A bit delayed, but here is a list of all the changes (that I could spot) in the fourth edition of “Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 2.” You can find the changes in Volume 1 over here.

In addition to the changes listed below, note that the independent writing task has been replaced with an academic discussion task in each test.

By the way:  this is an excellent book for TOEFL preparation.  I recommend it to literally everyone I teach.

Test One


  • “Colonizing the Americas” removed
  • “Reflection in Teaching” removed (it had a weird question about “how is paragraph 4 related to…”)
  • “The Impact of Industrialization on Labor Systems” added

Test Two


  • “Variations in the Climate” removed

Test Three


  • “17th Century European Economic Growth” removed

Test Four


  • “What Hand Did They use?” removed
  • “Water in the Desert” removed (it had a chart)
  • “The Chaco Phenomenon” added (surprisingly, more Chaco)


  • A lecture about music history removed
  • A lecture about architecture added

Test Five


  • “Types of Social Groups” removed (it had a chart)
  • “Biological Clocks” removed (it had only three giant paragraphs)
  • “Steel and the United States Industrial Economy” added


  • A really dated campus encounter about going to the language lab to watch a video removed
  • A campus encounter at the financial aid office added.

I did not spot changes to the speaking questions in any of the tests.


Here’s a quick summary of changes in the 5th edition of “Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 1.” You can find the changes in Volume 2 over here.

In addition to the below, note that all of the independent writing questions have been replaced with “Writing for an Academic Discussion” questions.

I didn’t spot any changes whatsoever to the speaking questions, or the integrated writing questions.

(By the way, this is a wonderful book and I recommend it to literally everyone I teach)

Test One:

Reading:  “Petroleum Resources” removed.

Test Two:

Reading:  “The Cambrian Explosion” removed.

Listening:  Lecture about Astronomy removed.  Lecture about Earth Sciences added.

Test Three:

Reading: “William Smith”  (it had a weird “in mentioning x” question) and “Infantile Amnesia” removed. “Pest Control” added.

Test Four:

Reading: “Galileo and his Telescope” and “Europe in the 12th Century (it had a chart question) removed. “Understanding Ancient Mesoamerican Art” added.

Listening:  Conversation at a computer center removed (it was dated).  Conversation at an art museum added.

Test Five:

Reading:  “Cetacean Intelligence” removed (it had a chart question and a weird whole-passage question)


And, finally, here are changes to the practice tests in the new Official Guide to the TOEFL.   Note that all of the academic discussion questions are new.  They have not appeared elsewhere.

You can read the whole blog series on changes at the following links: chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and four, chapter five, the tests.

Test One

Reading section: “Geology and Landscape” and “The Expression of Emotions” have been removed.  A new reading, “Birdsongs and Calls” has been added.

Listening section: No changes

Speaking Section: No changes

Writing section: The integrated question about altruism has been removed and replaced with a new question about biofuels has been added.   An academic discussion question has been added.

Test Two

Reading section: “Feeding Habits of East African Herbivores” has been removed.

Listening section: No changes

Speaking Section: No changes

Writing section:   An academic discussion question has been added.

Test Three

Reading section: “The Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer” has been removed.

Listening section: One lecture and one conversation have been replaced with new ones.  Don’t ask me why.

Speaking Section: No changes

Writing section:   An academic discussion question has been added.

Test Four

Reading section: “Lightning” has been removed.

Listening section: No Changes

Speaking Section: No changes

Writing section:  An academic discussion question has been added.

Next up, a list of changes in Chapter 5 of the Official Guide to the TOEFL.  This chapter is wonderful.

You can read the whole blog series on changes at the following links: chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and four, chapter five, the tests.

Again, note that I am focusing on changes other than the big test revisions that were implemented in July of last year.

Page 192-193: The example question about teamwork (which was quite inaccurate) has been replaced with a new question about “vitrified forts.”

