I found a copy of Kaplan’s TOEFL Pocket Vocabulary from 2018, and thought you guys might like a quick review.  

Here’s what you get in this book:

  • Thirty lists of words, containing 600 words in total.  Each includes a definition, sample sentence and other forms of the work (adjective, verb, noun, adverb, etc).
  • Twenty-one lists of idioms, containing 420 idioms in total.  Each includes a definition and sample sentence.
  • A handful of fill-in-the-blanks multiple choice exercises to help you remember the above.
  • No TOEFL practice questions.

This is probably a useful book, though some people might find the vocabulary a little too easy.  For your reference, here are the words in list 23: attitude, level, repel, uniform, trend, function, comment, lecture, emphasis, analysis, hypothesis, circumstance, strategy, tradition, regime, target, era, authority, generation, hierarchy. 

As you can see, some of those are “advanced” vocabulary, but others are pretty basic.  I suppose this means the book is suitable for an intermediate student.

More valuable, perhaps, is the collection of idioms.  Most ESL students will be able to learn quite a lot from those lists.  I don’t usually recommend the use of idioms on the TOEFL, but I know a lot of students (and some teachers) are obsessed with them.

If this book doesn’t appeal to you, I also recommend the “Barron’s” TOEFL Vocabulary book.  It contains somewhat more technical words and accurate TOEFL practice questions.

I read a couple of books about tests this month.  They might not be particularly interesting to TOEFL students, but teachers who read this blog might enjoy them.

First up, I read Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews.  It describes how Jaime Escalante prepared underprivileged students in East Los Angeles  to take the AP Calculus Exam in the 1970s and 80s.  Escalante’s unique approach to this task yielded amazing (and unprecedented) results.  I don’t know if his techniques would work forty years later, but this is a great book for anyone interested in teaching and in the value of testing.  It is also a great advertisement for the AP program, which continues to this day.  Readers might also benefit from its sketch of how public schools operated in LA during those decades.  They faced challenges then, and they face challenges now.

One incident in the book stood out to me.  In 1982, ETS (yes, ETS) determined that several of Escalante’s students may have cheated on the test.  Their suspicious were due in part to a controversial mathematical analysis called a “K Index.”  They were told that they could do one of three things:  cancel the test and get a refund, take the test again, or submit additional information.  The students were told that if they provided additional information, it would be reviewed by a panel of three ETS officials.  They would only have to convince one of the members of the panel to have their scores restored. Or they could turn it all over to the American Arbitration Association.

Skip ahead to 2022, and that’s almost exactly what some students are told when ETS challenges their TOEFL scores.  The mathematical analysis is different of course, but everything else remains the same.  Funny, that.

Next, I read Michael Young’s “The Rise of the Meritocracy: 1870-2033”   Young was a sociologist who coined the term “meritocracy.”  But this book is not in praise of meritocracy, as most are.  The book is actually a dystopia that uses the rise of intelligence testing in the 1940s and 50s as its launching point.  Young tracks a fictional history of the United Kingdom as it slips into a more and more segregated and caste-like society due to its emphasis on “merit” above all else.  It is an interesting thought-experiment.  Especially in 2022 when the general consensus seems to be that meritocracy is always a good thing. I think there is something in here that explains part of our current political chaos, but I’m going to keep the blog politics-free for now. But for more on this topic, check out this debate on IQ2.  Or my review of “The Big Test” a few months ago.

 

 

A few notes from the publishing world:

  1.  Book Depository now lists the 2023 edition of Princeton Review’s “TOEFL iBT” with an on-sale date of February 2023.  I think this one will be almost identical to the 2022 and 2021 editions.  Princeton Review sometimes fixes small typos, but doesn’t seem enthusiastic about making large revisions.
  2.  Book depository also has listings for new editions of all four TOEFL books from Harper Collins with on-sale dates in May and June of 2023.  I like those books, so new editions are certainly welcome.  The existing editions were published many years ago.
  3. Barron’s is now selling an ebook version of their most recent TOEFL iBT book!  That’s the first ebook edition of a major TOEFL book I have seen in ages.

It is about time for me to write a new “best TOEFL books” blog post.  Keep an eye out for that.

