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The Best TOEFL Books of 2020 | TOEFL Book Reviews

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 2020. Here, you’ll see exactly why some books stand out from the crowd—and learn what to avoid when searching for good TOEFL prep for Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.

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A Note About the Books & the TOEFL’s Recent Changes

Remember that the TOEFL was updated in August of 2019, and the format was changed (you can read about those changes here). Many of the books we recommend below apply to the previous version of the exam. You won’t see the new format reflected in all of them, since those books are yet to come out. (We will update this post when we have the new books, of course.) That said, the resources we discuss here are still very useful to your studies, which is why we recommend them.


You can also get actual up-to-date resources on the web, including free ones from ETS and Magoosh. For free TOEFL prep that reflects the current test, see Magoosh’s “Best Free TOEFL Resources” roundup.

Magoosh TOEFL Book

If you are here because you typed “Magoosh TOEFL book” into your favorite search engine and then clicked on this post, I want to say—thank you! I am happy you’re here.

With that said, Magoosh has not published a hard-copy TOEFL book that you can order online or pick up on a bookstore. To keep our TOEFL prep accessible and low-cost, we host all of our prep materials online.

We do, however, offer free eBook PDFs that you will learn more about later in this article. And, if you are an interactive learner (I think most people are), then I’d recommend taking a look at the Magoosh TOEFL free trial.

TOEFL Book Reviews: The Best TOEFL Books of 2020

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.

CategoryRankingTitlePublisherYear Price*
Best Practice Tests1Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 2ETS2015$24.05
2Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 1 (ed. 2)ETS2015$18.13
3The Official Guide to the TOEFL TestETS2013$27.39
Best Skill-Building1Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL TestCambridge University Press2014$47.40
2Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test (iBT Edition)Heinle ELT2006$79.21
Best Vocabulary and Grammar1Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL TestHarperCollins UK2013$20.99
Best Classroom Book (for Teachers)1Oxford Preparation for the TOEFL iBT ExamOxford University Press2012$55.00
2NorthStar Building Skills for the TOEFL iBTPearson Longman2006$45.45
Best eBook/Best Free Book1Magoosh's Guide to the TOEFL iBTMagoosh2015Free!

*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 2020:

The Best Practice Tests

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The Best Skill-Building

The Best Vocabulary and Grammar

The Best Classroom Book (for Teachers)

The Best eBooks and Free Books

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: Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 2

the best TOEFL Books of 2020

The three books I’ll mention here are all very close to each other in ranking, but the best of the three for cheap, authentic practice tests is this book. I was tempted to give this book second or third place, actually. 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.

But because it was 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 very recent, after some very small changes had been made to the test. 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… But you may want to consider other parts. We can also consider the extra practice sets at the end of each chapter in the Official Guide, for example, in third place. The Official Guide practice sets, which come with additional explanations and advice, are a fantastic extra source of supported practice testing. Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volumes 1 and 2 simply don’t have that kind of material.

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 imperfect in all three books.)

Second Place: Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 1, 2nd Edition

the best TOEFL Books of 2016

Coming in at a close second 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.

Third Place: The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, 5th Edition

Click here for full book review of this 2017 TOEFL Official Guide
The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test - TOEFL Book ReviewsThere are three good things about the Official Guide:

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  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 four 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 relatively little strategy or advice. Also, there aren’t very many practice sets for some parts of the test, especially Speaking, Integrated Writing, and Listening conversations. And the four full practice tests in the back are out-of-date and imperfect. The first of them in particular is from immediately after ETS had started making the TOEFL iBT, before they made many small adjustments to the format. Even the DVD-Rom is imperfect—the software is the same as in the two other books of official tests, not exactly the same as software you’ll use on test day, although it is similar.

But this is still one of the best ways to get realistic practice tests for a low price, and especially to get them on the computer, like a real TOEFL iBT. For more details, see Magoosh’s full, in-depth review of the book immediately below:

Book Review: The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test (Fifth Edition)

The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test with DVD-Rom, Fifth Edition was released on December 13, 2017. This book comes more than 5 years after the last update. Has it been worth the wait? And is the Official Guide the TOEFL 5th edition really better than the 4th?