Page 194:  The guide used to say “typically, an effective response will be 150 to 225 words.”  It now says “typically, an effective response will contain a minimum of 150 words.”

Page 194:  The guide now notes that “the lecture usually contradicts or disagrees with the information in the reading passage.”

Page 194:  The question prompts for the integrated task have been revised to emphasize that the lecture challenges the reading.  A new prompt called “solutions and their weaknesses” has also been added

Page 194:  The “as you write your response” section is updated to include new “the best way to organize the response…” tips about how to organize the essay properly.

Page 196:  The word count change is repeated.

Page 197-198:  This section on how responses are scored is all-new.  And it is beautiful.  Among other things, it notes:

“It is important to include all the most important details from the lecture, not only the main ideas”

“Within each body paragraph, consider devoting the first sentence or two to summarizing the idea the reading is expressing, and then explain in detail how the lecture responds to that idea”

“You should devote most of each paragraph to conveying information from the lecture”

“A concluding paragraph for your essay is typically not necessary”

Page 201-205:  There are sample responses for the new integrated writing task (see above)

Page 205+: The new WAD task is described.

Moving along, here are all of the major changes to Chapter 2 of the new Official Guide to the TOEFL.  This chapter covers the reading section of the TOEFL test.

You can read the whole blog series on changes at the following links: chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and four, chapter five, the tests.

Throughout the chapter, the “how to recognize” stuff for each question type has been rephrased to emphasize that questions are based on single paragraphs instead of on the whole article.

Page 37:  again, “historical” articles are now referred to “historical and biographical narrative” articles.

Page 38:  The frequency of “reference questions” is reduced from “0 to 2 questions per set” to “0 to 1 questions per set.”

Page 38:  Again, “fill in a table” questions are not referred to.

Page 45:  The book includes a more detailed description of what an “inference” actually is.

Page 58:  The old book had the following practice sets:  “The Origins of Cetaceans” and “Desert Formation” and “Early Cinema” and “Aggression” and “Artisans and Industrialization” and “Swimming Machines.”  

The new book has: “Impact of Railroad Transportation in the United States” and “Desert Formation” and “Early Cinema” and “Water and Ocean Life” and “Frederick Taylor and United States Industry” and “The Distribution of Plants and Animals.”

This means that all of the passages with with fill-in-a-table questions have been removed.  Note that the “Artisans and Industrialization” set also had an inference question that required reading of the whole passage.

I spotted at least one reference question, by the way.  That is found in “Early Cinema.” That question type is not dead yet!

My copy of the Official Guide to the TOEFL (7th edition) finally arrived.  As with previous editions, I will spend the next week taking a quick look at every chapter so that I can note all of the changes.  I’ll start today with Chapter One, which introduces the test in a general way.  Note that I won’t spend too much time talking about big-picture stuff (that is, the changes to the test from last year) since those are obvious.  I’m going to focus on smaller details that most readers might not notice.

You can read the whole blog series on changes at the following links: chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and four, chapter five, the tests.

Page 4:  Deleted the following study advice:  “select all the pronouns (he, him, they, them, and others) and identify which nouns each one refers to in the passage

Page 5: Added a reference to  New Zealand accents appearing on the test.

Page 5: Deleted this description of the headphones:  “test takers wear noise canceling headphones”

Page 5:  The test format chart is updated, of course.  Frustratingly, it uses the same “estimated timing” that ETS uses in its marketing materials so that it can claim that the test takes less than two hours to complete.  For instance, it notes that the “estimated timing” of the reading section is 35 minutes, when in reality it is 36 minutes long.

Page 6: No more references to confirming listening answers in the UI of the test.