People often ask me how to get the digital access code when they buy an ebook of the Official Guide to the TOEFL, or one of the TOEFL iBT Tests books from ETS.  ETS doesn’t make it easy to find the code, since it isn’t included within the text and they don’t email it directly.

To find the code, here’s what you should do:

  • Sign in to your account on ETS.org/toefl
  • Click on “My Test Preparation”
  • Check the “action” column for a code or link to a code
  • Enjoy!

And that’s where to find the download code for your TOEFL ebook.  This only works if you bought the ebook directly from ETS.

ETS is now offering a 60 hour course called the “Official TOEFL iBT Prep Course.”  This is the first time ETS has sold a course for the TOEFL iBT, I think. According to some posts I saw on LinkedIn, it will be delivered via the E2 language learning platform (just don’t try to buy it direct from the E2 website, as the course sold there is different). I don’t know much about the content of ETS’s program, but they describe it this way:

The Official TOEFL iBT Prep Course has more than 60 hours of content and 200+ activities to help you prepare for the TOEFL iBT test and build the English skills you need in an academic setting. With unlimited access during the 6-month subscription, this self-paced course features in-depth lessons and activities, pre- and post-tests, and score ranges for the Speaking and Writing post-tests using the same automated scoring technology as in the actual TOEFL iBT test!

It costs $129.99. 

If you pay $20 more, you get all of the above plus “Speaking feedback on fluency, pronunciation and language use in pre- and post-tests and several activities within the course” and “scoring on TOEFL iBT-like activities.” I guess that means some of your practice answers will be submitted to the ETS SpeechRater and e-rater.

You can purchase the course by visiting this page. I will probably buy access in the near future.

There are a few good TOEFL books.  There are a lot of bad ones.  I hope this article helps you make the right choices.   I’ll update and revise this list throughout the year as new books are released. At the end you can find a list of stuff I don’t like, and a list of stuff that will be published in the future.  You can also skip to my master index of TOEFL book reviews.

Last Updated: December 19, 2021

For an Overview of the Test…

The Official Guide to the TOEFL (6th Edition)  is  the book with the best overview of the test.  Everyone who is studying for the TOEFL (or teaching for the TOEFL) should have a copy. It describes all four sections of the test and the question types in each section.  It also includes plenty of examples and four complete practice tests.  Note that is also contains a few errors and inaccurate sample questions (particularly in the chapter on integrated writing and the first practice test).  For a closer look at the test, check out my complete review.

 

For an additional overview of the test, I recommend a couple of online TOEFL courses from our friends at TST Prep. Sometimes a course is better than a book, of course.  First up, check out their Score Builder Program, which is a twenty hour course covering the entire test.  The program also includes ten practice test and a bunch of extras.  A cheaper alternative is their TOEFL Emergency Course, which is a bit shorter.  In both cases, try the coupon code “goodine10off” to get a 10% discount on your purchase.

 

Finally, I recommend Barron’s TOEFL iBT (17th edition).  This book has improved quite a lot in the past couple of editions, and I think it can be a valuable study tool.  The accuracy of its practice tests and questions isn’t as good as the above two sources, but there is quite a lot of content in the book.  It contains eight complete practice tests along with additional practice questions.  It also contains decent chapters on vocabulary and grammar.

For Practice TOEFL Tests…

First up, I recommend Volume One and Volume Two of the Official TOEFL iBT Tests Collection.  Each book contains five good practice tests.  The most recent editions (look for their green covers) were heavily revised by ETS, and finally represent perfect practice tests! Everyone preparing for the TOEFL must complete these practice tests. All of them!

Next I recommend the ten practice tests sold online by TST Prep.  These are the best practice tests you will get from a third-party publisher.  Again, try the coupon code “goodine10off” for a 10% discount.  Note that they are the same tests you will find in the Score Builder Program mentioned above. 

As a special bonus, they’ve also got one test available as an e-book on Amazon.  I’m credited as an editor on that test!

For TOEFL Reading…

I really like Kathy Spratt’s “Mastering the Reading Section for the TOEFL iBT“.  Now in its third edition, this book is viewed by most students and teachers as the definitive TOEFL reading book.  Indeed, it’s the only one I recommend.  It covers all of the TOEFL reading question types and provides strategies that might help you solve them.  It is updated for the new TOEFL.

