I was doing some IELTS tutoring earlier this week and I figured it would be fun to write a “review” of one of the numbered IELTS practice test books. This is, I guess, a review of “IELTS 17” but it could be used as a review of any of the books… they are all pretty much the same (but new editions more closely match the current style of the test).
Any review must begin by thanking Cambridge for cranking out one of these books every year. Thanks to these books, people preparing for the IELTS have a ton of material to work with. The books keep pace with changes to the test, even though those changes are pretty minor. As of the writing of this review, there are 18 such books.
Each book contains:
A short introduction that describes the format of the test and how it is scored.
Four practice tests with audio provided via QR codes
Transcripts of the audio portions.
Sample answer sheets
There is also a single use code that will grant you access to a “resource bank” online that mostly duplicates the stuff available via the QR codes.
Speaking of the QR codes, it pleases me greatly that Cambridge provides access to the necessary audio without a limited-use code. That means that library patrons and second-hand shoppers can use the books. That compares favorably to the most recent official TOEFL prep material. Those books are useless for library patrons as the audio files can only be downloaded four times.
My only quibble is that the books are pretty expensive considering their slim size.
A few notes for teachers and students:
There are 18 editions of this book as of the writing of this review. Each edition has different tests.
Editions 13 and above are generally considered to be the most accurate books, as they match slight changes to the end of the listening section.
That said, editions 6-12 are pretty darn close to the real test.
Editions 1-5 should be avoided as they are quite out of date.
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:
Magoosh TOEFL has some good material about the listening section in their course. The course also contains some good content about the reading section, and some bad content about the speaking and writing sections. You can read my complete review.
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.
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.
There are a few good TOEFL books. There are a lot of bad ones. I hope that this article helps you pick the best TOEFL books. 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.
Last Updated: October 31, 2020
Best Overview of the Test
The Official Guide to the TOEFL (6th Edition) is the best overview of the test. I’ve been teaching for a decade and I still open it up now and then to look up some specific detail. Needless to say, it will teach you about all four sections of the test and the different types of questions each section contains. It is also illustrated with plenty of examples. But note that is also contains a few errors and inaccurate sample questions (particular in the chapter on integrated writing and the first practice test). Note that the 6th edition matches the new version of the TOEFL that started in 2019. For more details, check out my complete review.
Other Books Updated to Match the New TOEFL
Barron’s TOEFL iBT (17th Edition) was published on April 7, 2020. This is the first edition that matches the new version of the test. This is by far the best book not from ETS this year. However, it still has some issues so make sure to read my full review of the book before you use it. In short, it has fairly good reading and listening content, decent writing content, and weak speaking content. It also has a huge amount of practice questions. Audio content and practice tests are provided online (not on CD). For what it’s worth, a Superpack featuring this book (and a couple others) is also available.
Princeton Review’s TOEFL iBT Prep is the second best book this year. However, it has a lot of problems. The most obvious are in the chapters about the reading and speaking sections. You can read about all of them in my full review of the book. There is only one complete sample test (which can only be done on paper as there is no test software included), but there are additional practice questions throughout the book. The only part of this book I really recommend is the collection of skill building exercises found at the beginning. Note that this book used to be called “Cracking the TOEFL.” That was a stupid name.
If you don’t want to buy a physical book, the TOEFL Emergency Course from TST Prep is the best overview of the test that is actually updated for the new version. Just note that it is an online course, not an actual book. It includes a 12 page overview of the test provided via PDF, some sample questions and strategies. If you just want the overview, choose the “basic” version since it is cheapest. And if you use the coupon code “goodine10off” you can get a 10% discount.
Best Books for Practice Tests
The two Official TOEFL iBT Tests books are still the best source of practice tests. Each contains five complete practice tests. They are the closest you will get to the real test, since they are made by ETS. The books also reflect the new version of the test that began in 2019. There are two books you can get – Volume 1 (4th edition) and Volume 2 (3rd Edition) . Each book contains an access code to download software that simulates the official test. If you want to know more about these two books, check out my review.
If you want some more practice tests, I recommend the ten test pack from TST Prep. These are the most accurate practice tests you will get from an unofficial source. They also include all of the modern independent writing prompt styles, so in some ways they are even better than the official materials. The price is pretty good, and if you use the coupon code “goodine10off” you will probably get a 10% discount. Note that these are provided online, and not in an actual book.
