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Barron’s TOEFL iBT Book Review

Barrons TOEFL iBT Cover ImageBarron’s is one of the largest names in test preparation, and they make some of the better books for many tests. Their TOEFL book is one of the most popular on the market, which is surprising, to me: it’s only mediocre, really.

There may be another reason for its popularity, though. It’s cheap and complete. If you buy the book plus CD-rom, you don’t need to buy anything else to make full use. You don’t need to buy any other audio CDs or supplementary books. The price is maybe the most attractive feature.
 

TOEFL Practice Material

The first thing you should notice about this book if you see it is that it’s mostly practice tests. Altogether, over 500 of the 800 pages are tests or answers to those test questions. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily—that leaves a full 300 pages for lessons and exercises, too. But it’s also worth noting that all of those practice tests and examples are on the included CD-rom, so they’re not very important to include in the book. It’s better to take full practice tests on the computer, similar to the real TOEFL.

That’s a great number of practice tests for full-length practice, especially because the software on the CD is very good, but it’s dangerous to rely too much on practice tests. A practice test gives very little guidance, teaches very few lessons. You need strong self-analysis to learn from a practice test. Many students need more specific guidance and explanation.

The quality of those practice tests is not great, either. The readings usually have subheadings (like “TOEFL Practice Materialabove); readings on the real TOEFL will not. The actors are sometimes really bad and don’t use the right tone of voice to communicate emotions. The lectures sound like they’re read from a piece of paper, without the pauses, uhhs, umms and repetitions that a real TOEFL recording would have. Both lectures and conversations are often too long, and the lectures are too complicated. The integrated writing questions often ask you to summarize the reading, whereas the real TOEFL will ask you to summarize the lecture. Speaking task number three should be about a conversation that you listen to; many examples in this book are not conversations.

Meanwhile, the reading and listening questions aren’t bad—better, on average, than those in Cambridge’s TOEFL book—but the reading questions are a bit too easy on average, and there are too many other problems in the speaking tasks, writing tasks, texts, and recordings.

 

Skill Practice

Barron’s focuses on four main skills:

  • Note taking
  • Paraphrasing
  • Summarizing
  • Synthesizing (combining information from a text and a recording)

And it does those four skills very well. Each one is broken down into a step-by-step learning process with exercises to make gradual improvement with. For these four topics, Barron’s might be the best skill-building book you can find.

The problem is that there isn’t more of this. What about grammar practice? There’s none here. Vocabulary? There’s a list of college-life words in the back of the book—things students might say in conversation recordings—but none of the formal, academic vocabulary for lectures. And there are several small topics which are barely in the book or not at all.

 

Explanations

The answers and explanations are 1/3 of Barron’s TOEFL iBT, so it’s not surprising that they’re generally more complete than other books’ answers. Barron’s often tells you why the wrong answers are wrong, which is very helpful. Many books only focus on the right answers. If answer choice B and D both look correct, knowing why B is correct isn’t helpful. You also have to know why D is wrong. Having this for reading and listening questions (not for every question, but for many) is great.

But again, there’s a problem in the writing and speaking sections: the sample answers are completely unrealistic. They’re all done by natives. The recordings of sample speaking answers are completely scripted (not natural). The essays use more advanced language than you need. They’re helpful, sometimes; you can learn new structures or get good reading/listening practice, for example. But they’re not similar to your spoken answers and essays. That makes it very difficult to grade yourself, and grading is the real purpose of these samples.

 

Test Strategy and Advice

All of the advice I saw in this book is good, but there aren’t enough specifics. That is, none of the advice is wrong, but it isn’t very detailed or informative. Ideally, you should have a lot of practice answering each type of reading question and lessons on strategies for each one . How do you answer an “insert text” question, for example? Barron’s doesn’t give these exercises. There are just descriptions of question types and general advice.

This is connected to skill-building practice, though. If you improve the general skills that Barron’s focuses on, you’ll also improve on specific types of questions. It seems the author was depending on that idea. But there needs to be more practice following the process of answering each type of question that’s on the test. More specific strategies would be helpful; this book doesn’t give many.

