The Best Practice Tests
In every standardized test, it’s the same story: the official practice material is the best material. Nobody else makes practice exactly like the company who makes the real test. In this case, that’s ETS.
First Place: The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test
There are three good things about the Official Guide:
1. It has the most truthful description of what you see on the TOEFL iBT
2. The practice sets at the ends of the chapters
3. The three practice tests on CD (and in the back of the book)
But none of it is perfect, oddly. The description of the test comes with almost no strategy or advice. For example, there is nothing about skipping a text in the reading section or looking at the first question before you start reading. Also, there aren’t very many practice sets for some question types, such as speaking. And one of the practice tests in the back is old and imperfect, from just after ETS had started making iBT, before they made small adjustments to the format. Even the CD is imperfect—the software is not exactly the same as software you’ll use on test day, although it is similar.
But there is still no better way to get realistic practice tests for a low price, and especially to get them on the computer, like a real TOEFL iBT.
Second Place: Official TOEFL IBT Tests
If you finish the tests in the Official Guide, the next best source for cheap, authentic practice tests is this book. But keep in mind they’re paper-only: the CD in the back just has mp3 audio so you can listen on a computer or an mp3 CD player. You can’t actually answer the questions on the computer. So if you want to mimic a real TOEFL iBT, you have to be a bit creative. Use an audio recording website, for example, and write your essays in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. That’s not ideal, I know, but the quality of the questions in these tests is so high, it’s still one of best resources you can buy.
The Best Skill-Building
Note: When I say “skill-building,” I am referring to exercises that focus on skills like note-taking, paraphrasing, searching for specific information in a large text, or planning an essay. There are many skills involved in the TOEFL that are not really discussed in the official material, but are extremely important if you need a large score improvement.
First Place: Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test
This is an old favorite of mine. Cambridge has two major advantages:
1. There are seven full-length tests on the included CD, and they’re even more similar to the real TOEFL software than is the software on the Official Guide CD.
2. In the book itself, there are hundreds of pages of skill-building materials.
No other book focuses on TOEFL-specific skills like Cambridge does. Take, for example, the process of writing a full essay paragraph. First, you need a main point. Cambridge has an exercise for that. Then, you need an explanation of that point, preferably with specific details. Cambridge has an exercise for that, too. Then, you need a transition into another detail. There’s an exercise for that, of course. If the Complete Guide is “step-by-step,” Cambridge is “step-by-step-by-step.” The skills you need for the TOEFL are broken down incredibly thoroughly.
There are two clear flaws, though:
1. Some practice material is too difficult, and not well written.
2. In order to use half of the skill-building, you need to buy the set of 8 CDs. The book alone does not give you listening exercises, other than what’s on the seven practice tests.
Second Place: The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test (iBT edition)
For a student who is studying for over a month and needs some more substantial practice, the Complete Guide is the fastest way to get more high-quality practice material and good skill-building material. It’s not cheap, and it can be a little hard to find, but this book has almost everything a good self-study book should have: loads of material, easy-to-read explanations of strategy, step-by-step training exercises, and audio included (online, for free.) The biggest problem is that there are no answers in the book—you have to buy a separate answer book for that.
The Best Vocabulary and Grammar
Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test
This book is only good for vocabulary and grammar, but that’s all it is supposed to be good for! And for that, it is the best resource, because it not only has appropriate words and grammar, but also has practice exercises that mimic every part of the real TOEFL.
Best Classroom Book (for Teachers)
Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam
I’ve taught classes with a number of the books on this list; I even used the Official Guide as the primary textbook in one (my first class—a mistake I did not repeat, seeing as that book has zilch in terms of classroom exercises). And no other book I’ve used was particularly good for classes except Oxford.
Granted, there are flaws aplenty, here. For instance, the topics of the texts and lectures are too often removed from the academic focus of authentic TOEFL material. They’re often topical or controversial, and those are two adjectives that just don’t describe the actual iBT. But that weakness in material is just the flipside of a very important coin: the material in this book can spark conversation, one of the English teacher’s best friends. If you want to get your students talking and studying the TOEFL at the same time, this is your best bet. And hey, you can always supplement with official material (Official TOEFL IBT Tests!) to get that real-thing feeling.
Magoosh’s Free eBooks
I’d be crazy not to mention the free eBooks that we created for the sole purpose of helping you ace the TOEFL. Written by the Magoosh TOEFL experts that you know from this blog (myself included), these eBooks contain all the basic information and helpful resources that you’ll need to begin your prep.
On their own, or as a supplement to the recommended books above, these TOEFL eBooks will help you make the most of your prep. Read them online, or print them out to study on the go. Click the images below to see the Magoosh Guide to the TOEFL iBT and Magoosh TOEFL Vocabulary Comics eBooks.