As expected, the price of the TOEFL increased this month. Below you can see the list of countries I’ve been tracking since last year and their changes.

This year the changes are somewhat different than usual.  While I tracked prince increases in 30 countries, I also tracked price decreases in five countries. The chart now includes (+) and (-) symbols to help you identify the type of adjustment that occurred.

However, the price decreases are not exactly what they seem.  If you check out this page at the ETS website, you will see that prices in Australia, Colombia, Nigeria, Turkey and the United States no longer include sales taxes, which are added to the fee at the time of purchase.  Not surprisingly, that list includes four of the five countries with a listed price decrease.  Effectively, the price will stay the same or at a similar level in those countries.

A few observations are worth mentioning:

  • Switzerland remains the most expensive place to take the test, at a whopping $335. That’s an increase of $15 compared to February of this year.
  • Turkey is now the cheapest place to take the test (by far) at $157. That’s a decrease of $28 compared to February. I suppose this is a response to the recent decline in value of the Turkish Lira.
  • I don’t have prices for China since Chinese test-takers have a separate registration system, and I don’t think ETS even sets the price there.
  • The cost in India increased by $5 to $190.  I think India is one of the biggest markets for the TOEFL outside of China.
  • The cost in Korea increased by $10 to $220.  Korea might be a bigger market than India, now that I think of it.
  • The cost in the United States increased by $10 to $235.  Obviously the USA is also a huge market for the test.
  • The cost in Canada decreased by $20 to $225.  That’s interesting, considering the value of the Canadian dollar has increased this year. Perhaps ETS is responding to the purchase of the CAEL test by Prometric. I think this is the only country with a real price decrease (see above, re: tax changes).

I think prices will be adjusted again in February of 2022.  Check back at that time for a full report.

 

Country

Pre August 1, 2020

August 1, 2020

February 1, 2021

August 1, 2021

Afghanistan 

$200

$220 

$220

$230 +

Argentina

$195

$195

$205

$205

Australia

$300

$300

$300

$273 -

Azerbaijan

?

$195

$195

$205 +

Bangladesh

$190

$200

$200

$205 +

Benin

$185

$185

$185

$185

Brazil

$215

$215

$215

$215

Canada

$245

$245

$245

$225 -

Colombia

$240

$240

$240

$202 -

Congo, DR

?

$195

$195

$195

Egypt

$180

$185

$185

$195 +

Ethiopia

?

$200

$200

$210 +

France

$255

$265

$265

$265

French Polynesia

$180

$185

?


?

Georgia

?

$180

$185

$190 +

Germany

$255

$260

$260

$265 +

Ghana

$200

$220

$220


$220

Guadalupe

$180

$185

$195

$195

Hong Kong

$225

$245

$245

$255 +

Indonesia

$205

$205

$205

$205

Iceland

$230

$220

$220

$220

India

$180

$185

$185


$190 +

Iran

$225

$245

$245


$245

Iraq

$195

$215

$215


$225 +

Israel

?

$280

$280

$280

Italy

$255

$270

$270


$280 +

Japan

$235

$235

$245

$245

Jordan

?

$195

$200

$205 +

Kenya

$200

$220

$220

$225 +

Korea

$200

$210

$210

$220 +

Mexico

$180

$185

$190

$200 +

Mongolia

$195

$210

$210

$215 +

Morocco

?

$210

$220

$230 +

Netherlands

$255

$265

$265

$270 +

New Zealand

$270

$270

$275

$275

Nigeria

$195

$195

$195

$182 -

Norway

$290

$315 

$315

$325 +

Pakistan

$195

$195

$195

$200 +

Palestinian Territories

?

$235

$245

$245

Peru

$210

$220

$220

$220

Philippines

$200

$215

$215

$225 +

Russia

$260

$260

$260

$270 +

South Africa

$230

$230

$235

$240 +

Spain

$245

$250

$250

$255 +

Sweden

$270

$280

$280

$290 +

Switzerland

$295

$320 (!)

$320

$335 +

Tajikistan

?

