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Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test Book Review

Cambridge TOEFL Test Cover ImageWell, it’s time to really analyze the book that I’ve been recommending to students for years. I’ve always known it’s not perfect, but Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL has enough good aspects that it’s been my favorite TOEFL book for a long time. But don’t be surprised if I say a lot of negative things about the book in this post. While carefully going through Cambridge Preparation and listing the problems and benefits, I actually surprised myself with more flaws than I expected. There are plenty of pieces that could be better. But, then again, that’s true with every other TOEFL prep book I’ve used, and the strengths of Cambridge’s book are important enough that it’s still a valuable resource.

Let’s break it down and look at the details.


TOEFL Practice Material

The front cover of Cambridge Preparation makes very clear one of the best features of this book: it includes a CD with 7 full-length practice tests. And what’s more, that software is very similar to the software of the actual TOEFL iBT. The buttons are the same. The clock is the same. It’s actually more similar in format than the practice tests that come with the Official Guide, strangely. For example, in the Official Guide software, the listening section has a clock which counts down even during the recordings. That’s not true on the real test, and Cambridge recognizes that—the practice tests on the CD only count down while you’re answering questions, not while you’re listening.

But I found a major issue with that software: it doesn’t work on new Macs. If you have an Apple computer that uses OSX Lion or higher (10.7+), then you can’t use the CD. That means you don’t have access to the audio for the three full practice tests in the book nor any access to the additional four practice tests that are only on the CD (the three in the book are repeated on the CD).

Besides that, even if the software does work on your computer, it’s not very easy to use. You can’t easily navigate through the practice tests if you want to use the material for non-full-length practice. It freezes, sometimes. If you want to save your recordings, you have to make an account. It’s generally not very well-made software. But the fact that it is so similar to the real ETS tests helps to excuse that fact.

In the book, there are additional practice sections of each of the four skills, separated from each other, mixed in with the skill-building practice. If you add that to the full-length test practice, you have a very good amount of practice material altogether (assuming you can use the CD).

How is the quality of that practice, though? This is where one of the major issues with Cambridge Preparation lies. There are far too many poorly made practice questions, especially in the reading. For example, here’s the first question in the book, together with the related text:

Geologists have shown that for about 80 percent of the past 2.5 million years, ice-age conditions have prevailed on the Earth’s surface.

The word “prevailed” in the passage is closest in meaning to

(A) ruled

(B) existed

(C) survived

(D) triumphed

The answer they give as correct is (B), and that’s fine; that’s the best answer. But there are two problems, here. For one, answer choice (A) actually works well in context and wouldn’t change the meaning much. That makes it too tempting. Besides that, answer choice (D) is a good synonym for “prevail” when it’s used in another sense—the more common meaning, actually. The TOEFL doesn’t put synonyms like that in the answer choices. You would never get a question like this on your test.

Questions like these are only 5%–10% of the reading, and they’re even less common in the other sections, but they appear there, too. In that same practice test, there’s a speaking task (question #5) which has you listen to two students discuss four different ways to memorize vocabulary, after which you summarize and pick one of the four as your favorite. On the real TOEFL, you’ll only hear two options in speaking task #5. That may seem like a small detail, but it greatly changes how you manage your time while speaking.

These problems are relatively uncommon, but they’re important to note. When the practice is good, it’s very similar to the real TOEFL. The listening recordings are almost exactly what you’ll hear on the test. The reading passages are all well done. The essay questions are generally accurate. Sometimes, though, it does have big flaws.



This is the second big imperfection in Cambridge’s book: the explanations for the practice tests are too short. They don’t discuss the wrong answers, and they usually don’t give any helpful information. They’re very similar to the explanations in ETS’s Official Guide. But the explanations for the rest of the book—the focused practice—are much better. Besides that, on the CD, there are many very good sample recordings for the speaking section and sample essays for the writing section.

Those good parts help to balance the too-short explanations a bit, but not totally. The book could still be improved here, because this is one of the most important parts of a really good preparation book: you need to learn from your mistakes if your scores will increase. Without a good explanation, it’s hard to learn.


Skill Practice

Now that I’ve written a lot about Cambridge’s problems, let’s talk about why I still recommend it to students.

