When you’re shopping for TOEFL books, it can be hard to know which are high-quality and which you should walk away (if not run away) from! That’s why I’ve put together this list of TOEFL book reviews: the best TOEFL books of 2016 – 2017. Here, you’ll see exactly why some books stand out from the crowd—and learn what to avoid when searching for good TOEFL prep.
Let’s start with an overview of the books (and what they’re best used for) before going on to more detailed ranking and reviews.
TOEFL Book Reviews: The Best TOEFL Books of 2016 – 2017
|Best Practice Tests||1||The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test||ETS||2013||$25.00|
|2||Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 2||ETS||2015||$21.84|
|3||Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 1 (ed. 2)||ETS||2012||$14.95|
|Best Skill-Building||1||Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test||Cambridge University Press||2014||$47.40|
|2||Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test (iBT Edition)||Heinle ELT||2006||$79.21|
|Best Vocabulary and Grammar||1||Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test||HarperCollins UK||2013||$20.99|
|Best Classroom Book (for Teachers)||1||Oxford Preparation for the TOEFL iBT Exam||Oxford University Press||2012||$55.00|
|2||NorthStar Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT||Pearson Longman||2006||$45.45|
|Best eBook/Best Free Book||1||Magoosh's Guide to the TOEFL iBT||Magoosh||2015||Free!|
*List prices given at time of publication and subject to change
Now, let’s take a look at why each one of these books deserves its spot in the rankings with my complete review of each TOEFL book. (You can also click on the book or section name to go right to the review!) Today, we’ll be taking a look at these, the best TOEFL books of 2016 – 2017:
- The Best Practice Tests
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:
- It has the most truthful description of what you see on the TOEFL iBT
- The practice sets at the ends of the chapters
- 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.
Second Place: Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 2
If you finish the tests in the Official Guide, the next best source for cheap, authentic practice tests is this book. I was tempted to give this book first place, actually. Released in 2016, Official TOEFL iBT Tests Vol. 2 has the most up-to-date TOEFL tests of any official TOEFL book. Its practice TOEFLs are newly released as of this year. In contrast, the first mock exams from the Official Guide were originally released in 2009 and 2012.
So this book definitely would be number one for best practice tests… if the full tests were the only thing I considered. However, I’m also counting the practice sets at the end of the chapters in the Official Guide. The OG practice sets, which come with additional explanations and advice, are a fantastic extra source of supported practice testing. Official TOEFL iBT Tests Vol. 1 simply doesn’t have this kind of material. There are no extra practice questions, and no supplemental chapters that give extra information about the tests. There are just tests and answer keys, plain and simple.
Still, these are the best full tests you can get. And like the tests in the TOEFL OG, the tests in this new ETS book also come with pretty good simulation software. (Although the CD software is once again imperfect.)
Third Place: Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 1, 2nd Edition
Coming in at a close third place: Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Vol. 1, 2nd Edition. The title is a little confusing, I know. But remember, this is not the second volume of Official TOEFL iBT tests. It’s the first volume of 5 practice TOEFL tests, originally released in 2012. This newer second version of Vol. 1 was released in 2015.
The book still has the exact same practice tests as before. But there is one important difference: this second edition now comes with TOEFL practice software. It’s pretty much the same software as the CDs from the Official Guide and from TOEFL iBT Tests Vol. 2. So it’s not perfect. But it’s a big improvement over the first edition of the book, which has an audio-only CD.
The only difference between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 is that Volume 1’s tests are older. Other than that, the two books have the exact same format, just different tests. So this third place book is quite good.
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Some practice material is too difficult, and not well written.
- 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.
There’s also one smaller problem, of course: this book is from 2006. However, the book has aged well, partly because it’s very well-written, and partly because the TOEFL iBT has made only small changes in the last 10 years or so. So again, The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test comes highly recommended.
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)
First Place: 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.
Second Place: NorthStar Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT
While my students and I have benefited the most from Oxford’s TOEFL Prep book, the NorthStar series is another great one I’ve used a lot. This book series is designed for students at a number of different English levels, with editions for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students.
NorthStar Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT is published by a third-party company, Pearson Longman. But this series is also co-sponsored by ETS, the makers of the TOEFL. “In cooperation with ETS” can be seen on the covers of each edition, and NorthStar is on ETS’s official list of recommended TOEFL books for classrooms.
The skills-building content is great. The reading and listening comprehension activities help students think about the most important points in a given passage or audio track. The highlighted vocabulary is also quite TOEFL-like, with a good range of academic English words, and TOEFL idioms. And there are some fantastic speaking and writing activities that help students increase their TOEFL readiness too.
Like Oxford, NorthStar includes materials that aren’t 100% TOEFL-like. Also like Oxford, Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT does include content that is more topical or controversial than the stuff on the real exam. However, NorthStar also has quite a bit of material that covers the same academic topics you’d see on the exam.
The topic and controversial passages and audio are not necessarily a huge flaw. Again, this kind of content is great for student interest and participation. Instead, the most obvious flaws in NorthStar’s TOEFL prep can be seen in the practice questions. Often, the questions are too easy, with one clearly correct answer and three obviously wrong ones. Real TOEFL questions require you to think more about which answers are right and which are wrong. Paradoxically, some of the questions are also far too hard, with “wrong” answer choices that are very close to being correct.
Finally, there are some issues with the voice acting. In genuine TOEFL audio tracks from ETS, the speakers are a little “flat.” The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s clearly not designed for any dramatic effect. In NorthStar, however, the actors really get into their roles at times. This approach is engaging and can grab student’s attention, but it isn’t true to the actual test. In another added twist that’s not on the actual TOEFL, sometimes the NorthStar TOEFL speakers have non American accents or nonstandard regional accents; a rarity on the exam.
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.
And if you like our free eBooks, don’t forget to check out our comprehensive TOEFL materials. 🙂