$185

$185

$185

Thailand

$195

$210

$215

$215

Turkey

$185

$185

$185

$157 -

Uganda

$195

$215

$225

$235 +

United Arab Emirates

$240

$255

$255

$270 +

United Kingdom

$210

$220

$220

$235 +

United States

$205

$225

$225

$235 +

Vietnam

$190

$220

$200

$200

West Bank

?

$215

$215

$215

Well, I took on some outside work this month and didn’t have time for anything on July’s to-do list, but I always have time for the least popular part of this blog – the monthly “you should read more” article!

MgazinesThis month I read the April 24 issue of “Science News.”  As always, the magazine contained a ton of great articles that resemble the various reading (and listening) tasks that appear on the TOEFL.  There were a few standouts this month:

Next I read the July Issue of “History Today.”  Articles about history are really common in the reading section of the test… and not just articles about “early” human history.  Most of the content from this  magazine is behind a paywall, but a few great articles are available online:

  • China’s First International Students discusses a group of young Chinese children sent to study abroad in 1872.  It’s a fascinating story. They were pulled back by the regime earlier than planned, but many of them played important roles in the development of the country upon their return.
  • Baby Boom or Bust compares today’s low birth rates to the history of France from the 19th to mid 20th centuries.

I also read the May issue of National Geographic.  This was the best issue of NatGeo in a long time.  Here’s what caught my eye:

  • The Conservation Popularity Contest could form the basis of a type 1 writing question.  I imagine a reading about the problem of ugly endangered species being ignored, and the lecture suggesting solutions to this problem.
  • There is a tiny little space-filler about the hummingbird being a “surrogate species.”  That would make a perfect type 3 speaking question!  I can’t find a link to the little article online, but here is a little article from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • One of the long feature articles this month is about saving coral reefs. That could certainly form the basis of a problem/solution writing question as well.

Finally, I read the Summer 2021 issue of Modern Cat Magazine. You had better believe it. I liked:

  • The Evolution of the Social Feline.  I think I will submit my foster cat for Modern Cat’s “Cat of the Week” award.  I hope you’ll all vote for it if I post a link here.

Nellie BlyI also read some books that aren’t worth mentioning here, but I will mention the Penguin Classics collection of journalist Nellie Bly’s work.  It’s titled “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings.”  Bly was a pioneering New York journalist in the late 19th and early 20th century.  She was noted for her “stunt reporting” including how she got herself committed to a mental hospital in 1887 to secretly investigate the conditions there, and her recording-breaking around the world trip in 1890.

That’s all for now.  More recommendations next month.

It’s June!  Time for another “You Should Read More” column.

A few interesting tidbits in the April 10 issue of “Science News.”  Like:

I enjoyed an article about the negative health effects of forest fires in the April issue of National Geographic.

Finally, I got my first issue of “History Today” magazine (the June issue).  I really enjoyed an article about English king Alfred the Great and whether he actually was great.  Alas, you’ll need a subscription to read that one (which you can get really, really cheap over here).  There are couple of free articles from this month, though:

  • Women and the Birth of England’s Stock Market discusses how women got heavily involved in the first British Stock Market.
  • Blood, Stone and Holy Bones discusses the concept of Holy Relics (that is artifacts of Christian saints) and how travelers to the Middle East  related to them in the middle ages.  I recall writing a very long essay on this topic when I was in university.

Before I close, I must mention that I published another TOEFL book review this month!  You can find my comments about Barron’s TOEFL Writing over here.

 

It’s May!

As always, “Science News” is a good source of articles for academic reading practice. A few stories stood out this month.  In particular:

Meanwhile, a reader sent in this article from the New York Times:

Sapiens Book CoverI finally read Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind“last month.  This is one of the most popular history books of all time, and it is a perfect source of academic reading practice.  It is about the early history of mankind, which (as I indicated last month) is one of the most frequent topics on the reading section of the TOEFL.  You can buy it on Amazon, or get borrow it from the Open Library.

I listened to the audio version of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “The Bomber Mafia.”  Like Harari, Gladwell is a rock star in the world of non-fiction publishing.  His latest is about bombing missions carried out by the American military during World War II.  It is certainly thought provoking.  You can buy it on Amazon.