It’s a mixed bag. The new 2017 TOEFL OG is an improvement over the 2012 OG in many, but this new fifth edition is still far from perfect. Let’s take a closer look.

Report Card

Authenticity of practice material: B

Amount of practice material: B+

Quality of explanations: C+

Skill building material: D

Test strategy and advice: B-

Information about test content, structure, and scoring: B

Writing Style: A

Practice Test Content

This book includes four full practice tests, compared to the 2012 OG’s three practice tests. However, the first three practice tests of this new TOEFL 2017 OG are copied directly from the 2012 fourth edition of the guide. Most notably, the practice tests don’t reflect the changes made to the TOEFL in 2019. You’ll see extra TOEFL Reading, Speaking, and Listening questions that wouldn’t be on the current TOEFL. See this article on the 2019 TOEFL for details.

Still, some small but helpful edits have been made to the format of these first three tests. First, in the Listening section, any questions where an audio clip is replayed now appear at the very end of the question set. This is accurate to the newest versions of the real test, and makes for better prep than older TOEFL materials.

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The changes to the format of the TOEFL Reading Insert Text questions is probably the most noticeable in this newer TOEFL Official Guide. In earlier editions of the OG, these questions were a mess! Each answer choice would reproduce the entire paragraph where you needed to insert a sentence, filling the page with needless duplication of text. These long, hard to read answer choices have been replaced simply by the number for each choice (Choice 1, Choice 2, etc…). This makes the print version of the test more like the onscreen one.

These changes to format are also included in the fourth “new” practice test. You’ll notice that I put “new” in quotation marks. It is worth noting that the fourth practice test in the TOEFL exam isn’t all that new–it’s taken from a previously released official TPO test.

The fact that the fourth test in this book is duplicated from ETS’s TOEFL Practice Online isn’t much of a problem in and of itself. The odds are pretty good that you won’t have already seen this test in TPO, since not many TOEFL preppers actually purchase TPO exams. (To see why, read Lucas’s post “TOEFL TPO Review: TOEFL Practice Online.”

The bigger problem is that the 2017 TOEFL OG is using a TPO exam that’s at least a few years old. So you don’t get a single test in this book that truly reflects the most recent changes to the TOEFL.

None of the exams in this book reflect recent changes to accents in TOEFL audio tracks. You’ll only hear standard North American speech, even though the real exam currently includes non-American native English speakers form places like the UK and Australia. You also won’t see any TOEFL Reading multiple choice questions where you need to select two correct answers out of four instead of one out of four. The 2017 OG does mention this newer reading question type, but you won’t find an actual example of it anywhere in the book. And above all, of course, the new TOEFL has 10 questions per Reading passage, 5 audio tracks in Listening rather than 6, and 4 Speaking tasks rather than 3. These changes are not reflected in the fifth edition of the OG!

Practice Test Software

Some significant changes have also been made to the software on the CD that comes with the 2017 TOEFL OG. The new software actually looks a bit less like the real exam, compared to the 2012 OG. But believe it or not, these less TOEFL-like changes are actually a good thing! Why? Read on to learn more.

The biggest change is that the DVD-Rom gives you the option to view onscreen transcripts of the audio, while you listen. (Not possible on test day!) This option is great if you’re still struggling with your English listening skills. You can of course ignore the function if you want to have a more test-day-like experience.

Sadly, the software for The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test (5th edition) remains plagued with a a big inaccuracy: the timer for the TOEFL Listening section is still untrue to the real test! Like earlier official books, the 2017 TOEFL Official Guide software still shows the clock ticking down during the audio tracks. On test day, the TOEFL Listening timer only runs when you’re answering questions.

The new 5th edition TOEFL OG software adds one new feature from the real TOEFL.; you’ll now hear a chime and a voice announcement when your section time limit is up.