Best Book for TOEFL Reading
I recommend Kathy Spratt’s “Mastering the Reading Section for the TOEFL,” which is in its third edition. It is available only as an Amazon ebook, but remember that you don’t need a special device to read ebooks. You can just access them in your web browser if necessary.
Best “Book” for TOEFL Listening
There really aren’t any good TOEFL listening books. If you want some decent content, though, I recommend signing up at Magoosh TOEFL. They have some good reading and listening stuff, but note that their writing and speaking content is quite bad. You can also read my full review of Magoosh.
Best Book for TOEFL Speaking
I still really love “TOEFL Listening and Speaking Skills ” from Collins Cobuild. It is sort of old (it was published in 2012) but it still has the most accurate speaking sample questions of any printed textbook not from ETS. It also comes with some decent templates and very concise strategies to use on the test. And, heck, you get some listening stuff too. Audio files are provided online (though the company also sells a version with a CD). Note that the book has not been updated to match the most recent changes to the test, so you will just have to ignore the sections on speaking questions 1 and 5. That said, Collins has hinted (on Twitter) that this book will be updated in 2020 so just keep an eye out for a newer version.
Best Book for TOEFL Writing
Collins again! I really like their “TOEFL Reading and Writing Skills.” This book has really accurate question samples. Even the integrated questions, which almost everyone messes up. It also includes some decent templates and concise strategies. It isn’t bogged down with “information overload” like the Kaplan book mentioned above. The independent writing prompts are a bit weaker, though, as they don’t include all of the modern styles.
Best Books for Vocabulary
I don’t usually recommend TOEFL vocabulary books. I’m not entirely sure that studying vocabulary lists is totally helpful, as the odds that the words you study will actually show up on the test are somewhat low. Not only that, but the new TOEFL introduced in 2019 has fewer vocabulary questions in the reading section. That said, you have a few options.
First up, “Essential Words for the TOEFL” from Barron’s is pretty good. I like the difficulty level of the words, and I like that it includes some realistic vocabulary questions as well.
An equally good book is McGraw Hill’s 400 Essential Words for the TOEFL. It includes helpful vocabulary, and has accurate practice reading questions of all types. That’s neat.
Meanwhile, if you just want a whole bunch of words for a really low price (2 bucks) I recommend Darakwon’s “1800 TOEFL Essential Vocabulary.” It’s an ebook.
Best Books for Grammar
I don’t recommend any “TOEFL Grammar” books. For now, I just suggest my students get the 5th edition of “English Grammar in Use” from Cambridge University press. This book has been around forever, and it is still the best source of grammar explanations and practice questions. 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! For lower level students (writing scores below 20), I recommend getting something a bit easier like “Basic Grammar in Use.”
Upcoming TOEFL Books
A new edition of “TOEFL iBT Prep” from Princeton Review will be published in February 2021.
Of course, the tests have been revised to match the new format. The reading, speaking and listening sections have been shortened.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
The third reading passages from test two and test three have been switched (with each other). I don’t know why.
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).
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.
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.
Important: you will see below that there are far fewer vocabulary questions on all of the tests.
Changes To Test One
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!
One lecture has been deleted in the listening section.
All four speaking questions are new! This is welcome, as the old “academic lecture” question (number 6) seemed a bit non-standard to me.
The integrated writing question is still flawed. That sucks.
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
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).
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
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)
One lecture was removed.
Changes to Test Four
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)
One lecture was removed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Okay, this will be a quick entry in this series, since chapter three is largely unchanged. But a few things are worth mentioning.
Page 119 (important): The 5th edition says that “each lecture or conversation is 3-6 minutes long.” The 6th edition says that “each lecture or conversation is approximately 4-5 minutes long.” I guess the conversations are trending longer, while the lectures are trending shorter nowadays.
Page 119: The old edition says “you should take notes.” The new edition says “you may take notes.” I like that change.
Everything else, including the practice sets, seems to be exactly the same.
Alright, I’ll continue my examination of the new edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL by looking at all of the changes in chapter two.
Page 38 (important): The chart depicting question types now reflects the fact that there are fewer questions in total.
The specific changes are (old –> new)
Factual Information questions: 3-5 per set –> 2-5 per set
Vocabulary questions: 3-4 per set –> 1-2 per set
The other question types are unchanged. This confirms our earlier speculation that vocabulary questions have been heavily reduced.
