How to Use The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test in Your Prep


Looking for the best TOEFL prep book? The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test may be what you’re looking for. This book was written by the same people who write the actual TOEFL, and it contains numerous practice questions, explanations of the different types of questions you’ll see on the exam, and two complete practice TOEFLs. But does it have everything you need?

In this guide, we’ll go over what the Official Guide to the TOEFL includes, what its pros are, what it’s missing, if it’s the right book for you, and how to get the most out of this official guide for the TOEFL iBT.


Format of the TOEFL Official Guide

The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test is a prep book produced by ETS, the organization that creates and administers the TOEFL. The 4th edition is the most current edition of this book, although a 5th edition will be available beginning in November 2017. You can purchase the book (and included CD) on Amazon for about $28.

So what’s in this book? Here’s an overview:

Chapter 1: Introducing the TOEFL iBT

  • The first chapter of this TOEFL guide goes over the format of the TOEFL, the types of questions you’ll see in each section of the exam, how the test is scored, and some general tips for taking the test.
  • This chapter serves as a good introduction to the TOEFL, but you may already know a lot of the information if you’ve researched the test.

Chapters 2 – 5: TOEFL iBT Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing

  • The next four chapters each cover one section of the TOEFL. The Reading chapter explains the different types of Reading questions you’ll see, gives some tips for answering questions, and includes six practice sets.
  • The Listening chapter goes over question types, gives some tips on answering them, and includes five problem sets.
  • The Speaking chapter doesn’t include problem sets, but it does go over each of the six Speaking Tasks in-depth and has sample problems for each of them.
  • In the Writing chapter, the two Writing Tasks are explained, there are sample questions with graded sample responses so you can understand the essay rubrics, and there is a list of sample Independent Writing Task topics you can use as prompts.

Chapters 6 and 7: TOEFL iBT Practice Tests 1 and 2

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  • The final two chapters of the book each contain a complete practice test, as well as answer keys and scoring charts.

Included CD-ROM

  • The book comes with a CD that includes audio passages to be used for the Listening, Speaking, and Writing practice questions, as well as these sections on the two practice tests.




Pros of the TOEFL Official Guide

Below are three of the biggest benefits to using the Official Guide to the TOEFL during your exam prep.


Official Info and Practice

Because this book was written by the same people who write the actual TOEFL, it’s an official source so you can be sure that the information and sample questions that are in it accurately represent the real TOEFL. If the Official Guide to the TOEFL says certain types of questions will be asked on the TOEFL, you can sure they will be. Sample questions in this book will be very similar to the questions you see on exam day.

Some unofficial prep books will give advice or sample problems that don’t accurately represent the TOEFL. This can hurt you because you’ll end up learning information that either isn’t accurate or isn’t very useful, and you won’t be as well-prepared for what’s actually on the TOEFL. Since this book is an official source, you can avoid those problems.


High-Quality Practice Tests

For many people studying for the TOEFL, the most useful part of this book are its practice questions and full-length practice tests. The Official Guide to the TOEFL contains two full-length practice tests as well as additional practice questions. Also, as we mentioned before, because it’s an official source, all of these questions accurately reflect the types of questions found on the real TOEFL.

The two practice tests can be taken either on paper or on the computer. We recommend taking them on the computer, as this is how you’ll take the actual TOEFL. The book’s accompanying CD also includes audio clips for certain Listening, Speaking, and Writing practice questions. Using the audio clips also gives a more realistic testing experience than just reading transcripts of the conversations. Many TOEFL practice resources don’t include audio clips, so that’s another reason the practice tests and questions in this book stand out.

Because the practice problems and exams replicate actual TOEFL questions so closely, you can be sure you’re getting a solid preparation for the test and that your practice test scores are an accurate estimate of how well you’d do on a real TOEFL.


Strong Writing Section

The Writing section in this TOEFL guide is particularly strong. While many TOEFL practice resources include prompts for the two essays you need to write, this book stands out for two reasons. First, it includes multiple sample responses to essay prompts along with analysis that explains exactly why each essay got the score it did. Second, it includes a long list of past official Independent Writing prompts. You won’t see these specific prompts on the TOEFL, but they’re very similar to prompts being currently used, and studying them will give you an excellent idea of what types of prompts to expect.

And, again, because this book is written by the same people who write the real TOEFL, you can be sure their sample scores, analysis of the essay rubrics, and sample prompts are accurate.


Cons of the TOEFL Official Guide

In this section we discuss three of the key shortcomings of the official TOEFL book.


Lack of Tips and Strategies

Probably the main drawback of this book is its lack of tricks or strategies for solving difficult questions. Since the Official Guide to the TOEFL is produced by ETS, it gives an accurate explanation of what the TOEFL is like. However, the ETS also wants you to solve questions the “official” way and not use tricks or shortcuts to get the answer.

As such, the book doesn’t include many tricks for answering questions, and, when it does, they’re often pretty obvious or not particularly helpful. For example, when discussing strategies for answering questions on the Reading section, the key tip given is to “scan passages to find and highlight key facts.” This is pretty vague and basic advice that most people know already. Other TOEFL prep books give much more concrete tips, such as how skim passages quickly, how to find important information, and what to take notes on.

The fact that this book doesn’t include in-depth and useful tips can be a serious drawback, especially if you’re looking for ways to answer questions faster or answer tricky questions more easily.


