Cracking the TOEFL: 2016

Published by: The Princeton Review

​Pros:

  • Tons of practice questions for all question types (except integrated writing)
  • Integrated writing questions that are more accurate than most other books
  • Excellent speaking and writing templates

Cons:

  • Needlessly complicated sections on “core” English skills
  • Only one complete practice test
  • Integrated writing questions still not completely accurate
  • Not enough integrated writing practice (just two questions in total)

The Review

Cracking the TOEFL has a new edition for  2015/2016.  Princeton Review’s book has always been one of the longest TOEFL practice books available, and most of the nearly six hundred pages here are packed with good content.  Here’s a rundown of what you’ll find in this edition.

Reading

There are two reading sections in this book - “Core Concept: Reading” and “Cracking the Reading Section.”  

The Core Concept section focuses on improving the overall reading fluency of students preparing for the TOEFL.  That’s a tall order for textbook with a limited scope, but the author does a fairly good job of running through what it calls “active reading” skills.  Developing these skills is exactly the sort of thing I recommend to students who have a lot of time to prepare for the test.  Students with just a few days or a week to get ready might find this section something of a waste of time.  However, it does contain a good number of academic articles that will serve as good practice texts even if students don’t have time for the broad activities in the rest of the chapter.

The “Cracking the Reading” section describes all of the possible reading question types students will find on the test and the author suggests specific strategies for dealing with each.  The best part of this section are the six reading drills that it contains - six complete articles with about a dozen questions to accompany each.  That’s a ton of good content.

Listening

As above, the book contains a “Core Concepts” chapter and a “Cracking the Listening” section.

The core concept section is similar to what is found in the reading section.  Without yet focusing on specific TOEFL questions, it aims to teach students how to comprehend and analyze conversations and lectures. Improving fluency is perhaps beyond the scope of a book like this, but the author does an admirable job of teaching some fundamental skills.  Sadly, though, this section contains only one academic lecture and one conversation to practice with.

The “Cracking” section goes into question types and solving strategies in detail.  it includes a lot of good ideas that should help students on test day.  As above, the best part of this section are the five “drills” (two conversations and three lectures), each of which are accompanied by six questions.  Again, that is a ton of good practice content.

Speaking

No surprise - the speaking section of the book contains a “Core concepts” and a “Cracking” chapter.

The “Core Concepts” section on speaking is fairly brief.  It focuses mainly on broad skills that are useful for solving type one and two speaking questions.  I think the author might have been better off focusing more specifically on TOEFL speaking skills, but it is still a useful chapter for students who have a lot of time to prepare for the test.

The “Cracking” section begins, oddly, with some more fluency exercises that might have been better off in the core concepts section.  Odd.  However, the chapter becomes very useful when it gets to actual question types.  The author explains each type and includes answer templates that are almost as good as mine.  I’m a strong believer in the value of templates for both the speaking and writing section, so I’m glad that they are included here.  The drill set found in this chapter consists of one question of each type.  Again, that’s a good amount of practice content.

Writing

The “Core Concepts” section on writing has some good stuff, but it is jumbled up in a way that may leave people who speak English as a second language somewhat confused.  It contains everything students need to improve their overall writing skills, but even I couldn’t really discern the logical behind its organization.  That’s unfortunate.

The “Cracking” section is quite strong.  As he did for speaking, the author provides some basic templates that students should pay special attention to.  He also includes detailed explanations for each writing question type, though I note that he includes the “supporting” type 1 type, which ETS has seemingly phased out of the TOEFL.  This section contains five drills, but sadly only one of them is an integrated type.  Students need as many integrated questions as possible, but it seems like Princeton Review was too cheap to commission very many for this book.  A problem that I do have with the drill section here is that the “high scoring” sample integrated essay is way too short.  I don’t really believe that an essay with three-sentence body paragraphs would get a perfect score.  Fortunately, the high scoring sample essays given for independent drill questions are quite strong and demonstrate proper practices and skills.

Practice Test

You only get one practice test with this book.  That’s less than most books, which might make students shy away from this book.  Don’t let that discourage you, though - the content contained throughout both the “Cracking” and “Core Concept” chapters provides lots of practice material.

The practice test is good, but the integrated writing question isn’t exactly accurate.  It is a casting doubt question (which is all that appears on the real test now), however the real TOEFL  is almost guaranteed to have three points and three counterpoints that match up precisely and are presented in matching order.  This test contains FOUR counterpoints which are presented in a mixed-up order (the drill mentioned above does the same thing).  This sort of oversight is inexcusable, but it must be noted that the questions here are better than many other popular books.