 

For TOEFL Listening, Speaking and Writing…

Well, there isn’t much available for these sections of the test.  There are a few old scraps you might check out, though.  They are:

For TOEFL Vocabulary…

I don’t usually recommend TOEFL vocabulary books.  I don’t think that studying vocabulary lists is helpful, and the new TOEFL introduced in 2019 has fewer vocabulary questions. That said, students always ask me to recommend books.  I generally suggests that they get “Essential Words for the TOEFL” from Barron’s.  I like the difficulty level of the words, and it contains a bunch of realistic practice questions.  As an alternative, you might check out McGraw-Hill’s “400 Words for the TOEFL.”  It contains practice questions as well.

For TOEFL Grammar…

Don’t buy a “TOEFL Grammar” book.  Just get the 5th edition of English Grammar in Use from Cambridge University Press. This book has been around forever, and it is still fantastic.  After getting a copy, you can check out my list of  recommended units to study.  if you want even more content,  Cambridge sells a supplementary book with more practice questions.  Note that this book is also published as “Grammar in Use – Intermediate.”

For lower level students (writing scores below 20), I recommend something a bit easier like “Basic Grammar in Use.”

Upcoming TOEFL Books

There isn’t much on the horizon, but a few things are worth mentioning:

Stuff I don’t Recommend 

  • Princeton Review’s “TOEFL iBT” – Decent, but the alternatives are much better.
  • Barron’s “TOEFL iBT Writing” – Bad practice questions
  • The two Kaplan branded TOEFL books – Bad.  Need to be updated.
  • Best My Test – Not Great
  • EduSynch – Weirdly similar to Best My Test
  • Nova’s “Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL”  – Curse of Knowledge?

 

The Open Library now offers a copy of Compass Publishing’s “Mastering Skills for the TOEFL iBT Advanced (Listening).”  You can borrow it for an hour, or for a couple of weeks with a free account.  Here’s a link.  You can quickly access the audio files from the publisher.

This is a great book full of accurate listening content that will be new to 99.9% of people reading this blog.  The book is from a Korean publisher, which means its content is way more accurate than most TOEFL books and websites.

Even if you ignore the skill building content, this is a great opportunity to complete two full listening practice tests.  And, as you probably know, everyone ought to complete all of the practice tests they can get their hands on.

I check Open Library every day for new TOEFL books.  Most of the time I am disappointed with the selections, but I got really excited today when I saw this one!

A visitor requested a single collection of all of my “You Should Read More” blog posts.  Here is the master index.  You should probably start with the later entries, since the first few entries are a bit sloppy.

I intend to write one post per month, and will add them to the list as they are created. 

Through this series of blog posts, I hope to encourage students to read more.  Improving our reading skills is the only reliable way to improve our TOEFL reading scores.  Too often students try to learn “tricks” and “strategies” for the reading section, when they ought to be learning how to read better

The blog posts recommend a variety of things to read.  Some of them include links to magazine articles I’ve read.  Others recommend fiction and non-fiction books that I’ve read and enjoyed, and even a few audio books.   Some of these will be easy to find online or at your local library.  Some of them will be harder to find.  Just keep clicking around until you locate something that you enjoy.

And, of course, I’m always happy to read stuff that you recommend!  If you’ve got something to share, please leave a comment.

PS:  Let me know if you find any broken links.

 

Developing Writing Skills for IELTS: A Researched-Based Approach” is a surprisingly weak IELTS text, considering the reputation of Rutledge, the publisher of the book.

The title calls it a “research based approach” but there isn’t much of what I would call “research” in the book.

What you get here is a description of the IELTS scoring rubrics, and a collection of sample paragraphs taken from student essays. Each sample is followed by a question like “what is the topic sentence?” or “Is the topic sentence focused and clear?” The same questions are repeated again and again, following a series of samples.  Each chapter contains different questions.

And that’s the bulk of the book. It is pretty basic stuff. There isn’t much in here about HOW to write a topic sentence, or HOW to make a topic sentence focused and clear. Indeed, there is very little instruction in the book at all. Students merely read sample paragraphs (and sometimes complete essays) and answer questions about them. Students are hungry for information about how to actually put together their essays – the more specific the better. But that specificity isn’t really found here.

