What’s more, there are no skill-building exercises in the book, such as brainstorming practice, identifying grammar errors, or any of the many other helpful exercises you’ll find in other books. There is a “writer’s handbook” at the end, but it simply lists common English mistakes (in an apparently random order) and does not offer any practice exercises for these small lessons. The lack of skill-building material is a huge flaw.
The included CD is a great resource. On it, there are three practice tests in a format that’svery similar (but not completely identical) to the real test. But there’s one problem: these are the same three tests that are in the book on paper. So this doesn’t add much value.
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This is one of the most important parts of any test preparation book. If you get a question wrong while practicing, you have to know why you got it wrong. The Official Guide doesn’t really provide this for reading and listening questions.
Yes, there are explanations, but they’re really not helpful. There are no explanations for why wrong answers are actually wrong, only brief descriptions of why the correct answers are correct. And usually, this reads similar to “A is correct because A is correct.” Well, thanks, ETS! That’s very insightful!
The best part of the explanations is the examples of high- and low-level speaking responses. These are real responses from real test takers, and there are a total of 36 of them—one high and one low from each speaking task on each test, with comments from the grader. Similarly, there are many examples of essays; there’s a sample of each score (1-6) of each essay in easy practice test, along with grader comments. Again, that’s 36 sample essays with comments. This actually is very helpful.
Free Download Official Guide to the TOEFL Test
Test Strategy and Advice
Maybe ETS wants people to believe that there are no strategies for increasing your score on the TOEFL. This would be good for them: if that was true, then the test would only measure your English abilities, rather than your test-taking abilities. That would explain why there is such minimal strategy in the book. But fortunately for us, there are strategies that can help you to improve your TOEFL scores. Only ETS doesn’t really address them.
The only real specific advice on how to approach specific question types is in the descriptions of each type, and it’s mostly limited to the obvious advice. There are no practice exercises for learning these strategies. This is another big issue.
Meanwhile, many TOEFL books have the opposite problem from the Official Guide. That is, they try to convince you that the test is all strategy. It’s not. The most important way to raise your score is simply to get more English experience. So I have to agree with the Official Guide’s writers on this point: you have to practice your English outside of doing bookwork and test practice to get a higher TOEFL score. The book does a good job of stressing this fact.