different test that I suspect most readers will have no interest in.  For the sake of coherence, that content should probably be shuffled off to a separate chapter, where it can be easily ignored.

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