 

Report Card:

Authenticity of practice material: C-

Amount of practice material: A

Quality of explanations: B

Skill building material: B+

Test strategy and advice: B-

 

The Final Word

Nothing in this book is terrible, but everything is done better in other books. If you have it, it will be helpful, but don’t buy it unless price is a very important factor.

 

40 Responses to Barron’s TOEFL iBT Book Review

  1. Dee January 2, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    Hi Lucas,

    Happy new year! I was eagerly awaiting a Barron’s review, so thank you for this. I have the “Barron’s TOEFL iBT 2011 13th Edition CD (7 Tests)”, I hope you are talking about the same product here.

    I am doing fine on the reading passages, but have trouble with anything that involves listening to lectures. I don’t have any trouble understanding the language, but most of the topics discussed are alien to me, and information is mentioned only once in the recordings. Hence, I am having trouble taking notes / absorbing the actual details.

    Will the lectures on the actual TOEFL be this complicated? Will we be questioned on the esoteric details mentioned in the lecture? And will the speakers be talking too fast to take notes? Please help!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 6, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

      Hi Dee,

      Yes, that’s the same book. You have an earlier edition than the one that I used in my review, but they don’t really change much from year to year. I don’t know the exact difference between 13th and 14th edition, but it’s usually just a new cover with a couple of fixed typos.

      And that’s great that you’re doing well on the reading and feel you understand all the language in the lectures! That’s really what you need to score highly. Strategy and experience help, of course, but if your comprehension is high, then you’ll score well 🙂 But, yes, the lectures on the real TOEFL will be roughly the same pace and information density as those in Barron’s recorded lectures, and there will be occasional questions on very specific details from those lectures. The key is to find the right level of note-taking. I highly recommend trying to take notes only on the big ideas, rather than writing down every detail. Keep your focus on what you’re hearing, not what you’re writing. Only write as much as you need to remind yourself about the big ideas, not every single fact. Kate has some other great tips in this blog post here that you should check out if you’re having trouble.

      Lucas

      • Karim August 10, 2014 at 3:40 am #

        Hi lucas,
        Compared to the real toefl test, would U say the reading passages are harder or easier?

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas August 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

          Easier, without a doubt. That’s just the reading, though. The listening sections, on the other hand, are harder than the actual test.

  2. ALEXHOU January 6, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    I have been using Barron’s TOEFL iBT Book to teach students about the listening section and it is really good. I am also using another book. It is called Cracking the TOEFL iBT. That one is helpful, too. Could you please do another book review about Cracking the TOEFL iBT? Thanks.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 6, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your thoughts! I’d definitely agree that the questions themselves are well written for the listening practice, but in my honest opinion, the recordings need a lot of work. You can still conduct an effective class with it, I’m sure, but the other books I’ve been through so far have consistently more TOEFL-like recordings.

      As for Princeton Review’s book, that’s coming up on my list 🙂 I’ll have it up as soon as I can! Thanks for the request.

      Lucas

  3. farsa January 25, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    For note taking, paraphrasing, Summarizing and Synthesizing when you said Barron’s is the best book did you really mean it? I mean is it better than even Cambridge?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      Good question, Farsa. I might have worded too strongly in the post above. I’d say that Barron’s approach to those topics is very good–about equal to Cambridge’s–but the book doesn’t offer enough practice and doesn’t include any other skills. Cambridge is still a much better book for skill-building in general.

  4. Sonia January 28, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    How many CD’s are there in the Barrons TOEFL 13th edition?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 28, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

      It depends on what you buy. There is one package that includes two audio CDs for exercises other than the practice tests and on CD-rom for the 8 practice tests on the computer. That CD-rom includes all of the recordings for the 7 practice tests in the book because 7 of the 8 computer tests are the same as the book tests.