Cambridge Preparation gives more skill practice than any other book I know of, and it gives good practice. There are lessons and exercises for every single skill that you need on the TOEFL, and they’re organized into step-by-step lessons that start from the very basic skills and build up to more test-like practice. They include topics like transitions, paraphrasing, understanding connections made by referents (such as pronouns), organizing your essay, and others. This makes Cambridge very valuable for long-term TOEFL preparation.

There is one more problem, though. And this is really a big problem for many students: you need the 8 additional audio CDs to really make use of this part of the book (the most important part). It’s possible to buy only the book and CD-rom without the audio CDs, and that can be confusing.

But those audio CDs aren’t cheap, either; they’re much more expensive than the book alone. But if you have them or can afford them, the listening exercises (and the related speaking and writing) are just fantastic.


Report Card:

Authenticity of practice material: B-

Amount of practice material: A

Quality of explanations: C

Skill building material: A+

Test strategy and advice: A-


The Final Word

If you have a month or more to prepare for the TOEFL and you’re going to spend a significant amount of time preparing, then Cambridge has great skill building exercises that’ll be very helpful (if you don’t mind spending the extra money for the CDs). For test-like practice material, though, there are better books. And if you prefer to learn online from videos, there’s our premium TOEFL prep as well. 🙂


60 Responses to Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test Book Review

  1. farsa January 1, 2014 at 5:09 am #

    Thank you very much Lucas for your thorough and helpful reviews.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

      You’re welcome!

  2. Fernando January 31, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    Hey Lucas!
    What a great job you did in reviewing these books. It saved me a lot of time and money!
    Your reviews are meticulous, balanced and well structured! Yet, they are concise and very easy to read!

    Thanks for your help!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 31, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      That’s great to hear! I’m glad they helped. Thanks for saying so!

  3. Rafaela February 15, 2014 at 2:11 am #

    Hi, Lucas! First, thanks for your reviews, they are helping me a lot.
    Have you heard about the book “Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test”? Because I would like to know your opinion about it.

    (And the blog is great! : )

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 15, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

      I’m glad they’ve been helpful! I do know Longman’s book. But I’ve only used it for the practice tests once or twice, to be honest, so I can’t give a fully-formed opinion on it yet. It’s in my list of future books to review (along with Princeton Review, Delta, Kaplan, and others), but those might not be done soon because I’m a bit occupied with making my own TOEFL lesson videos at the moment. 🙂

      That said, those practice tests weren’t perfect; If I remember correctly, there were a couple of questions with very debatable “correct” answers and most of it was too easy. I don’t want to say for certain, but based on that experience I wouldn’t recommend it.

  4. farsa February 16, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    ” the listening exercises (and the related speaking and writing) are just fantastic.” Lucas What do you mean by the sentence inside the parentheses? I did not get it ! 😀 Do you mean the Audio recordings within all the sections (Listening, Speaking, Writing) are great and authentic or otherwise?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 17, 2014 at 8:49 am #

      Sorry it wasn’t totally clear! That sentence was in reference to the recordings in the skill-building exercises. I was not referring to the full-size practice test TOEFL questions, but instead the more focused practice. Besides skill-building listening exercises, there are many speaking and writing exercises which include a recording, too. I meant that those exercises are generally very good and helpful. That includes the quality of the recordings. Again, though, they’re focused practice, so sometimes they’re a little different from real test questions.

      • Farsa February 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

        Thanks a lot Lucas, I take my hat off to you 🙂

  5. farsa February 18, 2014 at 7:01 am #

    Lucas, I have a fundamental question. As I told you before I already owned the book “The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test”. Recently I purchased “Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test ” because of your recommendation. Moreover I have “The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test (Fourth Edition)” and “Official TOEFL iBT Tests “, However I have kept these ETS materials for taking those 8 authentic test as mock test at the end of my TOEFL Preparation Course. What do you think? is it a good idea? My main question is that how can I get the best of both Cambridge and Bruce Rogers book? I spend a lot of hours a day thinking about it and therefore I can not focus on studying the TOEFL because I am not sure what is the right thing to do. Since I have quite a good time for studying for the TOEFL (About 5 months) I would be grateful if you can guide me how and in what manner to use both books. If possible please explain it a little bit more specific and detailed so that I can get on the right track. Thanks a million in advance, I really appreciate your wisdom. 🙂
    P.S. What I need to learn is ” Learning the TOEFL” NOT ” Learning English” because I have a pretty good English Foundation.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 18, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Hi Farsa,

      Well, that’s a tricky question–I’m not sure I can outline a whole study schedule for you here in the blog comments. Please keep in mind our policy, below; blog comments should be helpful to everybody who reads. That said, I think the most important thing for you is to get started! Spend a a half hour or hour looking through both books. Learn how they’re organized so they’re not so scary-looking.