Page 55 (important): As discussed earlier, the “table” questions can be worth 2 or 3 points. Tables with four correct answers are worth two points, and those with five correct answers are worth three points. Partial points are possible for both.
Question deletions in the practice sets are as follows:
Set 1: Factual information, Inference, Vocabulary
Set 2: Vocabulary, Negative factual, Inference
Set 3: Vocabulary, Factual information, Vocabulary
Set 4: Factual information, Vocabulary, Vocabulary
Set 5: Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Reference
Set 6: Reference, Vocabulary, Vocabulary
Indeed, vocabulary questions are far less common than before. Note that only three questions were deleted from each set as these sets did not have enough questions in the previous version of the book.
My copy of the sixth edition of “The Official Guide to the TOEFL” has finally arrived! Starting today, I will describe all of the changes in this edition. I’ll begin, of course, with chapter one, “About the TOEFL iBT Test.” After I have finished with all of the chapters, I will provide a general review of the book.
Page 1-2: The description of the test in this edition makes it sound a lot more prestigious than before.
Page 5 (important): The book now mentions that “for the speaking and writing responses, ETS uses both certified human raters and artificial intelligence (AI) scoring to provide a complete and accurate picture of a test taker’s ability.”
Page 5 (important): The book now mentions that “after finishing the test, test takers will be able to view their unofficial scaled scores for the Reading and Listening sections.”
Page 5: The “test format” chart now reflects the current number of questions in each section. The charts for each section later in this chapter do as well, and I won’t mention them below. But see the END of the article for a possible discrepancy.
Page 5 (important): The book now mentions that “you may hear some native English-speaker accents that are not from North America, such as British or Australian.” It includes as link to some samples, but I couldn’t find them.
About the Reading Section
Page 7: As indicated, the chart here reflects the current number of questions. Which is “10 questions per passage.” This probably misleading/incorrect information. See my final note in this article for more information about this.
Page 9 (important): In the reading section “category chart” questions have been renamed “category table” questions. The book indicates that “some table questions are worth up to 2 points and others are worth up to 3 points, depending on the number of correct answers expected.” In the past, these questions were always worth 3 points.
Page 10: A new question is used to illustrate the reading “table” question. The sample is worth 3 points.
About the Listening Section
Page 12 (important): The lectures are described as being “4-5 minutes long.” Previously, they were described as being “3-5 minutes long.”
About the Speaking Section
Page 17: The book now refers to the updated number of questions in this section (4) and the duration of the section (about 17 minutes). It also refers to the fact that the section is partially scored by “the automated scoring system.”
About the Writing Section
About Test Scores
Page 21: The book indicates that each speaking response will be scored by a different rater. Previously, the same rater might have scored two of your responses.
Page 22-23: The book now mentons MyBest scores, and that score reports are received after 6 days (instead of 10). It makes clear that “Official Score reports will be sent directly to your designated recipients within eleven days after you take the test.” It is nice to have that in writing now.
Page 24-25: The new (and less detailed) score report is depicted.
General Skill-Building Tips
Page 33: The previous edition says “do not panic.” The new book says “do not become overwhelmed.” I LOLed.
Page 36 (important): Page 7 says that the reading section has 3-4 passages, with 10 questions per passage. Page 36 says that the reading section has 27-40 questions. Those descriptions do not match. However, this reflects my earlier comments on this blog about how sometimes there are just nine questions in a reading passage. This happens when the “table” question is worth 3 points. Indeed, this is the case in several of the practice reading sets later in the book!
Barron’s TOEFL iBT is the best TOEFL book in 2020. However, there are a few issues worth mentioning, so students will need a teacher (or this review, I guess) to tell them which parts of the book to focus on, and which to supplement with other sources.
Let’s start by talking about the positive aspects of the book. The foremost of these is that the book is regularly updated. Author Pamela Sharpe has been working on this book since 1977 (!) and regularly revises its content. This means that it now matches the changes to the TOEFL introduced in 2019. A few editions ago (I think the 14th) almost all of the integrated writing questions in the book were replaced with more accurate questions. The 16th edition, meanwhile, introduced a brand new chapter containing eight one-hour practice tests. All of this compares favorably to competing books from Kaplan and Princeton Review. Those ones have been revised to reflect the new TOEFL from last year, but otherwise they are reprinted with the same content year after year. It is worth noting that since last year Barron’s has been a division of Kaplan. I hope that doesn’t affect future revisions.
