The TOEFL iBT test could be a tough English proficiency exam to prepare for. Luckily, there are several TOEFL preparation courses and books on the market that can help you with your preparation, assuming you know what best suits your needs.
To help you identify which TOEFL prep book would be best for you, we have purchased and spent weeks thoroughly reviewing several TOEFL books on the market. Unlike other review websites that have no first-hand experience with the TOEFL prep resources they review.
We truly believe that is the only way one can deeply explore the strengths and weaknesses of any test prep resource in order to make a strong recommendation.
Our selection criteria
Test taking strategies
A great TOEFL prep book must teach effective test taking strategies proven to yield high scores on all sections of the TOEFL iBT exam.
Since the TOEFL iBT will be taken on a computer, a great book should include practice tests on a computer screen, to simulate the real test conditions.
Realistic practice tests
Practice tests and questions you come across should be similar to those on an actual TOEFL iBT exam. Otherwise, you will be unpleasantly surprised come test day.
Given that people preparing for the TOEFL have different levels of English proficiency, a good TOEFL prep book needs to be engaging to a wide audience of readers.
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TOEFL preparation books we recommend
Best for Authentic Practice Questions: The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT, 6th Edition by ETS
Best for Simulated TOEFL Exam: TOEFL iBT Prep Plus, 2020-2021 by Kaplan
Why you should trust our review
As a former US international student, I have taken several English proficiency tests over the course of my educational career. Such as the TOEFL iBT and the IELTS. Given my experience with these exams, I understand from a first-hand perspective the common pitfalls many test-takers face when preparing for and taking the TOEFL iBT.
In addition, our team of writers include experts with certifications for teaching English as a second or foreign language, such as the TEFL, TESL, and TESOL. So, you can rest assured that we've considered the needs of test takers with different levels of English language proficiency when we make our recommendation.
How we picked the best TOEFL prep books
To give a strong recommendation for each book, we rated each book according to how well they satisfy each of these criteria below. All of which are important for your success on the TOEFL exam:
- Effectiveness of test taking strategies - Having a high English language proficiency level alone does not guarantee that you will conquer the TOEFL. If that were the case, every native English speaker would get perfect scores without studying for the TOEFL. The reality is that the TOEFL is a standardized test. And like any other standardized tests, there are proven techniques to crack the test. Thus, a good prep book should reveal practical strategies that are proven to be effective on every section of the TOEFL.
- Similarity between practice questions and tests to the real TOEFL iBT test - You absolutely do not want to be surprised with the type of questions you see on the day of your TOEFL exam. So, we compared the format and difficulty of the practice questions in each book to those found on the real TOEFL iBT.
- Quality of the user experience with digital resources - Since you will be taking the real TOEFL iBT on a computer, you should be taking practice tests on a computer too. So, we selected TOEFL prep books that come with access to simulated TOEFL iBT practice tests on a computer. In addition, we evaluated the digital resource that accompany each book by how user friendly it is.
- Availability of additional resources for English learners - As you prepare for your exam, you might need to brush up on several English language skills that are proven to help TOEFL test takers. A good TOEFL prep book should include chapters dedicated to lessons such as vocabulary building and sentence structures.
- Updated content for the revised TOEFL iBT - Given that the TOEFL iBT was fully revised in 2019, some of the techniques found in TOEFL prep resources published before 2019 are outdated. Thus, we selected TOEFL prep books that were updated for the shortened TOEFL iBT.
Are you looking for a reliable and affordable TOEFL prep course? Check out our first-hand in-depth review of the best TOEFL prep courses on the market.
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Best TOEFL prep books video review
Would you like a sneak peek at the content in some of these TOEFL books? Then check out our in-depth video review! Our reviewer, Chuky, shares his first hand experience studying with each of the best TOEFL books in this review.
Barron's TOEFL iBT with 8 Online Practice Tests, 17th Edition - Our pick for the best TOEFL preparation book
We found the TOEFL iBT with 8 Online Practice Tests, 17th Edition to be the best among the competition, as it satisfies most of the criteria discussed previously quite well.
Before diving into details about each TOEFL section, readers are recommended to take a full-length diagnostic test. You can take this diagnostic test using the book or you can take it online (which is more realistic). At the end of this diagnostic test, you will quickly discover your weak and strong points. So as you move forward with the book, you will know what sections of the TOEFL you need to spend more time improving upon.
As you read the book, you will find references made to the supplementary online material accompanying the book. This online material contains helpful presentation slides and video lectures that expand upon concepts discussed in the book. So, if you are a visual learner, you will benefit greatly from this book.
Where this book stands out above the rest is that it does not only describe the types of questions you will see on each section of the TOEFL, but it also provides practical strategies to conquering each section of the test.
We liked the chapter in the book titled Academic Skills, which is dedicated to teaching you skills such as paraphrasing, note-taking, summarizing, and vocabulary building. If you are new to the TOEFL, you will quickly learn that your success on the TOEFL will depend on how well you can master each of these skills. For example, if you want to get a high score on the listening section, you will need very good note-taking skills.