      If you’re not looking for much in terms of grammar assessment and exercises, I’d say you could start with Cambridge’s “diagnostic test”, then skim the “Building Supporting Skills” section for the more interesting/useful exercises, and then go ahead to the chapter on the reading section. As you work through that book, you’ll find certain types of questions that are especially challenging. When you do have trouble with something, find the relevant chapter in the Complete Guide and get extra practice from that book. Once you’ve been working on the material for a little while, the organization of the books and where the related practice is will be more obvious.

      The two books together will probably be more material than you can use, but that’s a good thing. You have enough to be sure you really practice the question types that are hardest.

      Choose a section to work on each day, and change from day to day. Don’t just study the reading section for a month, for example.

      Finally, as for the official tests, I wouldn’t recommend saving all of them until the end. Save 1-3 of them for your last few weeks (preferably the computer tests on the Official Guide CD), but mix the others in with your practice in the months before. Make sure you know the actual difficulty and style of the real test–not just what Cambridge or Bruce Rogers say. It’s important to practice with that official material throughout your studies. It’s just not great for focused practice, so use those books for full-length tests, if possible.

      I hope that helps! Good luck getting started.

      • farsa February 18, 2014 at 11:21 am #

        Thanks a million Lucas, your guidance was very informative 🙂 and do not get me wrong, what I wanted was exactly what you explained, i.e. how to get started and I did not mean you to give me a day-to-day schedule! That is great, you gave a me a manual for using the books, I appreciate it 🙂

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas February 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

          Glad I could help!

  6. Nicolas March 28, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    Hi Lucas,
    I just bought the book Cambridge Preparation for the Toefl Test, fourth edition, and I am lost because I don´t know how I must to do the exercises. I mean I want to do for instance the listening exercises that appear at page 269 however I do not know where I find the audio in the CD. I only could see the 7 practices tests but where are the exercises?
    Thanks in advance!
    Nicolas Rojas

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 31, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      Hi Nicolas,

      I mentioned at the very end of the review that you need the additional audio CDs to fully use the book. It sounds like that’s the problem, here :-/. You may have bought only the book and CD-rom, without the listening CDs. The full package includes 8 audio CDs that have all the audio exercises you’re looking for, but it’s a lot more expensive. There’s still a lot of good material in just the book without the audio CDs, but there are many exercise you can’t fully do, sadly. In order to do all of the listening exercises, you’ll need to find a copies of those 8 audio CDs.

      Sorry if I wasn’t totally clear in the review. I’m adding more text now to make it more obvious.


  7. Rashmi April 5, 2014 at 11:44 pm #


    I have been working on these practice tests. I have one question and an observation. I find the reading passages a little on par with the GRE test. Is that true or is this the standard of difficulty of the TOEFL IBT? I could be wrong, of course 🙂

    Also, when I make 5 mistakes in my reading or listening, I lose an equivalent 5 points. Does it scale accordingly in the TOEFL Test as well? For instance, if I answered 5 questions wrong, will I only get a 25/30 on my reading in the real Toefl IBT?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas April 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

      Hi Rashmi,

      Good points! From my experience, the reading passages in Cambridge are, on average, just a little bit more difficult than on the real TOEFL, but the actual test does have very difficult English. The content is a little bit different—the TOEFL passages are more often scientific—and the GRE doesn’t have any passages as long as the TOEFL does, but both use advanced, natural English. Texts on the TOEFL are supposed to be as challenging as real academic texts that you might read at a university. Take some official practice tests too so you have a good sense of the difficulty! Some extra-tough reading passages are a good thing (good training), but it’s important to do some official practice, too.