Page 8: Description of possible reading passages changed from “historical” to “historical and biographical narrative” 

Page 8:  Shows that the reading article is now on the left side of the screen, and the questions on the right

Page 9/10:  The “category table” reading question is no longer mentioned (important)

Page 13:  “the pictures that accompany the lecture help you to know whether one or several people will be speaking”  changed to “pictures on the computer screen are intended to help you identify the roles of the speakers”

Page 15:  Listening questions worth more than one point are mentioned:  “Most questions are worth one point.  Some questions, however, are worth two points.  Special directions will indicate which, if any, questions are worth two points.  No more than one such question will appear on any test.” (important)

Page 18: campus situation reading passage changed from 80-110 words to 90-115 words.  (back in the 4th edition this was 75-100 words).  Likewise, General/specific reading passage length changed from 80-110 words to 90-115 words.

Page 20:  The following description of the integrated writing task has been deleted: “Test takers write a summary in connected English prose of important points made in the listening passage, and explain how these relate to the key points of the reading passage.  Suggested response length is 150-225 words; however, there is no penalty for writing more as long as it is in response to the task presented.” It has been replaced with:  “Test takers express information in an organized, logical and coherent manner.”

Page 21:  Updated score report description

Page 34:  Updated score report timeline.


The new official TOEFL books have now had their release dates (per Amazon) pushed back to February again. As a value-minded consumer, I might just wait for the three-book bundle, which has an April release date.

Meanwhile, I recently wrote a review of “IELTS 17.” It’s great that people preparing for the IELTS have seventeen different test collections to study from (though they ought to focus on numbers 6 and above as they more closely match the current version of the test).

One nice feature of the IELTS books is that readers can download necessary audio files simply by scanning the QR codes found throughout the book. Readers don’t need to input a limited-use download code to get the files. This means that people who get the books from their local library don’t have a problem accessing the audio.

In contrast, the audio accompanying the official TOEFL books can only be accessed via a limited-use download code. As a result, they aren’t as useful for library users as they could be.

Official TOEFL iBT TestsThe two Official TOEFL iBT Tests  books contain the most accurate practice tests available.  Each book has five tests, and I recommend that students get both of them.  Just working through each test is guaranteed to increase your score at least somewhat, and it will certainly give you a deeper understanding of how the TOEFL is constructed.   The accuracy of these practice tests is what makes them so valuable – most third party books and websites have terrible sample questions.  Some major publishers publish tests that are mind-bogglingly terrible.

I should mention at this point the current editions of these two books (Volume one has hit the 4th edition and Volume two has hit the third edition) are very similar to the previous editions.  One reading passage has been changed in volume 1, but otherwise the tests have the same questions.  They are, of course, modified to match the changes to the test introduced in 2019 so there are fewer reading, listening and speaking questions.  The good news is that the omitted questions include all of the non-standard reading question types that plagued earlier editions.

The only real difference between the two books is how the speaking and writing answers are presented.  In Volume 1, the book talks about what an answer should contain, while in Volume 2 actual sample answers are provided.  Both methods are helpful.  The explanations function sort of like a template, laying out exactly what information should be included and not included.  The samples, of course, are more tangible.  I do wish that each book included both.  Oh well.

The digital content is no longer provided on a DVD.  Instead, students must use a code to access the files on McGraw-Hill’s website.  I like that the content can be accessed online, but sadly the code can only be used two times.  Make sure to back up those files!

My bottom line is that these are the best TOEFL books available.  They are the only ones that I wholeheartedly recommend.

The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT Test is a book that everyone preparing for the TOEFL should read.  I recommend every edition, and the new sixth edition is no exception.

Note: If you just want to read about what has changed in this edition, start with this blog post.

First, though, a few words about changes to the edition.  This edition has, more or less, the same content as the fifth edition.  However, it has been modified to match the changes to the test introduced in August of 2019.  This means that the reading, listening and speaking practice tests are all a bit shorter.  The chapters that describe these sections have been updated accordingly.  The only new questions are the speaking questions in practice test one.  Everything else is the same as before.  A few of the small inaccuracies scattered throughout the the previous edition have been revised, but some of the big errors (particularly in the writing section, as will be described in a moment) remain.  Digital content must now be downloaded via an access code provided in the book.  I’m glad that a DVD is no longer used, but it is shameful that McGraw-Hill only allows the access code to be used twice, even if the 600 MB download fails mid-download.  If your download fails twice you are screwed.  Good luck finding a customer support number for the publisher.  It ain’t easy.

