[Deborah Phillips. White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman, 2007. pp. xxxii + 672. \4,935 (incl. Student book with answer key and CD ROM). ISBN: 978-0-13-205690-8.]
It may seem strange that a state of the art web-based examination with no paper and pencil work should need a heavy old-fashioned textbook. However, this book claims to prepare students to successfully attempt the new TOEFL web-based test.
The TOEFL test (see <www.ets.org>), used by U.S. colleges to determine whether non-native applicants have an adequate command of English to enter their institution, is not simply a general proficiency test but specifically a test of academic English.
In contrast to the paper-based TOEFL, candidates take the iBT seated at internet-connected computers. Furthermore, there are several innovations in question types. First, there is a speaking section, in which the student makes a brief speech which is recorded by the computer. For some of the background to this section, see McNamara (2001), and for pedagogic questions Hefferman (2003). Then, there are several integrated tasks in which receptive and productive skills are mixed. For example, in the speaking integrated task the candidate reads a passage, then listens to a related passage, and finally speaks about how the ideas in the two passages are related.
The book consists of six main parts: four parts on each of the four sections of the test, then eight mini–tests, and two complete tests. The body of the text is preceded by an introduction and followed by four appendixes: on grammar, a diagnosis section, the recording script and a full answer key. The CD-ROM contains different material from the text.
This text has many virtues. It is an accurate reflection of the test contents, in terms of themes, difficulty, and question types. Students have plenty of practice, both of each specific item type and of the variety of item types as they appear on the real test. Test-taking strategy is emphasized throughout, and screen images are printed to simulate what appears on the computer. Full audio-scripts and answers are provided, giving not just the multiple-choice answers but also sample essay and speech answers. The CD-ROM gives real-time practice with the software, which is a vital skill, just as is fast and accurate typing for the writing sections. Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL is thus comprehensive.
When I used the textbook in the classroom, several weaknesses became evident. It is not made sufficiently clear what the author means by a skill. In fact, the meaning is different according to the section. In the reading section it is clear that the skills are in fact question types. For example, reading skill 2 recognizing referents is one of ten different question types. On the other hand, in the writing section the skills are strategies or procedures, such as plan, write each section, and edit.
One aspect of the book that caused difficulty was the layout of the independent writing task. The examples of the four skills are spread over 14 pages, so that students are not able to see clearly a plan followed by a complete essay. In addition,there is some inconsistency in the answer key. While in the writing and speaking sections sample answers are given for the integrated questions, they are lacking for the independent tasks. Naturally, in a sense there are no right answers, since everyone has their own point of view, but well-made examples would be very instructive. The CD-ROM provided useful practice, but it would have been helpful if the disc contained at least some of the material from the text. In this waythe students could practice and master in real time procedures such as writing answers for integrated questions, which are presented in many small stepsin the text.
Finally, a word of caution to teachers: this is not so much an introductory text as a real-life sample text. The campus life topics are manageable, but while some of the academic topics are fairly accessible, such as Wrigley’s Chewing Gum, many of them are very difficult, such as Aquatic schools or the Filibuster. In addition, many of the passages on American culture, politics, and history, while replicating U.S. college topics, are difficult for cultural outsiders.
In short, although there are some shortcomings, this is a thorough and well-designed text which will adequately prepare students for the TOEFL iBT test.
McNamara, T. (2001). The challenge of speaking: Research on the testing of speaking for the new TOEFL®. Shiken (JALT testing and evaluation SIG newsletter), 5(1), 2-3.
Heffernan, N. (2003). Building a successful TOEFL program: A case study. The Language Teacher, 30(8), 17-21.