      The questions, though, are a bit different. As I mention in the review, some of Cambridge’s practice questions aren’t realistic. The answers are, sometimes, a bit debatable, making them too difficult for the TOEFL. It’s not all of the questions, but sometimes they are too hard, yes.

      As for scoring, unfortunately, all unofficial tests have this same problem (and many official tests have it, too). The actual ETS algorithm for creating scaled scores (0-30) isn’t public, and it uses a lot of information from other test-takers. It’s much, much more complicated than 5 wrong = 25/30 in reality. So unless you take an official practice test with official scaled score conversions (most of the official ETS tests don’t even have those conversion tables), the score will only be an estimate.

      I hope that all makes sense!

  8. Amanda M April 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Hello Lucas! Great job reviewing these books!
    Well, I find the explanations of why the answer is wrong and building skills the most important part of the learning process, for this purpose which books would you recommend to give me these types of explanation? I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the test so I’m really in a “blind” situation here of which one is the best to prepare for the test! I have more than a month to build some knowledge about the ToEFL!
    Thank you!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas April 8, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Amanda,

      So far, none of the books I’ve reviewed have absolutely fantastic explanations and skill-building practice, unfortunately. For the most comprehensive skill-building (how to take notes, for example), Cambridge is the best book I know of, but it’s quite expensive paired with the audio CDs. For a better balance between question quality, skill-building, and explanations, I’d recommend The Complete Guide. If you do get the Complete Guide, pay attention to the links in that book review: you need to get the listening CDs and answer/explanation book for free from the publisher’s website.

      But, then again, if you’re just starting it’s a good idea to get the official material first. Learn how difficult the test is and how much you need to improve before you buy a lot of skill-building material. 🙂


  9. June 20, 2014 at 1:56 am #

    I have my toefl exam in September, and I need to prepare from now on, I have consider, The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test (Fourth Edition) as main book, the problem is for practising purpose I am unable to decide which book to go with barron, Cambridge or complete guide. I can buy only one among these. help me which is best to make the environment exam friendly and prepare me well. My writing and speaking part is weakest. Also I’m preparing for GRE (I have 4 months for preparation )and for that I have consider its official guide and Barron new gre , the word list I can Get from and other sources, should I consider Manhattan gre volume 7 and 8 too? . I’m good in maths so That’s not problem or I’ll think of getting my hands on Nova, apart from all these i have all free ets material,is all this is sufficient to help me score highest ,if I follow them in discipline manner? . I’m soo confused ,for self study I need to have Right and standard material first.

    p.s – I’m totally new To both exam and format and English is my second language although I always get low grades in this subject

    thank you

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 23, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Tarun,

      The official guides for both the TOEFL and the GRE are definitely a good place to start! If you’re looking for additional practice with special focus on writing and speaking and are concerned about costs, I’d recommend the Complete Guide to TOEFL. You can get the recordings (needed for both speaking and writing practice) free; for the Cambridge book, you must buy them separately and they’re a bit expensive. Besides, the Complete Guide has some fantastic practice material!

      As for the GRE, we do recommend picking up one book from Manhattan so you can get access to their online practice tests. We don’t recommend book 8 (text completions and sentence equivalence questions), though, since the quality of practice isn’t so high.

      And whether or not this material is “enough,” well, that depends on exactly where you stand now, what you need to work on, and how much you need to improve! There’s no simple answer, I’m afraid. But remember that you can always buy more material later if you need it! It’s better to start with a few books and then buy more than it is to buy many books and only use a few. 🙂

      By the way, why use quizlet? Do you know about our GRE flashcards?

  10. Ali August 12, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    I have used all of your suggestions to improve my score in TOEFL. but I have a lot of problem in Reading section. in each test I have 9 to 10 mistake (out of 39 questions) and it is a big problem for me.
    I have done all the test form Longman, DELTA, Official and Cambridge but my score didnot change at all. what should I do? is there any extra practice to imrove my score in reading section?

    Best regards

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas August 19, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      Hi Ali,

      If you want to improve your score, it’s so simple as doing more and more practice (although that is a part). You need to find out why you get wrong answers and work to fix those mistakes. It might be from lack of English experience (difficulty with vocabulary, idioms, rare sentence structures, etc), in which case to solution is to simply build experience over time and to continue studying the vocabulary and forms in that material.