In our opinion, this chapter on Academic Skills makes this book an absolute gem! As the author Dr. Pamela Sharpe mentions, "you will not find this chapter in any other TOEFL prep book". And we found that to be true.
In addition to the 8 full-length practice tests, which you will find in print and online, there are also 8 practice tests designed to be completed in an hour. After completing each practice test, you can find detailed explanations of the correct answers for the reading and listening section in the online material. Sample responses to questions on the speaking and writing sections of the practice test are also provided in the online material.
A pretty cool feature we discovered when taking the online practice test is that your responses on the speaking section are automatically recorded and downloaded to your computer (assuming you have a functioning mic). So, you do not need to record your speech using another device. We did not find this feature in any other prep book.
When we compared the practice tests in this book to an actual TOEFL iBT test, we found that the passages on the reading section were slightly easier to read than those on the real test. Another flaw we found was that the format of the questions on the integrated speaking tasks were sometimes different from those on the real test. So, for best results we recommend you review practice questions from ETS in addition to this book.
N/B: If you purchase this book, you can gain access to the online material by registering the book here on the publisher's website.
The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT by ETS, 6th Edition - Best for authentic practice tests and questions
The strongest selling point of this book is that it is the only TOEFL test preparation book that's created and endorsed by the makers of the TOEFL exam - ETS.
In other words, if you are looking for a TOEFL preparation book with authentic TOEFL test questions similar to what you can expect on the day of your test, The Official Guide to The TOEFL iBT is that book!
With 4 full-length practice tests that have appeared on past TOEFL iBT exams, you can rest assured that you'll be practicing with test questions that are similar to what you will see on the day of your exam.
A brand new purchase of this book comes with a digital access code (located at the end of the book). Using this code, readers can download audio files and install a software with on-screen versions of the 4 full-length practice tests. You will need these audio files when studying the listening, speaking, and writing chapters of the book, as well as when taking practice tests using the book.
Besides the authentic practice tests that this book has to offer, ETS does a great job of presenting an overview of the TOEFL iBT for complete beginners. They also provide a detailed breakdown of the different types of multiple choice questions you will see on the reading and listening sections of the test. As well as describing the format of the independent and integrated tasks on the speaking and writing sections.
We liked that the book contains sample responses for the speaking and writing sections from actual TOEFL iBT test takers. For every practice test in this book, you can listen to authentic speaking responses from test takers that are rated by ETS as high-level, mid-level, and low-level responses. Similarly, you will find sample written essays rated as high-level, mid-level and low-level responses. No other publisher has the quality of sample responses for the speaking and writing section.
A major weakness of the The Official Guide to The TOEFL iBT is that it lacks effective test taking strategies, especially for the speaking and writing sections. Unfortunately, this is usually where most test takers struggle. ETS seems to take the stance that success on the TOEFL depends entirely on mastering the use of English in an academic environment and not by mastering test taking strategies.
While it is true that you can do well on the TOEFL if you've acquired years of experience using English in an academic environment, your scores will be even higher if you learned the right strategies to conquer the test. That's been our experience.
TOEFL iBT Prep Plus, 2020-2021 by Kaplan - Best for simulated TOEFL practice exams
The TOEFL iBT Prep Plus 2020 - 2021 is best described as a manual of TOEFL iBT test taking strategies. You will find lots of general strategies for each section of the test. The book even goes further, laying out detailed strategies specific to each type of question you will see on each section of the TOEFL. In addition to the strategies printed in this book, you will find on-demand videos in the online resource where these strategies are explained by a tutor.
Where this book dominates others is how well the online practice tests mimic the real TOEFL iBT condition. Every practice test automatically begins with the reading and listening section, followed by a 10 minute break, and then the speaking and writing section. With other online TOEFL practice tests, you'll need to return to a main menu to begin another section of the same test.
When we compared the difficulty level of practice questions in this book to those on the real TOEFL iBT, we found similarities on all sections of the test. So, if you only used this book to practice for the TOEFL, you would be okay.
A cool feature of the book is that upon completing a practice test, you will receive a performance summary for the reading and listening section. This performance summary will show you how well you answered the different question types on the reading and listening section. In addition, you can see how much time you spent answering each question on the practice test. These features provide an excellent way to quantitatively measure your strong and weak areas.
A minor flaw we found with this book is that the video lectures are not updated for the revised TOEFL iBT launched in 2019. For example, the lecture slides state that the reading sections contains 12 - 14 questions per passage and the speaking section has two independent tasks. Nevertheless, the updated information is found in print.
Furthermore, while the book has some great strategies, we found the presentation of information in the book to be very dense. Compared to other TOEFL prep books, many readers will find this book to be the least engaging. And for some readers, learning all the strategies printed in the book would be quite overwhelming. However, if you prefer to learn visually, you will find the online video explanations of these strategies quite useful.