Anyways, the content here is mostly strong.  The book doesn’t really focus on strategies but instead aims to accurately describe how the test is constructed, and what the questions look like.   Descriptions of all of the question types are given, along with multiple sample questions of each.   This comes in especially handy when students are studying for the reading and listening sections.  Overall, this makes the book a really valuable resource, since most third party books provide misleading sample questions and inaccurate descriptions of test items.  I find that if students actually understand the patterns of the test and how it is created they are able to improve their performance and study properly.  If you want to know exactly what the test looks like, this is the book for you

In this regard, the reading, listening and speaking chapters are great.  The writing chapter falls short, though.  Inexplicably, the authors provide a grossly inaccurate sample integrated writing question, with a reading consisting of only two paragraphs in total.  The matching lecture is similarly inaccurate.  What’s worse is that the integrated writing question in the first sample test is similarly flawed.  These two flaws have been part of the book since the first edition was published 15 years ago, and it pains me to see them reprinted in edition after edition after edition.  Likewise, the big list of sample independent questions included on pages 210 to 213 contains a bunch of prompt styles no longer used on the test.  I’m pretty sure they are all leftovers from the CBT version of the test, as they have also been in the book since the first edition was published.

I will also point out that while the software used for the sample tests is functional, it is quite dated and clunky, which makes it a poor simulation of the real test.  It is about time for Mcgraw-Hill to replace that with something more elegant, similar to what Barron’s is now using for their line of TOEFL prep books.

Alright, so here is a quick summary of all the changes in the new editions of “Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 1 (fourth edition)” and “Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 2 (third edition).

General Changes

  1. Of course, the tests have been revised to match the new format.  The reading, speaking and listening sections have been shortened.
  2. I believe that all of the pronoun reference questions have been removed from the reading tests in both books.  This matches recent observations that the pronoun reference questions are quite rare nowadays (but this is not a guarantee that you won’t get one).
  3. The reading tests have mostly been shortened by eliminating vocabulary questions, but of course a few questions of other types have also been removed.  Again, this matches recent observations that vocabulary questions are way less frequent than before.
  4. Thankfully, all of the non-standard reading questions have been removed.  This includes the weird ones with the following phrasing:  “which of the following best describes the author’s presentation of information in the passage,” “the passage is developed primarily by…” and “which of the terms is defined in the passage.”  I’m really happy about this change.
  5. All of the table questions have been shortened (items have been removed) and they are now worth only two points (instead of 3 or 4 points).

Changes in Volume 1

  1.  The first reading passage in test four is now “Galileo and his Telescope” (which is not a TPO).  It used to be “Population and Climate.”  I think this is because the old passage was dominated by a massive non-standard question that referred to four different paragraphs.

Changes in Volume 2

  1.  The third reading passages from test two and test three have been switched (with each other).  I don’t know why.


Official TOEFL iBT Tests

Changes in the Practice Tests

And, finally, this series comes to an end with some words about the practice tests in the 6th edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL.  Note that I could have missed a few changes since I didn’t cross-reference every single word in the tests.

Basically, though, tests 2, 3 and 4 are exactly the same as before but with a few questions removed to match the new format introduced in 2019.  Test 1 has a totally new speaking section, and the rest of the content is the same as before (but, again, shortened).