      But it’s also very possible that your expectations of the test and your strategy for answering question needs work. Focus on what makes wrong answers wrong—how the test writers make those questions and how they create tricky wrong answers. Go back through all of the practice you have done, and long at every single wrong answer, trying to find that information. Why did you get it wrong? Were you tricked? What was the trick?

      If test strategy is your weakness, then analyzing mistakes is the best route to success.

  11. Niinuma Sara Anjum August 23, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    Hello Lucas ,

    I have bought the princeton review and barron’s book for toefl ibt preparation . I didnot like the Barron’s book so am currently studying from the princeton review book. But i don’t think I am improving by studying this book. Should I get the official guide or any other book now ?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas August 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      Well, I have to agree that Barron’s isn’t great material. The Princeton book has some good skill-building, but I do think you should supplement that with the official guide, at least, for good practice material. The practice material in Princeton is a bit weak.

  12. Nicolò August 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Hi Lucas, I’m Nicolò and I’m preparering for the TOEFL Test. Some months ago I bought Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL and The Official Guida for the TOEFL. First, I checked my preparation with the full test in the former, than with the full test in the latter. Is it common that the Reading Preparation has the reading section more difficult than the official guide. In fact, today I notice that in the Cambridge the questions aren’t easy to solve and to answer because there are more possibilities that can work. I see that you mention this aspect also in your article. So should I trust to the Cambridge or The Official Guide?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas August 26, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      You’re right about this—the Cambridge questions do sometimes have problems. The Official Guide mirrors the real test almost exactly (although the first test in the official guide has some differences from the current iBT, because it’s very old). Always trust the official materials above anything else—at least for how the practice questions are written. 🙂

  13. Eisa August 31, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    What are the best books for preparing TOEFL iBT test…?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Eisa,

      Good question! I think there are some similar comments on the page of all book reviews. You can see my answer there. 🙂

  14. Suri September 4, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    Hello Lucas,

    I’d like to use “Cambridge Preparation”, but am concerned that it is so old, the last edition was published in 2006. There have been some changes in TOEFL since then. What do you think?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 8, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Hi Suri,

      The changes to the TOEFL since 2006 have been very small. There are now non-American accents in the lectures, for example (such as Australian). Because the changes have been so small, Cambridge is almost totally accurate. In fact, it is more accurate than some other, newer books. As long as you buy the fourth edition (IBT), then don’t worry—it’s not too old.

  15. Kiana September 11, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    I do not like Cambridge at all:( it makes me sad. I have many wrong answers in the reading section of the first compete test. 🙁 I am going to take TOEFL on October, 25 2014.. What should I do ?????? :((((((

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 12, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      The most important thing is to keep practicing and learn from your mistakes! Keep in mind that some of those Cambridge questions aren’t realistic (they’re a bit too hard and sometimes include “wrong” answers which aren’t totally wrong), but some of your wrong answers are probably because of mistakes that you can fix. Try some official material so you can get a better idea of your actual performance. Then, look carefully through those wrong answers (both in Cambridge and anywhere else). Analyze why exactly a wrong answer was wrong. Look carefully at the text, and consider how you could have gotten that question right. The more you study your mistakes, the more you’ll learn. 🙂

  16. saisumana September 21, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi,Lucas i have 2 weeks of time to prepare for toelf ,Im a novice should I go about preparing?I have only ets official guide with me .Could you please suggest how should I prepare

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      If you only have a couple of weeks, you’ll want to focus on learning the format of the test. Give yourself time every day to read about the test format and then do practice questions. Your goal is to know exactly how to answer every question that you might get. Don’t be surprised by anything! This is especially true of the speaking section.

      Be sure that you’re practicing in test-like conditions, too. Listen to recordings only once, and don’t read the questions until after the recordings finish. Record yourself when you do speaking practice. Write your practice essays with a QWERTY keyboard.

      And from that experience, learn what is difficult for you personally, then repeat the same practice sessions, avoiding your previous mistakes. Be sure to use all of the practice material in the official guide before your test day. Do everything twice, if possible, and pay careful attention to the parts that are more difficult or you get wrong. Learning from your mistakes is key!

      Two weeks isn’t a lot of time, but it’s enough that you can learn what to expect on test day, and that can be incredibly helpful.