      There is also a package that includes 10 audio CDs–the recordings for the 7 practice tests in the book–if you want to do those tests on paper with a CD player. It’s better to use the computer tests, though, since the iBT is a computer test, so these CDs are unnecessary for most people other than teachers.

      The only serious attraction of this book (the price) about the two CD version; the ten CD version is more expensive.

  5. farsa February 8, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    Lucas would you please do a review on the book “Delta’s Key to the TOEFL iBT: Advanced Skill Practice”? I have heard good things about it. Here is the Amazon Link for it :
    http://www.amazon.com/Deltas-Key-TOEFL-iBT-Advanced/dp/1936402114/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391870574&sr=8-1&keywords=delta+key+toefl

    There has been recently another book by the same author which contains 7 practice test called “Delta’s Key to the TOEFL iBT: Seven Practice Tests”. here is the Amazon link:
    http://www.amazon.com/Deltas-Key-TOEFL-iBT-Practice/dp/1621670953/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1391870574&sr=8-3&keywords=delta+key+toefl

    Among the remaining books you have not reviewed yet (i.e. Oxford, Longman, Princeton, Kaplan, …) I think this one seems the most decent one demanding a thorough review by you! 😀 Thanks in advnace

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 18, 2014 at 9:47 am #

      I do plan on reviewing Delta’s books in time, but it might not be very soon. I’m working on my own lesson videos at the moment, but I’ll get back to the reviews within a few months, and I’ll definitely take a look at Delta’s book then. I have used it with students before, but it was a long time ago, now, and I don’t think I could give very accurate criticism until I spend more time with it.

  6. Prashant February 14, 2014 at 12:46 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    This is the only book I could get my hands on where I live, and so it and the CDs inside are my exclusive preparation material. So I want to know, how realistic are the scores form the practice tests from this book compared to the real test? I mean, if my average score in the 7 practice tests is 100, say, how much should I be expecting to get in the real test (which is 2 weeks away by the way)?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 14, 2014 at 9:35 am #

      That’s a really good question but a difficult one to answer, unfortunately. I can tell you now that many of the questions are too easy, but that doesn’t mean the scores are definitely inflated (higher than they should be). It’s possible that their scaling (the change from raw score to TOEFL score) compensates for the easy questions. That looks like it’s true, but it’s almost impossible for me to be sure without a lot of data—many students of different levels taking their tests and seeing results. I haven’t used this specific book for practice tests with students because the questions aren’t very TOEFL-like, so I can’t be sure if their scaling is accurate.

      That being said, I’m confident that if your average score is 100 from these tests, your real TOEFL score will also be quite high; I just can’t give an exact answer about how high. 🙂

  7. Adriana April 23, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I’m plannig to study to the TOEFL exam, to take my test next month, so which book you recommend it to buy.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas April 23, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Hi Adriana,

      Have you seen the rest of my TOEFL book reviews? It depends partly on what you need. For lots of skill building practice, I recommend either the Cambridge Guide or Bruce Rogers’s Complete Guide. For just practice with the test and minimal strategy, the Official Guide and the book of practice tests are best. You’ll need to decide how much material you need, how much time you have to study, and how much you want to focus on the core skills (like note-taking). Start with the official guide, then possibly buy another, according to what you need. 🙂

      Lucas

  8. Ashutosh July 30, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Hi,I have my TOEFL test in about 15 days.I solved all the practice sets from the official guide for the listening part.I got only 2 questions wrong in the entire 5 sets.I started to solve barrons 14th edition test directly from CD and I found their listening section to be quite lengthy.Many conversations were more than 6 mins in the first practice test and one was around 7 and a half minute.Got a very low score of 20 in the first practice test for listening.So my doubt is regarding the authenticity of the barrons listening section.Are the conversations longer than 6 mins on the real test?How close is the barrons listening section to the real test?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas July 30, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      That’s great that you did so well on the official material! Definitely value that score higher than the Barron’s material. The texts and recordings in Barron’s are not very high quality, as you saw—you’re right that recordings on the actual TOEFL don’t go over six minutes. You will probably hear one or two lectures that are close to six minutes, and it’s possible you might hear one lecture just over (maybe 6:03, say), although that is very unlikely. Lectures are from four minutes and thirty seconds to six minutes long. A conversation would never be six minutes—they are four minutes at maximum.