General Changes

  1. There is a longer explanation at the beginning of the reading section in each test.  The description now describes how students can use the “back” button during the test to move between questions.  It also mentions the possibility of a dummy set.  Those are both welcome.  I hope the test center version includes this longer description as well.
  2. Important: the raw to scale conversion charts for the reading and listening sections have changed.  This had to happen, of course, since the number of questions is different.  But it is worth noting that every test now has the same chart, and it include a range of scaled scores for each single raw score.  Some of the ranges are pretty huge. For example, a raw reading score of 17 can result in a scaled score of 13 to 19 points.  This confirms my earlier speculation that there no universal conversion chart is possible, and that the conversion differs from test to test.  I added photos of these charts to my article about the conversion process.
  3. Important:  you will see below that there are far fewer vocabulary questions on all of the tests.

Changes To Test One

  1. The removed reading questions are the following types: vocabulary, vocabulary, negative factual (set one); vocabulary, reference, sentence simplification (set two); vocabulary, vocabulary, reference (set 3).  Note that only three questions were deleted, because in the previous edition these sets didn’t have enough questions.  It is great to see that error finally corrected!
  2. One lecture has been deleted in the listening section.
  3. All four speaking questions are new!  This is welcome, as the old “academic lecture” question (number 6) seemed a bit non-standard to me.
  4. The integrated writing question is still flawed.  That sucks.
  5. There are longer and more detailed descriptions of good speaking answers.  This mimics the design of “Official iBT Tests Volume 1.”  This is a very welcome change, but the same content was not added to tests 2 to 4.

Changes to Test Two

  1. The removed reading questions are the following types: vocabulary, factual information, vocabulary, factual information (set one); vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary, factual information (set two); sentence simplification, vocabulary, vocabulary, negative factual (set three).
  2. One lecture was removed.  Thankfully, the one selected for removal was too short.  This makes the test a bit more accurate!

Changes to Test Three

  1. The removed reading questions are the following types: vocabulary, vocabulary, factual information, vocabulary (set 1), negative factual, factual information, vocabulary, vocabulary (set 2); factual information, vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary (set 3)
  2. One lecture was removed.

Changes to Test Four

  1. The removed reading questions are the following types: factual information, vocabulary, vocabulary, factual information (set 1), vocabulary, vocabulary, factual information, rhetorical purpose (set 2), vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary, inference (set 3)
  2. One lecture was removed.

Digital Downloads

  1.  You must now download the audio and practice tests using an “access code” that can only be entered TWICE.  That means you had better save the file somewhere.  Make sure you have a reliable Internet connection, as the download is about 600 MB, and slow.
  2. The practice test uses the same terrible software it has always used.  It looks like it is from 2003.  ETS should do better.  I’m surprised it doesn’t say “Made with Macromedia” somewhere.

Coming Up

I’ll write a general review of the book for Goodreads. Finally, I will move on to the two new Official Test Collection books.  I won’t examine them so closely and will probably just upload a short article that summarizes the changes in each.


Changes in Chapter 5 – The Writing Section

Although the writing section of the TOEFL has not changed since the last edition of the Official Guide, there are a few changes in the book worth mentioning.

Page 187: There is a new warning for students: “be sure to use your own words rather than memorized sentences and examples in your essays.  Essays that include memorized text will receive a lower score.”

Page 200:  The book repeats the old warning about memorized examples, but adds “and your response will receive a lower score.”

Page 201:  This warning is expanded upon.  I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but it adds to the above: “extended stretches of memorized text do not represent the writer’s true academic writing skills.  Responses that include memorized examples, arguments, or formulaic references to sources will receive considerably lower scores than essays containing the writer’s own words.

It also adds an example of what it is referring.  The example is a long body paragraph that summarizes a fictional poll conducted by the New York Times, which it describes as “not genuine development.”

This matches the advice I have long given students to not use fake research to support their arguments.

Those are all of the changes I could spot, but it is worth mentioning that the book still contains the following misleading parts:

  • An inaccurate integrated sample question on page 188 (the reading only has two paragraphs in total)
  • A reference to supporting lectures on page 190
  • A poor list of sample questions on page 210 (some of them are styles of prompts no longer used on the real test)

I’ll wrap this series of articles up tomorrow with a few words about the sample tests.

Continue to part six.