  17. zairah October 13, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I have around 10 days to prepare for TOEFL and I just took my GRE. How should I go about my preparation and which book shall I buy? I am aiming a score above 100.

    Thank you.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      With only ten days, you probably won’t be able to make much use of bigger, more thorough books like Cambridge or the Complete Guide. It’d be best to focus on Official material, starting with the Official Guide. Here are some basic goals for the next ten days:

      – Study how wrong answers are made incorrect in the reading and listening sections and learn how to avoid them
      – Choose a reading strategy that works best for you (reading the whole passage before moving onto questions or reading with question one and then beginning the passage)
      – Learn the ideal amount of notes for you so that you can both listen and write. Too many notes = not enough listening. Too few notes = can’t remember the details.
      – Learn how to structure your answers for each speaking task and both writing tasks.

      Of course, there are more goals, but these are some of the basics, and they should be achievable in ten days. 🙂

  18. Susan November 27, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    Hi Lucas, Thanks for your great reviews! I’ve poured through them and still can’t make out the best option to choose. I’ll be teaching a TOEFL prep course this January and need to choose a book asap. It looks like I would need a combination of several to round out the shortcomings you’ve mentioned. While I can buy a few extra books to use as class practice, the cost to students for their books will be an issue if there’s too much to buy, like with the Cambridge one that you say needs the 8 CDs. About 5 years ago, I used the Longman set and found it much more useful as a teacher than the Offical ETS one, but I don’t have the extensive experience to contrast its merits. Is there one best book for teachers to use and have their students buy?

    I need to choose very soon, so a quick answer would be appreciated if possible.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 2, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

      Hi Susan!

      I’d be happy to help. Most of these reviews are geared more toward self-study, so some of the important information you need is missing—sorry about that! My favorite book for classroom courses is Oxford Preparation, by far. Some of the practice material has similar flaws to those in Cambridge, but they’re largely compensated for by the focus on classroom activities, conversation material, and clear organization. It’s much easier to plan a lesson around Oxford than it is to plan around Cambridge or The Complete Guide (and definitely better than the Official Guide, yes!). I’d also recommend getting the official material to make copies of for additional practice, of course. There’s nothing quite like using the real thing. The book of five official practice tests is best for that. I hope that helps a bit! Enjoy teaching that class. 🙂

  19. Sarah March 24, 2015 at 5:02 am #

    Thanks for these reviews. I need to recommend a self-study book to someone whose exam is in a month. He has been using the ETS “Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, 4th edn”, but has now run out of test materials.
    He mostly needs to practise Speaking and Writing.
    I am very tempted by “Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test” but I cannot understand whether it is absolutely essential to buy the 8 audio cds, which would cost almost £90 to buy here in the UK.

    Please could you clarify for me: on this book’s CDRom, are there audio files for all parts of the 7 practice tests? Are the additional audio CDs only required for the additional “skill-building” work?
    He might not have time to do much skill-building study anyway, so if he can fully utilise the 7 practice tests WITHOUT buying the additional 8 audio cds, then that is what I will recommend to him.

    I would be eternally grateful if you could clarify this point for me. Thank you. And thanks for the superb website – it is proving very helpful for a newbie TOEFL teacher and an overwhelmed TOEFL candidate!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 25, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

      Happy the reviews have been helpful! There are a few points it sounds like I should clarify:

      The seven practice tests in Cambridge are all on the CD-rom that comes with the book. That includes all the audio.
      No other audio comes with the book. Considering that the book is mostly skill-building, that means the set of audio CDs is pretty important if you want to make full use of the book. If you plan on teaching the TOEFL with other students, you might want to invest in the set to be able to use those skill-building exercises with other students. But it sounds like they wouldn’t help much for this particular student
      If you only want practice tests, and the student hasn’t yet used the book of five official practice tests (which are separate from the official guide), then don’t buy Cambridge. Buy the other official tests. They’re higher quality, even if they are paper-only.

      I hope that helps!

  20. Craig Wilson March 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    I am an ESL teacher, teaching in Mexico. I have two students who would like to prepare for the Toefl exam. Which book would you recommend for my students? Do you have favorite web sites you would recommend?
    I currently use Cambridge Interchange 4th Edition for my classes. Do you have an opinion on these books? Would you recommend a different lesson book?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 25, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      Hi Craig,

      I haven’t used Cambridge Interchange before, but it’s not a TOEFL-specific series, so I don’t recommend it alone for TOEFL preparation. Even if it is a fantastic set for general ESOL lessons, you would still want to supplement with a TOEFL-specific book for students to learn the format of the test.