      The short answer is that Barron’s practice material is not very good. Consider your scores in official material above the scores you received from Barron’s.

  9. Rohith September 11, 2014 at 7:18 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I’m referring to the Barron’s TOEFL IBT 13th ed for my TOEFL preparation. The question that I wanted to ask you is that, from all the Notefull videos that I’ve watched; in the the writing question number 1, shouldn’t the Reading be actually refuted by the professor/lecturer in the conversation that we hear after the reading time is completed? But its the other way round in the Barron’s wherein the lecturer is actually supporting the Passage.

    I’m a bit confused on how this question is actually put forth in the actual exam. Also please tell me how close this software is to the actual Exam.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      Barron’s material isn’t all very similar to the real test. In this case, though, they’re not completely wrong. The lecture can support the text. It’s very rare, but it’s possible, according to ETS. But almost every official test I have seen has a lecture that opposes the text (maybe 9/10 of the time). In any case, I wouldn’t trust Barron’s material for accurate representations of the test.

      • Rohith September 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

        Thanks a lot Lucas,

        May be I’m relying to much on Notefull videos.

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas September 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

          You’re welcome!

          • Rohith October 14, 2014 at 2:56 am #

            I just got my official score today and I’ve scored 112/120. The score break down is as follows R-26, L-30, S-28, W-28.

            Thank you Lucas, for these excellent reviews on the TOEFL books. I mainly used the Barron’s IBT and Cambridge TOEFL IBT for my preparation along with the NOTEFULL video and official guide.

          • Lucas Fink
            Lucas October 17, 2014 at 10:59 am #

            Thanks for letting us know, Rohith! That’s a fantastic score, and I’m glad the book reviews helped you to get there. 🙂

  10. Aalim September 17, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I think my weakest point is “note taking” and I’m not a good listener (not because I can’t understand, because I can’t keep patience/ focus and lose continuity / important points of a long lecture). Then, which book you recommend for strategy, skill building (not practice material)? Barron’s? Cambridge? Complete Guide?

    Thanks.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 22, 2014 at 11:58 am #

      Good question! For note-taking exercises and listening material, I think your best choice is the Complete Guide. Barron’s has great advice, but there’s not enough of it. If you bought it only for the listening advice, you would be finished with the book very, very quickly. Cambridge, meanwhile, focuses more on writing and reading. It has good listening material, but only about half as much as what’s in the Complete Guide.

  11. danu October 13, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    Please let me know if there is online practice test that could closely matched to the actual test. I am taking Barron and it seems that it is quit easy. I am getting average 27 for reading and 25 for listing. I will sit for exam in three weeks.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

      The best match to the real test is what comes on the CD with the Official Guide. That gives you scores for the reading and listening sections which are just like the real test (because they are authentic, previous TOEFL tests), and guidelines for scoring speaking and writing.

  12. Josna November 20, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Hi,

    I am Josna. Next Saturday 29th of November I have TOEFL exam… I am bit nervous about.. My weakest sections are Speaking and Writing Section… What I should do in order to improve my speaking and writing skills… Could you tell me any useful websites where I can practice and get review of my answers for free??? I don’t know what to do, as hardly one week is left for the exam… Please guide me…

  13. Sainath July 30, 2015 at 5:49 am #

    Does the TOEFL practice test scores match with the real TOEFL test scores…???

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink August 3, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      I’m afraid the material is too different from the real TOEFL for it to match the official scoring well.