Hills of Adonis CoverFinally, I read Colin Thubron’s travel book “In the Hills of Adonis.”  This one is an account of his walking tour of Lebanon in 1967.  I recommended one of his earlier travel books last month.  Actually, I’m working my way through his whole bibliography in anticipation of his newest book, due out this November.  His work can be challenging but if you like travel and you like history check it out.  You can buy it on Amazon, or borrow it from the Open Library

Alright, that’s all for this month.  Next month I’ll have some words about a new TOEFL prep book published by Barrons.  Hopefully my first issue of “History Today” magazine will arrive, and I will be able to switch from science to history in terms of article recommendations.

 

Before I begin this  month’s column, I must draw your attention to a new article I published a few weeks ago.  I took a deep dive into all of the official TOEFL reading passages (47 in total) to see which topics  pop up most often.  I discovered that history is, by far, the most frequent topic.  Zoology is a distant second.  I’ll adjust my reading habits in the months ahead so that I can recommend a few more reading passages.

A few stories in Science News stood out this month.  In particular:

  • Naked Mole-Rats Squeak in Dialects describes how members of mole-rat colonies chirp in such a way that they can identify each other.  Interesting stuff.  I also learned that mole-rat groups resemble ant colonies in that they have a single breeding queen.
  • Upwellings May Push Continents Apart doesn’t have the same weird-factor, but as my survey indicated, physical geography is a common topic in the reading section.  Check it out.
  • Meatier Meals and More Playtime Might Reduce Cats’ Toll on Wildlife is about methods to prevents domestic cats from wiping out local bird and small-mammal populations.  Yeah, the TOEFL probably won’t have anything about cats on it, but this article would be perfect for someone trying to put together a problem/solution integrated writing passage.  It describes a problem (cats keep killing things) and several solutions to that problem (giving them more meat, playing with them, and putting a colorful collar on them).  I like it!
  • Stonehenge May Have Welsh Roots talks about the mysterious origin of Stonehenge.  As I said above, history is important!

I didn’t spend too much time with my stack of National Geographic Magazines this month, but a couple of things did catch my eye:

  • Our Obsession with Mars is the cover story from the March, 2021 issue.  Space stuff doesn’t appear in the reading section too often, but it does show up in the integrated writing section quite often.  Check it out.
  • I can’t find a link to an online version, but the same issue has a great infographic about species that thrive after a forest fire.  I can see that being the sort of thing that might appear in an integrated speaking question.

I read a great Science Fiction story by Charles Q. Choi in the January/February issue of Analog.  The good news for you is that you can buy it for two bucks from his own website.  Go check it out.  I’ll give you the two bucks.

That’s all for now, but next month I’ll have more recommendations.  I started in on a hefty history book which I should be finished with by then.

Science News Covers

I took a deep dive into the publicly available TOEFL reading sets to measure which academic subjects appear most frequently.  My study included the tests in:

  • The Official Guide to the TOEFL 
  • The Official iBT Tests Vol. 1
  • The Official iBT Tests Vol. 2
  • The free practice test on ETS.org
  • The TOEFL PDF sets on ETS.org
  • The Propell Workshop Teacher’s Book

These contain 47 passages in total.

I think this is everything that is easily accessible.  I didn’t include the TPO sets in my study because we aren’t really supposed to have access to those.  If there are any other sources I should consult please let me know, and I will add them to the list.

I examined each reading passage and classified it by subject.  I focused on the broadest possible subject headings.  So, for example, I used “history” as a category but not “political history.”  This wasn’t always an easy task as some of the passages cover overlapping subject areas.

Following this chart, I’ll include a few notes about more specific subject areas.

Anyways, here’s what I found:

Subject

Number of Passages

History

16

Zoology

7

Physical Geography

5

Biology

4

Geology

3

Psychology

3

Ecology

2

Architecture

1

Astronomy

1

Sociology

1

Education

1

Anthropology

1

Art

1

Paleontology

1

As you can see, history is by far the most common subject area in the reading section.  Zoology is also pretty common.  

