Preparation for the TOEFL Test
A number of TOEFL prep books of the unofficial variety (not written by ETS) have been published. These titles may (or may not) be reliable sources of practice exercises and information on the exam. Some large publishing firms have released TOEFL books that are produced by staff writers with no teaching experience or test prep expertise, and this fact is obviously not advertised by the publisher or seller. Students interested in using unofficial TOEFL books for practice and study would be well advised to stick with the titles published by test prep firms or reputable academic presses, which are run by professional educators if not TOEFL experts. Such books should never be used as a substitute for the Official Guide, but additional TOEFL volumes can be helpful to preparation by offering different perspectives and practice exercises, provided that the reader has good reasons to trust the authors.
Unofficial TOEFL prep books may cover the entire test, or they may be devoted to specific skills or test sections. Respected titles of the former type are published by prestigious outfits such as Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press, both of which have broad credibility among educators. Examples of the latter include guides to vocabulary, grammar, or writing skills. There are also instructor's manuals for TOEFL teaching that are intended to help TOEFL educators organize and present TOEFL material in the classroom. Independent reviewers tend to praise the skill development, testing strategies, and answer explanations in these titles, but they usually also criticize the quality of any included practice tests, which are often not regarded as highly as official ETS materials.
Manhattan Review has published the TOEFL Integrated Study Guide: Turbocharge Your TOEFL. Written by Dr. Joern Meissner, an experienced educator who is also the founder of Manhattan Review, this book includes a review of grammar, preparation techniques for each TOEFL section, a framework for essay writing, vocabulary lists, and advice on accent reduction for improved scores on the exam's speaking section. Manhattan Review is a company that has successfully prepared thousands of students around the world for the TOEFL, and the firm has been offering TOEFL prep courses since 1999.
Students taking the TOEFL can improve their abilities by reading a variety of academic and general-interest publications on a daily basis. Newspapers, magazines, and undergraduate textbooks help build important reading comprehension skills that will be necessary to pass the TOEFL and to succeed in university coursework. Reading excerpts aloud can help develop correct pronunciation, upon which clear communication in spoken English depends. Devoting even a small amount of time each day to reading these types of materials can produce substantial improvements.
TOEFL books are best thought of as only a part of the learning process. Titles written by authors with substantial teaching and test prep experience provide informed guidance, resources for out-of-class study, and helpful advice for TOEFL preparation. However, these books do not constitute comprehensive TOEFL learning plans in and of themselves. The best score results are almost always achieved through the assistance of professional TOEFL teachers, who are able to help guide students through the lengthy study plan, provide targeted feedback, answer questions, and build confidence through positive reinforcement.
Most informed educators do not recommend TOEFL self-study, defined as preparing for the exam without the assistance of a teacher. Though TOEFL prep books are generally well organized and contain a great deal of helpful material, one issue is the fact that self-study is too dependent on organizational and proactive learning skills that test-takers are unlikely to possess. Furthermore, TOEFL students are preparing for a test in a foreign language, which has its own set of complications. Yet another problem is the fact that students studying for the TOEFL independently must serve as their own graders, which can lead to assessment mistakes and unrealistically favorable impressions of TOEFL skills. Much like the lawyer who represents himself having a fool for a client, the test-taker who teaches himself or herself must serve as both student and instructor, and these dual roles are often irreconcilable. No research studies have yet demonstrated that self-study is an effective method of preparing for the TOEFL, and any claims of self-study success are anecdotal at best.