Not Much Information on Vocab

A strong vocabulary is key to doing well on the TOEFL. Not only will you need to write complete essays on the Writing section, but you’ll also need to be able to identify vocab words used in other sections of the exam. Not knowing what a certain word means could make it difficult or impossible for you to answer a question or set of questions about it.

However, this book doesn’t offer any advice specifically on improving vocab, nor does it include a list of important words to know, something other TOEFL prep resources often do.


Little Guidance on How to Structure Your Studying

If you’re looking for advice on how to create a study plan or structure your prep for the TOEFL, this book won’t be a great resource. In total, the book devotes less than half a page of advice on how to develop a study plan and organize your studying, and the information it gives is pretty basic. If you’d like to have more guidance on how and when to study, how to create a study schedule, or how to set study goals, you’ll likely need to use another resource.




Is This Official TOEFL Book Right for You?

So, should you use the Official Guide to the TOEFL Test as part of your studying for the exam? As mentioned above, the most valuable resource from this book is its practice problems and full-length practice exams. These practice problems give you a very accurate look at the types of questions you’ll see on the TOEFL and how they’ll be worded. By using them, you’ll be able to walk into the test center knowing exactly what to expect from the TOEFL.

However, if you’re looking for great strategies on how to answer those questions or guidance on how you should study for the TOEFL, this book likely won’t be that useful. Its main strength is exposing you to the different TOEFL question types and providing high-quality practice tests that are very close to the real TOEFL in content and form.

In general, the Official Guide to the TOEFL is best for people looking to learn more about the types of questions you’ll see on the TOEFL, as well as those looking for high-quality practice materials. There aren’t a lot of high-quality TOEFL practice questions and tests easily available, and since answering practice questions can often significantly help improve your score, this makes the Official Guide to the TOEFL a potentially useful resource for many people.

However, if you already know a lot about the TOEFL and you’re looking more for strategies and ways to improve your test-taking skills, you likely won’t get a lot of use from this book.


How to Get the Most Out of This TOEFL Official Book

If you do decide to buy the Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, follow the three tips below in order to get the most out of this official TOEFL book.


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Use the Practice Tests Wisely

This book comes with two complete practice TOEFLs which you can take either on paper or on the computer. Full-length practice TOEFLs can be hard to come by, and since these practice tests are such a valuable resource, you’ll want to make the most of them. The scores you receive on them will let you know about how well you’d do on the real TOEFL, how much you’ve improved, and where your strengths and weaknesses are.

You should take each of these practice tests under realistic testing conditions in order to get the most accurate scores from these tests. This means, for each test you should:

      • Take it on the computer (not on paper)
      • Take it all in one sitting
      • Use the same timing and breaks you’ll get for the real TOEFL
      • Take it in an area with minimal distractions

The closer your practice tests are to the real TOEFL, the more accurate and useful your practice scores will be.


Study the Different TOEFL Question Types

For each of the four sections on the TOEFL, this book goes over the main question types within the section and gives tips for answering that question type. This is useful information because it gives you a comprehensive overview of the types of questions you’ll see on the TOEFL. By studying the question types, you know every kind of question you could be asked on the exam. Again, this information is written by the same people who write the actual TOEFL, so you can be sure it’s accurate.

Additionally, you can use this information to more accurately pinpoint which types of questions you need to work on. If you only know that you need to improve your Reading score, that’s a lot of studying you’ll need to do, and not all of it may help. If you can identify that you do well on big picture questions but struggle with vocab or small detail questions, that allows your preparation to be a lot more focused and effective.


Use Other Resources for Tips and Strategies

As mentioned above, the Official Guide to the TOEFL does not give many tips for answering questions more quickly or easily. It also doesn’t offer much advice on how to improve your vocabulary. If you’ve been struggling with how to answer certain types of questions faster or more accurately, or learn new vocab, you’ll likely need to use other resources in addition to this book in order to reach your goal score.

To help you get started, check out our guides on the five best TOEFL prep books and the highest-quality TOEFL practice tests. Many of these give more guidance on tips for answering questions as well as advice on developing a study plan. You can also check out our list of the 327 vocab words you absolutely need to know for the TOEFL.


Recap: Should You Buy the TOEFL Official Guide?

The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test can be a great TOEFL iBT official guide if you know what to expect and how to use the book correctly. This book was written by the same people who write the TOEFL, so you can be sure it’s an accurate representation of the exam. It has a chapter dedicated to each section on the TOEFL, as well as two complete practice tests.

The biggest strengths of this book are the fact that it’s an official source, its high-quality practice tests, and its standout guidance on the Writing section. However, the Official Guide to the TOEFL doesn’t provide many strategies for answering questions or advice on how to study for the TOEFL, and it doesn’t offer much guidance on vocab, an important part of the test.

In general, students looking to learn more about the exam and those looking for high-quality practice problems will get the most out of this book. If you do decide to use this book, be sure to make sure of the two full-length practice tests wisely, study the different types of TOEFL questions, and supplement this TOEFL official guide with other resources to supplement your studying.


What’s Next?

Need help registering for the TOEFL? Our step-by-step guide walks you through the TOEFL registration process and explains what to do if you need to change or cancel your test date.

Looking for more TOEFL prep books? Check out our guide to the five best TOEFL prep books and get started with your studying!

If you want more info on the best vocab words to study, we have a list of the 327 vocab words you absolutely need to know for the TOEFL.


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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.