There are a few other things that are worth mentioning here.  They are:

  • The passages about history often focus on the history of early humans and early civilizations.  
  • Political history is also somewhat common.
  • One of the passages marked as “geology” was actually about the history of geology.
  • Likewise, the passage about astronomy was about the history of astronomy.  Read some history!

Perhaps this information will serve as a guide you as look for materials to develop your academic reading skills before the test.

Hey, it’s the end of the month, which means it is time for some recommended reading.

I spent some time catching up with my National Geographic subscription. Honestly, it has been a tough year for Nat Geo, as they’ve attempted to pivot into being something of a current events magazine. They haven’t always been successful at that, but there are usually a few good items in every issue. Here’s what I liked from the December thru February issues:

  • So Great, So Fragile  is a long article about threats to the Great Lakes in North America.  It is really long, but still worth your time as physical geography is a common topic on the reading section of the test.
  • Reclaiming History is a long article about the desire to remove symbols of the Confederate States of America from the USA.  This is a great example of how the magazine is succeeding in its coverage of current events.  Of course it touches on  history quite a lot, which is another common topic on the TOEFL.

As usual, I read a few issues of “Science News.”  As always, everything in this magazine is useful.  A few things caught my eye, though.  They are:

  • Rats with Poison Hairdos Show a Cuddly Side is another weird animal story.  These rats chew on poisonous tree bark and droll it all over their bodies to protect themselves from predators.  Zoology is a common topic on the reading section of the test, so I always recommend articles about animals.  Actually, keep an eye on the blog for a “research report” on the most common subject areas.  I’ve got the numbers and will post them soon!
  • Ice Age Hunters’ Leftovers May have Fueled Dog Domestication is a very short article that I found particularly interesting.  Apparently early humans had too much protein in their food supplies.  Like, they had so much meat that was free of fat that they couldn’t eat it all.  They gave it to wolves and, presto, the domesticated dog was born.  A lot of TOEFL reading passages deal with early humans, so check this one out.
  • Early Sea Trip was Probably No Accident also covers early humans.  This one is about how ancient mariners first reached Japan’s Ryukyu Islands.

Alright, so those are your articles for the month.  I also read a few books, for what it’s worth.  A few are worth mentioning:

  • I read “Gigged” by Sarah Kessler.  It’s a book about the “gig economy,” which is dominated by companies like Uber.  Economics doesn’t seem to be a particularly common topic on the TOEFL, but all non-fiction has some value when it comes to improving your academic reading skills.  This is a fairly easy read, and it feels something like an extended magazine article.  No free versions are available online, but you can get it via Amazon.
  • I also read Colin Thubron’s “Mirror to  Damascus.”  This is a hard book.  But if you are interested in history and travel take a moment to check out a free version on Open Library.  Thubron is, in my opinion, the best living travel writer. This year I will be revisiting a bunch of his travelogues in preparation for his latest book, which will be published in a few months.  “Mirror to Damascus” is his very first book, written after he took a trip to Syria in his early twenties.  I also visited Syria in my early twenties (but 40 years after Thubron).  His book makes me feel some guilt for just mucking about when I was in the country, but I do remember my time there fondly.  It was one of the happiest months of my life.

That’s all for now, but I’ll have a few more recommendations next month.  Stay tuned.

A visitor requested a single collection of all of my “You Should Read More” blog posts.  Here is the master index:

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 get 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.

 

Okay, so this month’s collection is purely academic writing.  This stuff is the closest you will get to reading TOEFL articles outside of the TOEFL.  Don’t worry, though, I will have more random junk next month.  I promise.

Everything is from “Science News,” which I get in the mail every couple of weeks.  Here are a few highlights from the November and December issues.  I took the headlines from the print version, so they might not match what you see online.