Other Practice Materials

The TOEFL Official Guide devotes a chapter to each section of the exam. In these four section chapters, you get additional practice for TOEFL Reading, TOEFL Listening, TOEFL Speaking, and TOEFL Writing.

For TOEFL Reading, TOEFL Listening, and TOEFL Speaking, these practice sections haven’t changed since the previous edition. For Reading, you still get 6 passages, each with a full set of questions. Similarly, the Listening chapter in the newest TOEFL Official guide contains the same five Listening passages and question sets seen in the 2012 OG: one conversation, two lectures, and two class discussions. And the Speaking chapter still has the same 6 tasks as before, a full Speaking section.

The Writing chapter has made one pretty big change, and it’s not an improvement. Like the 4th edition, this section still offers just one example prompt for TOEFL Writing Task 1 (Integrated). Sadly, however, The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test (5th Edition) actually has fewer sample TOEFL Writing Task 2 (Independent) questions. While the fourth edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL had nearly 200 Task 2 practice questions, this new version of the OG only has about 40 examples of task 2 prompts. And half of these prompts are simply copied from the 4th edition.

Answer Explanations, Skill Building, Test Advice and Information

Let’s face it. If you’re buying The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test (5th ed.) or any official TOEFL book, you’re really buying it for practice material. By their nature, ETS TOEFL practice questions are the most authentic ones you can find. But it is worth taking a brief look at the other features of this newer 2017 OG.

The answer explanations have changed very little. The ones for the first three tests are copied from the 2012 TOEFL OG, and the explanations for the fourth exam are similar to the first three. The correct answer is always explained fairly well, while the incorrect answers get almost no explanation. The explanation sections of this book say things like “Answer (B) is wrong because this idea is not in the passage,” or “Answer (A) is incorrect because the student and professor never discuss this.” In other words, the explanations tell you that a given answer is wrong because… it’s wrong. Not very helpful.

It is also worth mentioning that there are now far fewer example essays for the sample tests. The 4th edition of the TOEFL OG included 5 samples essays with commentary for Writing task in in each test, and 10 sample essays for Task 2 in each test. But this 2017 version of the TOEFL OG only uses two sample essays per TOEFL Writing Task. And these samples, along with their scorer commentary, are merely copies of Level 3 samples from the previous guide.

Skill building and test advice has definitely improved since the last edition. On nearly every page, the 2017 TOEFL Official guide adds extra information and clearer explanations about TOEFL structure and strategy. With that said, ETS still keeps this part of the book fairly superficial. These parts of the book are worth skimming for good information, but you can get better test support from other sources, including this blog.

On the other hand, The Official Guide to the TOEFL (5th Edition) is absolutely the most reliable print book for the “hard facts” about this test. Still, this book is the best print resource for the facts of the TOEFL test. If you want the clearest possible picture of what the TOEFL, this book—used in conjunction with Magoosh’s free online guide to the new TOEFL– is your go-to source.


Bonus TOEFL Practice Test

Try Magoosh’s free TOEFL Practice Test for high-quality practice.

The printable PDF features questions written by the same TOEFL Experts who wrote the content for Magoosh’s premium TOEFL product. That means that, if you like the practice questions, you know where to find more just like them. (Hint: In Magoosh TOEFL Prep!)

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

Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test: TOEFL Book ReviewThis is an old favorite of mine. Cambridge has two major advantages:

  1. There are seven full-length computer-based tests that come with the book. If you get the current edition, you get an access code and URL so you can take the tests online, while the older 2006 edition offers the same tests on CD. And these tests, online or on CD, are 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)

512UHK4jUiL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_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

Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test Cover

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

Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam CoverI’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

NorthStar Building Skills for the TOEFL iBTWhile 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.

Still, all in all this is great book to help students enjoy academic English and get a basic feel for the TOEFL, while developing their English skills.

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 beyond those two featured books of ours check out our complete list of free Magoosh TOEFL eBooks and PDFs.

TOEFL_iBT_cover-ebook-1a TOEFL Vocabulary Comics

And if you like our free eBooks, don’t forget to check out our comprehensive TOEFL materials. 🙂

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