On the plus side, there are a few sample essays with scores attached to them, which is something that all students like to have. There is also a decent “question bank.” I like that, but since the IELTS people are really generous with sample questions I don’t think there is a great need for more samples.

It must be noted that while the book is 276 pages, a lot of that is duplicated content. The aforementioned samples and questions are on page 21 to 110, while pages 181 to 272 seem to have the exact same content, but with answers inserted into the text.

For this month’s column, I want to pivot a little bit.  I’m going to discuss audio books and where to get them.  I know this isn’t exactly reading but obviously some good audiobooks can help a lot with your English skills.

Fortunately, there are a few ways for students to access audiobooks for free (or cheap).  Here’s what you should know.

Option One – Libby

Those of you who live in Canada and the United States can get free audiobooks and ebooks from Libby.  This Android and iPhone app is used by public libraries to distribute both audiobooks and ebooks.  Just enter your library card number and you’re good to go.  And if you don’t have a library card… go and get one.  It’s easy.  The only drawback with Libby is that you can expect long wait times for popular titles.  Instructions for using the app can be found right here.  I have seen Libby used outside of North America, so take a moment to check with your library wherever you are.

Option Two – Hoopla

I love Hoopla.  I really love Hoopla.  This is sort of a “Netflix of Random Junk” used by Libraries to provide content to patrons (for free) with no waiting times.  It’s got TV shows, movies, ebooks, audiobooks, comics, music… all sorts of stuff.  A lot of it is random crap that is pretty hard to enjoy, but if you know what you are looking for there are some real gems here.  Again, you just need a library card number to access it.  Here’s the Play Store link.  It is also available for iPhones, of course.  This one is strictly Canada/US.

Option Three – Audible

Well, okay.  Now we get to the paid services.  The most popular is Amazon’s Audible.  This one costs money, but when you sign up you can get two free books right away.  You can cancel the subscription before paying anything and still keep your books.  If you sign up at this link, I’ll get a few dollars.  When you cancel, check the “it costs too much” box and they’ll probably give you more free books.

Option Four – The Rest

Uh, there are a few other audiobook sellers online.  I’ll try to summarize those in another post.  They all provide a few free books before you have to pay anything.

Some Stuff

This month I’ve been listening to short science fiction stories from 2019.  I like to listen to them as I run.   Below is a list of my favorites.  If you don’t want to get them in audio form, they are all available on Kindle and in paperback.

  • Permafrost, by Alastair Reynolds. This is a really gripping time travel story. I was hooked right from the in media res opening – someone’s dead, someone else is a bit stabbed, and the plane is running out of gas. It’s a fairly short novella, so I’ll spare any specific details. Basically, though, the premise is that an ecological catastrophe has befallen the earth in the near future, and “World Health” is attempting to use a novel time travel method to recover from it. The best short SF from 2019 that I’ve come across, so far.  Note that the audiobook is narrated by a woman with a Russian accent.
  • Desdemona and the Deep, by CSE Cooney. This is an interesting one. Sort of a comedy of manners in a fantasy setting. Our hero, Desdemona Mannering (get it?) is the sort of person who doesn’t appreciate art, but does collect a lot of artists. She goes to cocktail parties and fundraisers. She drinks a lot.  She’s shallow. Eventually, Desdemona discovers that her father is a really terrible businessman. She’s going to have to descend into the worlds below to undo all of his evils.  Imagine that Ivanka Trump has to save our souls.
  • To be Taught, if Fortunate, by Becky Chambers.  There isn’t much of a plot here, but I recommend it to everyone preparing for the TOEFL.  It’s about a happy bunch of astronauts who visit four planets and observe the life on them.  Along the way, the narrator explains basic scientific concepts.  See?  It’s sort of like a TOEFL put into fiction.  The audiobook narrator even SOUNDS like a TOEFL listening section lecturer.  There is a mildly interesting sliver of story between planets, but it is pretty basic. 
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djeli Clark. Quite a lot of good stuff here! The depiction of an alternate Cairo (in the 1910s) where Egypt has become a world power is atmospheric as heck. We really get a sense of all the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the place. The goal here seems to be the depiction of what a decolonized Egypt would look like at this critical juncture, but the story used to set up that backdrop is enjoyable. Depicting a pair of bureaucrats trying to deal with a the titular haunting (on a budget!) it moves briskly enough and is funny at the right moments. The climax hits with some more-than-welcome action.  This is a sequel to A Dead Djinn in Cairo, but you can read them in either order.  Note that the audiobook narrator has an middle-eastern accent.
  • In An Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire.  Take Alice in Wonderland, Adam Smith and Proverbs 22:7.  Mix together in a blender.  You’ve got “In An Absent Dream.” 