TOEFL iBT Prep 2021 by The Princeton Review - Helpful templates for the speaking and writing Section
The Princeton Review’s iBT Prep 2021 includes unique strategies to ace all 4 sections of the exam. The strategies in this book are provided under two categories. The first are basic strategies, designed to help you complete each section. Second are advanced strategies, which are designed to help you to crack each type of question you will find in the different sections. The book does a great job of explaining how to implement each of these strategies by giving readers several practice drills.
We found the concept of the 5 Rs of note-taking very effective when attempting the listening, speaking, and writing sections.
Test takers who struggle with the speaking and writing section of the TOEFL will find the sample templates in this book very helpful. These templates give you a framework to follow as you craft your response for the independent and integrated tasks of the speaking and writing sections.
The biggest flaw of this book is that there's only 1 full-length practice test. However, this practice test is not available in the online resource. So, there is no opportunity to take a simulated practice test. Also, there are no sample responses for the speaking and writing sections.
The Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test is certainly a comprehensive study guide for the TOEFL iBT. The book is packed with several lessons to help you build the English language skills you'll need to succeed not only on the TOEFL but in a university coursework.
The book includes 7 full-length practice tests, which could be taken in practice mode or in test mode.
The major deal-breaker with this book is that it has not been updated for the revised TOEFL iBT. While some of the strategies in the book are still relevant to the current TOEFL iBT, readers may not be well prepared if they used the practice questions in this book.
Nevertheless, if the publishers of this book released an updated version, it will certainly make the list of our best TOEFL preparation books.
Other good TOEFL preparation books
Barron’s Essential Words for the TOEFL, 7th Edition - Great for vocabulary building
Barron’s Essential Words for the TOEFL is a great book for test takers looking to enhance their English vocabulary. The lessons in this book will teach you the fundamentals you need to improve and build your vocabulary.
The bulk of the material focuses on the 500 words that are commonly found on the TOEFL exam. These words are introduced in groups of about 16-17 over 30 mini lessons. In each mini lesson, you will learn the definition and synonym of each word, with examples of how each word is used in a sentence.
At the end of each mini lesson, you will answer vocabulary-in-context questions that use the words you learned in the lesson. The format of these vocabulary questions are the same as those you will find on the TOEFL iBT reading section.
Although this book is great for building your vocabulary, it does not teach you the pronunciation of each word. So, while the vocabulary lessons in this book might prepare you for the reading and writing section, it won't prepare you for the speaking section.
To build a well-rounded vocabulary, we recommend that you learn how to pronounce each of these words using other resources.
If you're looking for more authentic practice tests to supplement your TOEFL prep, you can get the Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 1. This book contains 5 full-length TOEFL iBT tests that have appeared on previous TOEFL iBT exams. A new purchase comes with an access code, where you can download the audio files you will need for the test and install the on-screen version of the practice tests found in the book.
If you purchase this book in addition to the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT, 6th Edition, you will have 9 authentic practice tests to work with. And if you're looking for even more, you can purchase the Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 2, 3rd Edition for a mega stack of 14 authentic practice tests.
TOEFL prep books from other publishers
These are some other TOEFL prep books we reviewed in our study. While some of these books do a decent job of describing the structure of the TOEFL iBT exam, the strategies and practice questions contained in these books are insufficient.
While this book is titled TOEFL Preparation Book 2022 - 2023, the content in the book is not updated for the revised TOEFL iBT test structure.
Furthermore, the test taking strategies in the book appear generic and the practice questions do not fit the format of the TOEFL iBT.
There are no audio recordings of lectures available for readers to practice the integrated tasks of the speaking section. Instead transcripts of conversations and lectures are provided, which is an inappropriate way to practice the speaking section.
We found the content in this book to be very thin, with only 24 pages dedicated to mastering the 4 sections of the TOEFL iBT. Most of the strategies in this book - albeit very few to begin with - are either misleading or very generic at best.
For example, on page 17, one of the tips for the speaking section states "it is also wise to practice using fillers or hesitation devices" and then goes on to give examples of filler words to use during the speaking section such as "That's a good question" and "I'll have to think about that for a minute". With less than 60 seconds to deliver a response on the speaking section, you should not be using any "hesitation devices".
Given the thin content, we do not recommend this book.
For a book that's titled "TOEFL iBT Exam Prep Secrets Study Guide", we found it interesting that within the first 33 pages, the word TOEFL was mentioned only once.
The bulk of the content in this book and in the online video tutorials contain generic English language lessons which you can find in any non-TOEFL prep book or resource.
We could not find any strategies or practice drills in this book that are appropriate for preparing for the TOEFL iBT.
There is a single full-length practice test, available only in print. However, this full-length practice test has the outdated structure of the TOEFL iBT.
Are you looking to take your TOEFL iBT scores to the next level? Check out our comprehensive review of the best TOEFL prep courses on the market. We have ranked these courses based on our first-hand experience purchasing and using several TOEFL courses on the market.
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