Another positive aspect of the book is its wealth of practice material. There is a ton of stuff to practice with. The books has eight full model tests, eight mini practice tests and a bunch of illustrative questions. Compare that to the ONE practice test provided in the Princeton Review TOEFL book. As I will describe below, there are some errors and inaccuracies in these test, but even if you cut out the bad parts, you’ve still got way more practice material than any other book. Overall, I’d estimate that about 80% of the practice questions here are accurate. That compares very favorably to Kaplan, where only about 10% of the questions are accurate.
Finally, I must note that the new system being used for the online tests is beautiful. It is way better than anything being used elsewhere, including the Official Guide to the TOEFL. It is a breeze to jump between both sections and whole tests. You don’t have to spend 15 minutes clicking and waiting to skip through everything else if you just want to do the writing section. Not only that, but transcripts and separate MP3 downloads are available for all test questions. I wish all publishers could use something so elegant. Also, the man who reads the test instructions sounds a little bit like Sam Elliot.
Okay, let’s talk specifically about the content here. Beginning with…
I like the reading practice in the book quite a lot. The articles are generally close to the proper length. I think they skew a bit too long, but only barely. Meanwhile, I checked the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score for four random articles, and they came out at 28.4, 51.1, 43.2, 47.3 and 48. That is a bit easier than the real test, which I think averages closer to 30, but again I don’t think it is a big deal. I’m willing to accept some superficial differences when it comes to unofficial test prep. This kind of prep should be used for skill building, rather than for predicting scores.
The only problem I have with the reading practice here is that occasionally it contains inference or factual information questions where the student must use the whole passage to find the answer. That is, no specific paragraph is mentioned in the question (see page 389). That’s a problem, since the real test doesn’t use questions like that. If my student were using this book, I would tell them to just skip those and give themselves a “free point” for them.
The listening is also pretty good. I know it has some superficial differences from the real test, but it is close enough to provide valuable practice for students. Passage lengths and difficulty levels seem appropriate, and the questions also match the real test.
Here’s where the book starts to suffer a bit.
I can recommend most of the independent speaking questions (type 1). They are good, although I did spot at least one obsolete “giving advice” style prompt (page 432).
Some of the type 2 questions are poor. Frequently, the reading part (announcement) fails to give reasons for the stated change. The announcements just describe the change with ample details. As a result, the conversations about the announcements don’t have reasons that directly match up with details from the reading. I guess these questions can still be used for skill-building practice, but it is just as easy to design proper questions, so I find this flaw frustrating. Also, there are some type 2 speaking questions where instead of a conversation between two students, the opinion is expressed by a solo speaker (page 496), in monologue form. This has never been used on the test, so it shouldn’t appear here.
The type 3 questions here tend to be needlessly complicated. I’ll share a few examples to show you what I mean. Here are some prompts from type 3 questions direct from ETS:
Explain how the example in the lecture illustrates the concept of scope creep.
Explain how the example from the professor’s lecture illustrates the irrational commitment.
Explain how the example in the lecture illustrates agonistic behavior.
Using the example of the macaw from the lecture, explain the concept of flagship species.
Using the examples of mice and rabbits from the lecture, describe the two different types of factors that can cause population changes.
Do you see the pattern? The real test asks you to use the given example(s) to illustrate a concept. That’s it. In contrast, Barron’s asks things like:
Using the points and examples from the reading, explain the differences between myths and legends. Then refer to the lecture to explain why Paul Bunyan would be considered a legend (page 574).
This is too complicated and specific. Often, the lectures here are descriptive in nature instead of focusing on examples of something.
On the real test, Type 4 prompts look something like this:
Using the example of the mole, explain the two different types of underground adaptation.
Using points and examples from the talk, describe two changes that occurred after machines began to be used for manufacturing goods.
Again, they are very specific. They just ask the student to use examples to illustrate a concept But in Barron’s, you might see something like:
Using the main points and examples from the lecture, describe the three parts of a fax machine and then explain how the fax process works (page 692).
Using the main points and examples from the lecture, define a planet and explain why Pluto is no longer considered a planet (page 731).
You can see how the real test asks students to summarize specific examples of some concept, while Barron’s is asking students for a whole lot more. It is also using two-part question prompts, which the real test does not do.
I guess what I’m saying here is don’t use this book for speaking practice. You are better off just getting the two Official IBT Tests books from ETS. Together, those will give you ten full tests. Toss in the Official Guide to the TOEFL and you’ll have 14 full tests. That’s more than enough.
