(NOTE: The TOEFL books that Magoosh reviews and recommends reflect the older, pre-August 2019 version of the test. As of this writing, there are no TOEFL prep books that reflect the newest version of the test. Fortunately, older-format books are still very useful in prepping for the current TOEFL. For details on this, see Magoosh’s tutorial on using older prep for the 2019 TOEFL.)
Flashcards are an interesting study tool. On the one hand, they over-simplify vocabulary growth. To really improve your vocabulary, you need to do more than just work through flashcards. You need to see the words in real English texts, hear them in conversation, and actually use the words yourself. Flashcards are just a small part of vocabulary improvement. So a product that is only flashcards, without any other training material, cannot be enough alone to improve your vocabulary. You will also need to get that real-life practice, or at least use fill-in-the-blank style exercises to show the context of a new word. The largest flaw of McGraw-Hill’s flashcards is simply that they are just flashcards.
But they are undoubtedly good flashcards. They include example sentences, synonyms, pronunciation, and definitions. All of that information is important for the TOEFL. They’re also very helpful words—you will see very, very many of these 500 words on a TOEFL.
And that brings me to Essential TOEFL Vocabulary’s second major flaw: the words are too easy, on average. An advanced student who wants a 90+ or 100+ TOEFL score will only need a fraction of these words. Most of the flashcards in this box will go unused for a student like that, because the vocabulary is basic. Words like “difference,” for example, help very few TOEFL students. If you are reading this, you are too advanced for ⅓ of the words in this box, possibly many more.
But for lower-level students, this may be the best set of TOEFL flashcards out there. If you mix them with vocabulary in practice, such as what you find in Collins’ Vocabulary and Grammar for the TOEFL Test, you will have a powerful tool for learning new words.