You may have read Lucas’s review of the Official Guide to the TOEFL back in September. If so, you probably remember his conclusion that while the Official Guide was probably the best source for practice questions, its explanations and test-taking strategies were often, well, bad.
Enter the “Inside the TOEFL Test” series on Youtube, which offers a more in-depth look at the structure and content of specific parts of the TOEFL, stretched out over five videos of about ten minutes each. By the time you’ve watched each of these, you should have a good idea of how to approach the speaking and writing sections on the TOEFL.
Each video is split up into several sections: Question Structure, Approach Tips, Scoring Criteria, Sample Responses, and Skill Building Tips. So far, this seems like a good sign: perhaps ETS realized some of the weaknesses of the Official Guide and tried to correct them on Youtube. The Question Structure is worth a watch, although much of it is common knowledge or mentioned already in the Official Guide. In addition to describing the kind of question you will encounter in each section, this section includes some advice about each section, some of which may be useful for many test-takers. Then the speaker moves into Approach Tips and/or Scoring Criteria, which mostly consist of a summary of the rubric. All of the material in this section can be found in the Official Guide, but the language in the online version is much more accessible. The sample response is the highlight of this series: after showing a top-scoring response, the host discusses the strengths of the response AND shows/plays the appropriate section of the response. This really helps you see exactly what a scorer might be looking for in your response. The final section, Skill Building Tips, probably isn’t going to change your life, but you’ll probably find a handful of good ways to practice you hadn’t thought of before.
When it comes to formatting and presentation, this series definitely wins out over the Official Guide—or most other sources, for that matter. The speaker’s wild gestures at the headings as they appear are a little distracting, but he’s kind enough to disappear whenever something really important—like a test question or a key point—is written on the background. The format is colorful and animated enough to keep you interested—which definitely isn’t true of most print resources—without distracting you too much from the important information. Perhaps most important, in these videos you can view screenshots from the actual test. Even the CD that accompanies the Official Guide takes significant liberties with formatting, so definitely take a close look at how the sample questions are laid out on the screen in these videos. During the listening samples for the integrated tasks, the video displays key ideas as the speaker touches on them, which means that if you need to, you can hijack a couple of these videos and use them for guided listening practice.
Overall grade: B
Although this video series clearly can’t stand on its own as your primary study resource, it is a very good supplement to your other materials. About half of the information is common knowledge, at least among those familiar with the TOEFL. The most useful aspects are the guided reviews of sample responses and the skill-building tips, which will help you pinpoint which skills you need to develop even if you don’t use any of the video’s specific practice suggestions. All in all, I recommend that you watch these videos once through once you’re well into your studies. They’ll reinforce things you already knew, emphasize some facts you may have overlooked, and may even give you some ideas for how to accelerate your progress.