      If you want to find the best TOEFL books, check our other book reviews for ideas. Which books will work best depends largely on what type of practice your students need. But if you don’t know much about the TOEFL yourself, start with The Official Guide. That book doesn’t provide lessons, but it explains the test and gives examples, which are a huge help. The practice tests are some of the best you can buy.

      As for favorite websites, I’m afraid I might be a bit biased, because Magoosh TOEFL is my baby. 🙂 If you’re interested in using Magoosh TOEFL in conjunction with your general ESOL lessons, that might be a possibility for you! Email us at if you have any questions about what we offer.
      For the

  21. Carmen July 24, 2015 at 11:07 pm #

    Hello! Thank you for providing an abundant amount of information on the TOEFL test. I just have a few questions I’d like to ask, if that’s okay.

    In one of your responses in a review, I read that you have taken the TOEFL test. Did you take the paper written test or the internet based test? If you’ve taken both, which test would you recommend most? Which is the easiest, in your opinion?

    Also, i just signed up for TOEFL internet based test (would have signed up earlier, but I’m a pretty irresponsible person it appears) and the date of my test is in 2 weeks! I had the option of taking it on the 29th but from what I read on the website, it takes 2 weeks to receive the test results and my college application deadline is October 1st. Though my English is not perfect, I was born and raised in Canada, so I’ve been speaking and writing English almost all my life.
    Question is, do you think that 2 weeks is an adequate amount of time to study for this exam if I study every day with help from the official guide and the Cambridge prepareation book? I’m quite worried that I won’t be ready in 2 weeks.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink July 28, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

      I took the iBT—only students in areas without internet access take the PBT. 97% of students take the iBT, and you generally will not have a choice, so don’t worry about which is “easier.” 🙂

      And whether 2 weeks is enough for you depends on your starting point and target score. But you can definitely make improvement and become more prepared in that time!

  22. Carmen July 24, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

    Ah I forgot to ask one more question!

    The college that I’m applying to requires a minimum score of 450 on the paper based test and 45 on the internet based test. What is the test scored out of? I saw some of the Magoosh testimonials and some of their test results were in the low 100s. Is that for the paper based test or the internet based test?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink July 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

      The iBT is scored out of 120. If the minimum score at a program was as low as 45, it’s likely that students who score in the lower ranges will be given conditional acceptance. The PBT, as I mentioned in my other comment, isn’t very common, but the scores go from 310 up to 677

  23. Eugenia September 27, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi Lucas!

    I have read all your book reviews. I’m about to purchase TOEFL CAMBRIDGE PREP but it says “+CD PRACTICE ONLINE – 7 online practice test”. It looks like it doesn’t come with the Audio… Is it going to be worthless? Could you please advice?

    Will I be able to work on those 7 tests without the additional audios?

    I’m also practicing with Magoosh 😀


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink September 28, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

      It’s not worthless without the audio CDs, but the book is much better with the CDs. Most listening, speaking, and writing exercises use the 8 audio CDs. Still, the seven practice tests are completely usable without the audio CDs. All those tests are are completely on the CD-rom, including their audio.

      If you are already using Magoosh, I’d first recommend buying the Official Guide and the book of five practice tests. The practice tests in the Cambridge CD are okay, but they aren’t great. Official material is better. 🙂

  24. Leopoldo Bustamante October 17, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Hello Lucas,

    I have a question. When you are talking about the 7 full-length practice tests. I would like to know if the speaking section on each practice test in the TOEFL CAMBRIDGE PREP is corrected like the official practice test that TOEFL ibt offers in the web site, because I am thinking of purchasing one or two test, but if i have 7 at the same price, it is better for me, because i need to get 26 in the speaking section. What do you think?