  • ” Why Were Megalodon Sharks So Big ?” asks questions about why some ancient sharks got so massive.  This would make a perfect integrated writing question, as it presents some theories… and then presents the challenges to them.  One of the theories is intrauterine cannibalism.  What the f–k?
  • Farming on Mars Will be Nothing Like in The Martian” is a fun article.  I mention it here because “The Martian” is a book I recommended in an earlier column.
  • Who Invented Bone Points?” is a nice long article that resembles some of the historical articles you will get in the reading section.  Lots of great vocabulary here. Update: Sorry, broken link.  I’ll try to fix it.
  • Toads on Two Islands are Shrinking Fast” is a nice long biology article that looks a bit like what you will see in the reading section.  Update: Sorry, broken link.  I’ll try to fix it.
  • Early American Women Hunted Game” is another article covering early human history.  It is a medium-length article.
  • A Night with Colugos” is a feature-length article, which means it is a lot longer than what you will get on the test.  But it is a lot of fun.  It is also a breezy and light read.  You’ll enjoy it.  Interestingly, I visited the island in Malaysia discussed here.  I didn’t have a great impression of it, but the article makes it look really wonderful.  Now I hope to return.

That’s all for now, but more to come in March!

Science News Magazines

I got an email the other day that asked something like:

Hey, I took the TOEFL yesterday and in one of the reading questions I had to pick TWO correct answers.  Is that normal?

My answer was that this is rare, but normal.  These questions seem to always be “Factual Information” questions where you have to “identify factual information that is explicitly stated in the passage…  they can focus on facts, details, definitions, or other information presented by the author” (ETS).  Basically, you are identifying stuff mentioned in the reading.

Theoretically, these might also be “negative factual questions” which as you to identify stuff NOT mentioned in the reading.

To find examples of what they look like, I scanned the three official TOEFL books. I did not find any such questions in the Official Guide to the TOEFL test.

But I did find the following sample in Volume 1 of the Official TOEFL iBT Tests book (test 3, question 17):

TOEFL Reading Question

I also found the following sample in Volume 2 of the Official TOEFL iBT Tests book (test 1, question 27):

There could be more samples in the books.  I just scanned them quickly.

So there you go.  Just don’t be shocked by questions of this type.  They are basically the same as the “factual information” questions you are already familiar with.  Just remember to select TWO answers.  You must get pick both correct choices to get the point.  You will get no points if you only pick one, or if you only pick one correctly.

The other day, someone asked:

I’ve got twelve months to prepare for the TOEFL, and I need 100 points.  What should I do?

The good news for that student is that they have time to really improve their English fluency instead of just learning TOEFL tricks and strategies.  I know it sounds crazy, but the best way to increase your TOEFL score is to become more fluent in English.

 

Here’s how I responded:

  1.  Get a good grammar book like “English Grammar in Use” (also called “Grammar in Use – Intermediate” in some countries).  I read about a dozen TOEFL essays every day, and I see that most students suffer from grammar and language use problems.   Reduce your error rate and your writing score will go up.
  2. Find someone to practice speaking with.  To improve your score you need to speak fluidly.  You need to eliminate pauses, “umm breaks”, and repetitions.  You need to pronounce vowels and consonants properly.  You need to reduce the effort required to understand what you are saying.  Regular practice will help with this.  You don’t necessarily have t pay big bucks for a special TOEFL teacher to do this.  You can probably find an affordable tutor on a service like italki for this.
  3. Take accurate practice TOEFL tests.  There are 15 official ETS practice tests available (Official Guide x 4, Official iBT Tests x 10, website x 1) plus some PDF junk on the website.  You should work through all of those.  Fortunately, you have time to buy all of the books!  Switch to unofficial material only when you run out.
  4. If you have a year to prepare you can also improve your reading and listening skills in a general sense.  Spend some time reading good non-fiction books and articles (I like Science News, and National Geographic).  Make use of your local library, if they have an English section.  For listening, try Khan Academy, or podcasts like 60 Second Science.
  5. Towards the end of your preparation period take one of the scored practice tests from ETS to gauge your current level and see how to use the last few months most effectively.

 

And, yes, along the way you should devote some time to becoming familiar with the test.  Read the Official Guide cover to cover (a few times).  Read some of the guides on this website and watch some Youtube videos.  Review sample writing and speaking responses.  Just don’t get bogged down in “strategies” if the test is still a year away.

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.