Proper TOEFL integrated writing questions have a fixed format. The reading has an introduction, and three body paragraphs. The introduction presents an overall argument, and each body paragraph represents a specific supporting point or reason. The lecture matches this format. It begins by introducing the main argument, and continues by challenging each of the body paragraphs (and in the same order). If your practice questions don’t have this format, they should be replaced with some that do.
While the revisions to the 14th edition massively improved this part of the book, there are still a few integrated writing questions that don’t match the proper structure. Surprisingly, most of these are contained in the new chapter of one-hour practice tests. Very briefly, here’s a list that will guide you.
Use these integrated writing questions:
Model Test 1
Model Test 2
Model Test 3 (but note the missing intro. paragraph)
Model Test 4 (but note the missing intro. paragraph)
Model Test 5
Model Test 6
Model Test 7
Model Test 8 (but note the missing intro. paragraph)
Do not use these ones:
Practice Test 1
Practice Test 4
Practice Test 8
What I mean about tests 3, 4 and 8 is that the reading part is missing a proper introductory paragraph. They just have three body paragraphs. That’s a strange omission, but I guess they are still usable. If I were teaching with this book I would just write an introduction for each and paste them into my student’s book.
The independent writing questions are mostly fine. I did spot a few obsolete “describe a thing” questions like in model tests 5 and 7. There might be a few more.
While practice questions make up the bulk of the book, there are a few other things, and some of them are quite valuable. I like the ten pages focused on “campus vocabulary.” I don’t know exactly how helpful that stuff really is, but a student with a medium or long-term study plan should certainly spend a few hours review key terminology. There is also a beefy chapter on grammar and style issues that highlights the most common errors made by students. It is something I wish I could create for my own website.
The Final Word
So that’s the review. I guess my advice is to use this book for skill-building practice, but to just forget about the speaking questions. You should also be aware of the minor problems present in the reading and writing sections. I also encourage students to go beyond this book, and to supplement with some official publications so you get a clearer picture of what the actual test looks like.
I‘ve never had a student ask me about McGraw-Hill Education’s main TOEFL book. It must have had a tiny print run, as I haven’t even seen people talking about it online. Regardless, a copy just came into my hands, so you guys get a quick review of the book.
To make a long story short, it isn’t very good. I actually had high hopes for this one, since McGraw-Hill has the licence to publish official TOEFL materials (they publish the Official Guide and the two iBT Tests books). However, it doesn’t look like they have access to insider information or notes about test design from ETS. Most of the sample questions in the book are inaccurate. This includes really major problems like integrated writing questions where the reading has just two paragraphs, and minor problems like “campus announcement” speaking questions where the opinionated student gives three reasons for their position. Or reading questions where you have to search through the whole article to find the article. For these reasons I don’t recommend the book to anyone. Note, meanwhile, that this book was published before the TOEFL was changed (August, 2019) so it is dated in a general sense.
Regular readers of my reviews will know that I am not particularly enthusiastic about TOEFL vocabulary books (I think it is probably better to just study the Academic Word List), but McGraw-Hill’s “400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL Test” (2014) is a book I’m happy to recommend to students.
What you get here are 41 chapters, each containing a themed list of 10 words with detailed definitions and practice exercises (fill-in-the-blanks, matching). The last page of each chapter contains a paragraph “excerpted” from a larger TOEFL reading and two accompanying questions . What sets this book apart from, say, Barron’s TOEFL Vocabulary is that these questions are not just vocabulary style questions. Instead, all of the TOEFL reading question types are represented. Those, specifically, make this a valuable study resource for anyone preparing for the TOEFL reading section.
The lists themselves are meant to represent the various topics used in the writing of the reading passages on the TOEFL. The authors have included a few topics that probably don’t ever appear on the test (spirituality and ghosts) but most of them are relevant. The words themselves are a mix of those which are mostly just used in discussion of the given topic, but also words used beyond the given topic. That means that the list in the chapter on agriculture contains the words “irrigation” and “photosynthesis” but also the words “adversely” and “aggregate.”
The vocabulary here seems to be a bit more challenging than words in the aforementioned Barron’s book, and are much more challenging than those in the Princeton Review’s TOEFL Power Vocab. That’s a good thing!
Note that the second edition is quite similar to the first edition. The main difference seems to be the addition of a single chapter on “Parenting.” There may be some revisions to the other chapters, but I didn’t look that closely.