That’s all for this month.  The February column will have short non-fiction articles about science topics.

 

It has come to my attention that some copies of the Indian edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL were printed without a digital access code for the audio files and software.  Those are supposed to be contained in an envelope at the back labeled “Digital Access Code.”

Some readers have been able to get an access code by sending an email to McGraw Hill India at [email protected]

It may not be necessary, but if you email support, I recommend including the ISBN number of the book, as well as a picture of the book to prove that you bought a copy.  Obviously a receipt would help too, but that could be tricky.

You can also call the Indian office at : 1800 103 5875 

Hey, I found a new library!  That’s a big deal. The thing is, I live in a working class part of Seoul with a somewhat poor library system.  That’s because we don’t really have money for libraries.  But I learned this month that my district (only) has reciprocal lending privileges with the city of Gwangmyeong (just across the river), which has very nice libraries.  That means this installment of “You Should Read More” has a few interesting titles.  This list includes one great book that was recommended by a reader.  If you’ve got any books that I ought to track down, please leave a comment below.  I’ll do my best to find a copy.

First up, I read “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz.  You can read this for free via the Open Library (or you can just buy it on Amazon).   This is the one that was recommended to me by a reader.  I’m glad they took the time to make the suggestion, as this is an absolutely perfect book to sharpen your academic reading skills for the TOEFL.  The paradox mentioned in the title is the idea that the overwhelming number of choices we have in the modern world (and are free to pursue) cause us to feel stress and anxiety.  The author supposes that we would be happier with fewer choices to make or if we could learn to focus on choices that really matter. What makes this a great book for future TOEFLers is that the book describes a series of academic terms or concepts (one after another) and then illustrates them using examples from the author’s life, or by describing simple experiments.  It’s basically speaking question four… in book form.  Indeed, students might want to try listening to the audiobook version instead of reading the book!  Seriously, if I were tasked with making a practice test, I might grab this book and use it to create questions about “maximizing,” “second-order decisions,” “opportunity costs,” “omission bias,” “regret aversion,” and a half-dozen other concepts.  Indeed, I’m sure that most of these have appeared on the test at some point in the past 15 years.  For what it’s worth, the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease score for a random selection of text I tested is 53, which makes this book a little bit easier than a typical TOEFL reading passage.

Next, I read “The Martian,” which you can also find on the Open Library (or, again, on Amazon).  Yeah, this one is fiction… but I think it will help.  This is an example of hard science fiction, which means that accurate science is at the forefront of the story.  Indeed, there is a lot of science-y stuff in here.  And I’m pretty sure ETS has written a lot of questions about whether or not we can survive on Mars.  One of the third-party textbooks I use on a regular basis has an integrated writing question about the danger caused by Martian dust, a hazard which actually plays a pretty big role in the plot of this novel.  Meanwhile, for added fun you can watch the film adaptation which stars Matt Damon.  Note that the prose here is pretty easy to follow, which should make it a relaxing read.

Finally, I read the July-August issue of Analog Science Fiction.  I know, I know.  I need to stop mentioning these magazines.  They aren’t exactly easy to find, and might be a bit niche.  However, this one has some great stories.  It’s my favorite issue of the year (so far)! Keep an eye out for “Retention” by Alec Nevala-Lee, which is a funny little story about a fellow who is having a really hard time cancelling his Internet service; “Ennui” by Filip Wiltgren, which is a great story about an AI struggling to run the systems on a colony ship that spends hundreds of years in space (a favorite SF concept of mine); and  the final installment of “House of Styx,” which I mentioned in the blog a few weeks ago.

Okay.  Over and out for now.  I’ll have some more articles next time, and some short fiction you can read online.