  14. Ali April 22, 2016 at 5:29 am #

    i am really confused! could you please classify the toefl books by degrees .
    What are the most significant books a person has to have it?
    even though I might study two or three books, but if you divide them
    which books would you choose for different skills
    Thx 🙂

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 22, 2016 at 11:20 am #

      Hi Ali,

      Good question! 🙂

      If you want to limit the books you buy, you should stick to the Official TOEFL books from ETS. These are the most authentic sources of material and reliably keep content identical to the test.

  15. Korina October 11, 2016 at 12:21 am #

    Hi Lucas,
    I have been practicing for the TOEFL with Barron’s book and I just saw this post. I have been doing the readings on the practice tests and they really did seem quite easy. I always scored 29/30 and had about 15 minutes to spare in the end. The thing is that my test is this week and I haven’t had a chance to test myself on harder TOEFL readings, so I wanted to ask you: Will I be able to maintain such a high score on the reading of the actual test or is the difference in the difficulty level significant?
    Thanks in advance,
    Korina

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 11, 2016 at 4:10 am #

      Hi Korina,

      The best thing to do is get your hands on some reading practice from ETS and see how you stack up. You don’t have a ton of time, but being aware of your standing before sitting down for your test will make the test day less stressful. This blog post has some good sources of materials, including official ones.

      It may be hard to expect a 29/30 if you have studied exclusively with the Barron book, but don’t sell yourself short, either! Take the time you have left, expose yourself to a bit of official material, and walk into your TOEFL test confident. 🙂

  16. saniya December 4, 2016 at 3:53 am #

    Hey Lucas,
    i have a similar query about the level of english in toefl reading section. i have been preparing with barrons and recently took a mock test at my nearest center. During the test i realized that level of english in reading section was higher than the practice tests given in barrons. I did not score well the way i have been scoring while practicing on my own. The center used Kaplan test. Given me some advise regarding that. I have my final in next 2 weeks.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 4, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

      Hi Saniya,

      This is a good example of why it is always important to be critical of preparation material! There is no perfect prep material for the TOEFL–each company has strengths and weaknesses! This is why we have book reviews for many major test prep companies 🙂 You have obviously already read the Barron’s review, so I encourage you to check out this review for the Kaplan material: https://magoosh.com/toefl/2014/kaplan-toefl-ibt-premier-book-review/.

      There are two important pieces of information regarding the reading sections from these book reviews: Barron’s reading comprehension questions tend to be too easy, and Kaplan’s questions aren’t very similar to those you will find on the actual test. So, I wouldn’t worry too much about the Kaplan reading score. The Barron questions are more authentic, but may be too easy overall–this is why you may have found the Kaplan test more difficult!

      Ultimately, the best source for authentic practice materials will be the Official Guide to the TOEFL Test; https://magoosh.com/toefl/2013/the-official-guide-to-the-toefl-test-fourth-edition-book-review/. This book was made by the same people who make the TOEFL, so it provides the best practice source!

      You can also read about our book recommendations here: https://magoosh.com/toefl/2015/the-best-toefl-books-of-2015/

      Hope this helps 🙂

  17. Soobin December 18, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    Hi Lucas,
    I have read all your book reviews and they are so helpful! Thank you so much 🙂 I have taken the toefl twice and I still need to improve my score. I was wondering if you have seen the barron toefl ibt 15th edition. I know that the 14th edition wasn’t so good but I really need to improve my reading section. Do you know if the barron 15th edition is good for reading? Or do you have any recommended books specifically for reading?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 18, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

      Hi Soobin,

      We don’t have any more recent reviews, but it is very rare for a book to change drastically in new edition. I think that this review should apply to the newest edition as well. You can see our complete list of book recommendations here. Have you considered Magoosh? Our comprehensive TOEFL program provides high-quality practice for all four sections of the test. You can try us for free for 7 days 🙂

      However, one of the best ways to improve reading is through, well, reading! You don’t need a prep book–just try to read English articles for at least a half hour every day. This will help to improve your overall English level and help you on all sections of the TOEFL. For some ideas on what to read, I recommend this blog post with reading recommendations and this blog post on how to improve in TOEFL reading.


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