Beyond Magoosh and the official materials, where can you find truly quality TOEFL prep? Increasingly, the answer to that question is Barron’s. And Barron’s TOEFL iBT with 8 Online Practice Tests just might be their very best book. Still, like all TOEFL prep resources, it’s not perfect. Let’s take a closer look at this book’s pros and cons.
The Format of Barron’s TOEFL iBT With 8 Online Practice Tests
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that a significant portion of this book’s offerings are not actually found in the book itself; instead they are found online. Every print test in the book, including the 8 full-length practice tests and the 8 non-full-length 1 hour practice tests, is also available online. And only the online versions have audio for Listening and the Integrated tasks in the Speaking and Writing sections.
In terms of the types of support you’ll find online vs. in the book, both the print and online resources here cover exam advice, skills-building practice, and test practice.
The Quality of the Practice Questions
For my money, this is the most important consideration for any TOEFL book. After all, there’s no shortage of decent TOEFL tips and tricks for free on the web. But good quality practice materials outside of official ones from ETS are pretty rare. Barron’s TOEFL iBT with 8 Online Practice tests does relatively well on this front, but you’ll also want to be aware of the flaws in the practice material.
Barron’s TOEFL Reading Practice
This is where the book and its 8 online practice tests do the best. The Reading passages and questions here are very close to the real thing. Still, I will say that the TOEFL Reading practice in this book is a bit more complicated than average, compared to official prep. The Reading passages are just a little longer than you’d normally expect on the TOEFL, and the questions are more sophisticated than the ETS ones. Still, this seems like a minor nitpick; you will see at least a few Reading tasks of this complexity in official materials. And this material is close enough to leave you well prepared.
How Does Barron’s Do With TOEFL Listening?
Like the Reading material mentioned above, the TOEFL Listening in Barron’s matches the real thing very closely, with a few minor differences. In this case, the audio tracks are sometimes slightly shorter and simpler than you’d normally see on test day. Which makes it surprising that the questions themselves are a bit more compelx than the average ETS TOEFL Listening question. Still, this material is quite good, and certainly good enough to help you prepare for the TOEFL Listening you’ll see on test day.
TOEFL Speaking and TOEFL Writing: This Book’s Weak Spot
The third and fourth sections of the TOEFL are where the practice material stumbles the most. Specifically, the Integrated Speaking and Writing tasks are where Barron’s TOEFL iBT with 8 Online Practice Tests holds up kind of poorly.
Don’t get me wrong; you absolutely will find some Integrated Speaking and Integrated Writing tasks in this book that line up pretty well with the real exam. But those well-designed practice tasks are the exception to the rule. More often than not, the passages and audio tracks for Integrated Speaking are much too short, so much easier than the real test that they don’t make for good practice questions. And the Integrated TOEFL Writing in this book is all over the map! There are some tasks that are realistic, others that are far too simple, and others that are too difficult!
Fortunately, Barron’s Independent tasks for TOEFL Speaking and Writing (Speaking Task 1, Writing Task 2) are perfect. So definitely use those if you buy this book.
TOEFL Advice and Skills-Building
Overall, I was very happy with this aspect of the book. The range of advice and skills building exercises is richly varied; Barron’s offers support for student life vocabulary, note-taking, paraphrasing and summarizing, planning your study schedule, predicting your TOEFL score, and more.
Only two flaws really stood out for me as I looked at the advice and skills-building:
- The answer explanations for the questions are short and at times inadequate.
- There was one moment in their guide to academic writing that I found to be culturally tone deaf: Barron’s described Western essay writing structure as a straight line that demonstrates “linear thought.” For more of my own thoughts on why this is not a good way to teach writing to ESL students, see this post on English writing structure.
The Online Portion of the Book: Great Content, Lousy Presentation
ARRGH! That’s the displeased noise I made under my breath as I tried to access and navigate the online material that comes with Barron’s TOEFL iBT with 8 Online Practice Tests.
The book tells you that you can easily, instantly access all online prep and downloads by going to http://bit.ly/Barrons-TOEFL. But this link will only take you to Barron’s main portal for all online resources related to all of their test prep books, including many non-TOEFL books.
From there, you’ll need to type “TOEFL iBT” into the search field and click “Register” for both the “TOEFL iBT” resource and the “TOEFL iBT Audio” resource. And then, even once you’re in those resources, navigating them to find the various resources takes some trial and error.
The one silver lining of this frustrating interface is that you don’t actually need an access code.
- For “TOEFL iBT,” you don’t need to create an account or log in. Instead, you are brought right to the online content when you click the “Register” button.
- A username and password for “TOEFL iBT Audio” is displayed right above the “Register” button; you can simply enter that rather than creating your own account. Of course, this means that the generous online content offerings are free; you don’t actually need to buy the book for them.
Ultimately, I still do recommend getting the book. Both the book content and the online content work well together. And the quality of the online practice is great! The test software is especially nice; it’s very similar to the real TOEFL, and it imitates the TOEFL Listening timer even more accurately than the mock tests from ETS’s own official books.