I give this book--Cracking the TOEFL iBT, 2008 Edition, by Douglas Pierce and Sean Kinsell, 3 stars here as someone familiar with the various tasks that the TOEFL iBT requires of its test-takers. Having taught how to master this test to students for more than a year, I have gone through all of the available books and CDs on the market to see what works best. The reality is that I cannot recommend any one book to cover everything. Some are great at providing sample questions, or multiple practice tests, while others offer some good information that teaches how to answer certain questions. No book covers everything, though, which means that students must take a regular course in addition to self-practice. If you had to choose one book, though, this might do it because it has a fair amount of good instruction that can familiarize you with what you would see on test day.
Specifically, let me mention a few items here that I think stand out in this book. First, the organization of the book is good. The introduction gives the basic facts that familiarize the reader with the test and some general information. Then, it gets moving with a part called "Core Concepts," which takes a look at some basics for each of the four sections. Following that, we have Part III, "Cracking Each Section of the TOEFL," which goes into basic principles and basic approaches and then unleashes the reader on practice drills.
On thing that I can say is critical about this book's quality is that it mentions the "Process of Elimination (POE)" as a method to help increase your odds at choosing the best answer (page 13). This is embedded into a smaller section on improving your score and increasing your odds on individual multiple-choice questions. Rather than tell you to guess, this says that there is a logic and you can increase your odds on choosing the best answer by eliminating as many clearly wrong choices as you can. With four answers choices, you have a 25 percent chance, which is low. Eliminate one answer, and you have a 33 percent chance, and eliminate two, and your chance increases to 50 percent. If you must guess this is the only way to do it, by eliminating something and improving your odds at success. There is never an excuse to guess at random.
The best aspect of this book is the explanation and focus on structure within the Speaking Section. Students are typically scared of this section because they have to perform in a number of different tasks, within a short amount of time. Added to that, concerns about accent or poor grammar, and students can freeze up without answering the questions. In fact, while this section concerns many students as something subjective and difficult, it also has a series of rules to follow that make it easy. First, students must take note of the scoring rubric, which outlines in objective terms the procedure for how graders evaluate each speaking task. Did the student answer the question, speak employing reasonable grammar and adequate vocabulary, have connection words and phrases, not have long pauses, speak in English, and answer using a logical structure. This book helps you answer the questions by using deliberate template that take you step-by-step. For instance, page 324 lists a question and sample response for the personal preference question (Speaking Task #1). The question is similar to what an ETS test might ask: If you had an entire month to do whatever you would like to do, what would it be? Include details and examples to support your selection." The response is set out into categories and placed in a table form.
State personal preference: If I had that much time, I would like to travel around the world.
Reason #1: I would choose this because I am curious about other places in the world.
Specific detail for reason #1: So far, I have visited four different countries, but there are many more I would like to visit.
Reason #2: Another reason I would like to travel around the world is so I can meet many interesting people.
Specific detail for reason #2: I enjoy meeting new people and I am especially interested in meeting people from different
Reason #3: A final reason I would like to travel is because I plan to study international business.
Specific detail for reason #3: I think that traveling around the world would help me in the field of international business.
So, this is a good outlined answer to the question and would score high. I like how this takes the reader through each step in a logical order and shows the simplicity of the structure. Students who try to talk above their level or put in too many ideas often fail. Keep things simple and giving a structure like this is a positive thing. Moreover, the bolded words are there to show some keywords that give your sentences connections or direction.
While this is a great tool for readers, it fails to take that extra step and teach students how to take these notes. When preparation time is only 15 seconds, how can a test-taker think of those things AND write down all of those words? It is, of course, virtually impossible. So, this book should tell students that this template is a great way to structure your answers but if a reader tries to duplicate it, s/he will run out of time and score low because improvisation will lead to errors. Notes should be taken in keyword form only, directing the test-taker to the larger thought. You do not have time to write complete sentences in your notes but you do have the time to write down keywords that will drive your response. One more trick that should be in this book is that you can prepare a list of connection and direction words/phrases in advance and write them down beforehand so you can simply reference those particular words, such as "moreover," in "addition," and "finally."
Overall, this book is nice for tackling the test one piece at a time. For the 2008 edition, the sample questions for the reading are outdated (perhaps the 2011 book has revised this), but the real strength is the speaking templates. These can help you organize your thoughts and show you just how easily you can score on the Speaking Section. Though this book provides a lot of information, it falls short in providing a complete tutorial experience. People trying to study for this at home will find it difficult because not only is the material hard to comprehend, but the TOEFL itself is not a normal test. The TOEFL iBT is designed based on a set of rules and has specific procedures that you must follow to master it. Each section tests a slightly different skill yet one common item is that it mimics the common academic structure used in the United States. I did not realize how basic this structure was when I taught history at Boston-area universities, but when I understood how the TOEFL works, it struck me as obvious. The Reading Section is deliberate in its structure, the Listening Section follows a logic of introducing the main topic or problem and then providing details, organized in expected ways. Finally, the answers you create for the Speaking and Writing Sections must conform to that structure--introduction, supported by reasons and details, and then perhaps a conclusion that restates your thesis/position. Failing to conform to this structure will not bode well for your score. Good luck with your studies and check out my profile for more helpful advice.