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English Book Review: Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test

Grade: A

Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test CoverToo often, students study vocabulary as if they are trying to memorize dictionaries. Simply knowing the definition of a word is not the same as truly learning the word, because it doesn’t mean you can use the word correctly. And although there are some questions that just ask for a synonym in the reading section, the TOEFL is mostly a test of vocabulary in use. Knowing what words mean when you read them or hear them is a big help, but you should also know how to use the words yourself for the speaking and writing sections of the test. The same is true of grammar: you have to actually use the correct grammar in your responses, not just know the rules.

That’s why I really like Collins’ Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test. This is the first vocabulary and grammar book I’ve found that not only gives definitions, explanations, example sentences, and basic fill-in-the-blank exercises, but also includes exercises that mimic every part of the TOEFL.

Note, for instance, that this book comes with a CD. Why? Because there are lectures and conversations on it. And more importantly, those lectures and conversations actually sound like what you hear on the TOEFL. Then, in the book, you have listening, speaking, and writing questions on those recordings. But the goal is not to practice taking the TOEFL, exactly; the goal is to improve vocabulary and grammar. So all of the words from the word lists are in those lectures, conversations, texts, and multiple choice questions. That way, you get to see the same word again and again in natural, native usage, and then you can imitate that usage in your spoken and written responses. This is exactly what a you should do to improve your academic vocabulary!

The words that are used in this book are almost all appropriate, too—unlike the words in McGraw-Hill’s 400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL, for one. That’s partially because Collins’ book draws words from Averil Coxhead’s Academic Word List, which is the best source of common academic words. But only a fraction of the words in this book are from that list; the others are chosen based on the topics that most often appear on the TOEFL, such as history and animal behavior. And those words are almost all TOEFL-appropriate. There are a few, such as “electron” and “removable media” that aren’t really helpful, but 95% of vocabulary in this book consists of words you should know before you take the TOEFL, because the chapter themes are very similar to the topics that are actually on the TOEFL.

The grammar is also explicitly connected to the test. Why, for example, should you study reported speech? The book makes it clear: your first essay task on the TOEFL requires you to summarize a professor’s lecture. Reporting speech is a core skill for an essay like that!

Of course, Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test isn’t perfect. Some of the vocabulary and grammar will be too easy for advanced students. But this isn’t a large problem—review never hurts. Besides that, the test-like practice material is not a substitute for real test practice. In Collins’ book, the lectures and texts are much shorter than they are on the real TOEFL, so timing and note-taking aren’t as important. But if you use this material as vocabulary and grammar practice, specifically, that doesn’t matter too much. In other words, this book is a supplement to your TOEFL preparation. You cannot prepare with this book alone. And finally, it is a bit short. There are around 300 words in this book, for instance. Magoosh’s free TOEFL vocabulary flashcards have 600 words, and they are on average even more relevant to the TOEFL. But you could still use both, since the exercises in this book work well to help you remember words you’ve learned in the flashcards.

If you need to improve your vocabulary and grammar for the TOEFL, or if you are teaching or tutoring the TOEFL, I highly recommend this book!

 

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7 Responses to English Book Review: Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test

  1. Phil de Fontenay September 14, 2015 at 8:49 pm #

    Awesome review Lucas! Thanks for doing this.

    Cheers!

    Phil

  2. Nikita July 7, 2016 at 11:54 am #

    Could you please suggest which book is better to choose from word power made easy and collins that you mentioned above for TOEFL.
    Thank you.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 7, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

      That’s a tough question, as those are both really great books. 🙂 Overall though, I’d say that Collin’s Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test is better for the TOEFL. It focuses much more on academic English and the use of vocabulary in TOEFL-like contexts. Word Power Made Easy is nice (especially because of its information on root words and word forms), but WPME is really geared much more toward conversational English and business English, and lacks the academic word focus you need for TOEFL prep.

  3. Nui September 19, 2016 at 7:35 am #

    How do you compare this book with Barron’s Essential Words for the TOEFL? I’ve heard that book is good too.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 23, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

      Collins Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test is definitely a stronger resource for TOEFL than Barron’s Essential Words. Barron’s has a tendency to miss the mark when it comes to TOEFL, and their Essential Words book also has this problem. The Barron’s book tends to focus either on easier TOEFL words or words that aren’t all that likely to actually appear on the test. And a lot of the Barron’s vocabulary activities and practice quizzes are confusing and not-the-greatest for building actual TOEFL vocabulary comprehension skills.

  4. Shreyans September 19, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

    Hi Lucas,

    Heartfelt thanks for your in-depth reviews. I have already completed Word Power Made Easy during my preparation for GRE and I don’t really want to purchase another book if possible. Is the Magoosh Vocabulary book for TOEFL a good replacement for Collins?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

      I can get this for you, Lucas. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words about Lucas’s review, Shreyans. To answer your question, there is no one “must have” resource for TOEFL vocabulary. The Magoosh TOEFL Vocabulary PDF, along with other vocabulary resources you don’t need to pay for, can be a perfectly acceptable substitute for any given TOEFL Vocabulary book. This is true even of a really great resource like the Collins book featured in this blog post. You may also want to hold on to Word Power Made easy and review it for the OTEFL. It’s an excellent vocabulary skills resource for both TOEFL ad GRE.

      The trick is to make sure you have access to enough vocabulary resources to meet your learning needs. If you still need more vocabulary materials after you finish our free eBook, be sure to check out the other content in the Magoosh TOEFL Blog’s vocabulary archives. And feel free to look at other good TOEFL vocabulary resources, such as the Academic Word List that Lucas mentioned in this review.

      You may also want to hold on to Word Power made easy and review it for the TOEFL. That book has excellent vocabulary building advice and activities for both he TOEFL and the GRE.


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