The Complete Idiot's Guide to the TOEFL

Written by:  Elizabeth Rollins


  • Beautiful layout and organization
  • Great introduction to the reading and listening sections
  • Good speaking samples


  • Integrated writing practice is useless
  • Does not provide good answer templates
  • Not very many practice questions

The Review

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to the TOEFL" is a new offering from Alpha Books.  Sadly, it isn't a great start for the company.  While the speaking, reading and listening chapters are useful, the book's guide to the writing section is deeply flawed. 

Reading and Listening

This book offers a great overview of the reading and listening sections of the test.  The chapter on each begins with a concise summary of all of the possible question types.  Each type is explained in a straightforward manner and samples are given to illustrate the types.  Indeed, this book has the best layout I have ever seen for this type of thing.

The questions contained on the practice tests are great as well.


This book contains an accurate description of every speaking question.  In this regard, it is much better than Barron’s, which contains a few inaccuracies.  Again, it includes very concise and easy to understand descriptions of every question type.  It does not, however, include answer templates which I think every good book should include.

The practice tests contain accurate speaking questions.


The book is a huge let down in this section.  The integrated writing questions included in this book are simply not accurate.  They do not follow the point/counter-point model that the real test uses.

The integrated questions in this book do include lecture/reading combinations about the same topic just like on the real test.  But instead of being asking students to explain how the lecture casts doubt on the reading, the practice tests ask students to write essays about how they “differ.”  But since the lectures do not directly cast doubt on the readings, “differ” just means how the lecturer uses different types of examples or explanations, or how he fails to mention points mentioned in the reading.  This is NOT LIKE THE REAL TEST.  It is a whole lot more difficult than the real test and may cause students to get lower scores because they will waste their time trying to master question types they will not face on the real test.

The Final Word

If you want a bit more reading, speaking and listening practice, this is a fine book.  I can’t recommend that you buy it, however, as it is wrong to support a publisher who is hurting students by publishing inaccurate writing questions.