    Best regards,
    Leopoldo Bustamante

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink October 21, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

      Hi Leopoldo,

      The speaking tasks for Camrbidge practice tests aren’t automatically graded, I’m afraid. But to be honest, the automatic grading of speaking tasks provided by ETS for TPO tests is so bad, it’s basically useless. See my review here:

      The simple truth is that computers cannot yet understand human speech well. So unless you are paying another person to grade your speaking tasks, the best option you have is grading your answers yourself, using sample responses and rubrics for guidance.

  25. Nishant May 24, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Hey, I bought the book and took my first practice test. The report card at the end shows me the scores to only the reading and listening sections, will it not show me scores for my writing and speaking sections?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 24, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

      TOEFL Writing and Speaking need to be scored by an actula human being– that’s how ETS does it when they calculate scores on the exam itself. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to automatically score these kind of responses. The best thing you can do here is to carefully read the official TOEFL score guides for Speaking and Writing.

  26. Chirag October 14, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Lucas!

    Great review!!

    I’m using both the Official Guide and Cambridge. I feel that most questions, especially in the reading and speaking section of Cambridge is a little too difficult apart from being poorly written. I’ve taken a few practice tests and the reading section score I receive is just 22. I just want to badly believe that the Cambridge material is a little harder than what I see on test day. The speaking questions are quite intimidating. I’ve searched a lot for people’s experience with the material but most people simply state that “Its great”.

    I’d like to know,

    1) How close to the real test are these practice test questions of Cambridge?

    2) Will the speaking questions on the real test be of the same difficulty as Cambridge? Or is the overall difficulty of the speaking section similar to the actual test?

    3) In the first 3 practice tests (out of the seven), the listening part of a speaking task especially Question 5, students go on to discuss more than 2 (sometimes 3 or 4 or maybe more!!) solutions to a problem. Is this what I should expect on test day?

    I’m very worried since an actual score on the Speaking is not available. I hope that Cambridge is just trying to prepare me for the worst and that I receive a better score than what Cambridge estimates.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

      Hi Chirag!

      It’s always wonderful to see a student think so carefully about their test prep materials. You’ve asked some very good questions here, and I’ll be happy to help. Here are my answers:

      1) The real tests are noticeably different, in terms of question types, the amount of each question type, the structure of the lectures and passages, and so on. Lucas touches on this a bit in his review, and if you compare your TOEFL OG and your Cambridge book side-by-side, you’ll probably notice some additional differences as well.

      2) Both the Independent Speaking and Integrated Speaking portions of the Cambridge tests are more complicated than the ones you’ll find on the real TOEFL or in the OG.

      3) The audio in Cambridge Speaking prompts have more complexity and more individual points to consider, compared to real TOEFL Speaking prompts. If it helps, see our article on the structure of TOEFL Integrated Speaking Tasks and compare this to the structure you see in Cambridge’s Integrated Speaking audio. You’ll definitely never have to deal with more than two solutions to a problem in Speaking Task 5 on the real exam.

      All in all, I’d approach Cambridge’s TOEFL Speaking only to build up your general language skills. Their harder TOEFL Speaking prompts don’t prepare you for the worst you might see on the test. Instead, they prepare you for things you won’t see at all on the test. This can be a distraction from learning the real structure of the Speaking Tasks, and the best ways to address those specific structures on test day.

  27. Rajeev October 15, 2016 at 9:56 am #

    I did the speaking and writing sections,but was unable to send the scores because i don’t have a teacher to correct it,can anyone help??

  28. ajay October 27, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    i want to sign up for TOEFL for 1 month -access.
    i want to know that whether it includes full -length practice test ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 28, 2016 at 6:57 am #

      Hi Ajay,

      Yes, it does!

  29. Mohanna November 14, 2016 at 10:53 am #

    Hi Lucas,
    Fist of all, thanks for this detailed review. Secondly, I have this book and I already finished 5 exams and I have some questions that I need you to answer them for me please:

    1-I found out that many of their reading questions are not in order with the passage? like you can find question 2 in paragraph 3 and question 3 in paragraph 2? I don’t think the real exam had similar issues.

    2- Almost 70% of their questions doesn’t mention what paragraph hold the answer? does this issue appear in the real test.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 15, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

      Those issues don’t happen on the real test. There are some definite ways that Cambridge TOEFL doesn’t quite match up to actual ETS TOEFL tests and materials. This is really true of all third-party TOEFL prep services, when compared to ETS materials.

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