Table of Contents

i. Introduction
ii. The Basics of TOEFL
iii. What You Need to Know Before Choosing a TOEFL iBT Prep Course
iv. How We Chose the Best Online TOEFL iBT Prep Courses
v. The Best TOEFL iBT Courses of 2017
vi. Other Ways to Prepare for the TOEFL iBT
vii. Free Resources for the TOEFL iBT
viii. TOEFL iBT Study Methods
ix. Full Methodology and Metric Walk-Through

Introduction

The TOEFL iBT (Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test) is the most widely used method of certifying a non-native English speaker’s ability to speak, read, write, and understand the English language. International students seeking to gain admission to a university in an English-speaking country are the primary test-takers for the TOEFL iBT. In the UK and Australia, the TOEFL is even used to satisfy the requirements for certain visas (such as student visas). Since it’s accepted by over 9,000 educational institutions in 130 countries, the TOEFL has been taken by over 30 million people.

While the TOEFL is crucial to gain admittance into many universities, it’s also a great tool to prepare students who aren’t fluent in the English language for the rigors of studying at an English-speaking university. Unfortunately, many students struggle to get scores that are high enough to be accepted by the universities they wish to attend, and they must retake the test multiple times. Not only can that be demoralizing, but it’s also expensive – the test costs $160 - $250 with the average at about $200 each time it’s taken.

Many test-takers turn to online prep courses to help them prepare for the TOEFL iBT. Online prep courses do have many advantages over books or personal tutoring. For instance, books that guide students through preparing for the TOEFL aren’t interactive and don’t have practice tests that are scored by instructors. Personal tutoring can be very helpful, but it’s often prohibitively expensive – especially for in-person tutoring.

Taking an online prep course is a great solution for many students, but choosing which course to take isn’t always easy. For starters, there are tons of different courses out there, and they are definitely not all created equal. The cost and resources available vary drastically – one prep course costs $80 and gives subscribers access to 19 practice tests, while another course costs $600 and doesn’t come with any practice tests at all.

We created this guide to help test-takers identify the best online prep courses out there. We put in 200+ hours of research and graded nine prep courses with 21 metrics. What we found out is that BestMyTest was clearly the best overall choice, and two others may be best for those in particular circumstances. In addition to recommending the best online prep courses, we also discuss other ways to prepare, and helpful study methods for the TOEFL iBT.

The Basics of the TOEFL iBT

The Difference Between the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL PBT

The TOEFL iBT is taken on a computer over the internet, while the TOEFL PBT (Paper-Based Test) is a traditional test delivered in a paper format. Test-takers don’t normally have a choice – the PBT is only available in countries with limited internet access, while most countries use the iBT.

Other than the format of the test, differences between the two include:

  • Scoring Range: The PBT is given a score between 310-677 while the iBT ranges from 0-120.
  • Speaking: While the iBT tests participants’ understanding of grammar is gauged indirectly by examining the responses on the writing and speaking sections, the PBT replaces the “Speaking” section on the iBT with a “Structure” section that directly tests students on their understanding of English grammar.
  • Length: The PBT is about an hour shorter than the iBT. The reason for the increased duration of the iBT is that there is an additional essay required and the reading sections are over double the length of the PBT.
  • Integrated Tasks: The iBT has a unique feature that requires test-takers to read and listen at the same time – this simulates a university classroom environment more realistically.

This guide covers online prep courses for the internet-based test (iBT), not the PBT. The reason for this is that the iBT is the only course offered to the majority of individuals.

What’s on the TOEFL iBT

There are four sections, and each is given a score between 0 and 30. The following is a brief explanation of each section.

Reading

The first section requires you to read three or four passages and answer questions to demonstrate how well you comprehended what you read. There are between 36 and 56 questions and a 60 to 80 minute time limit (depending on the length of the passages and the number of questions).

Listening

The second section gauges your ability to understand the English language when it is being spoken in a classroom-type environment. You will listen to lectures and other classroom interactions, and then answer 34-51 questions. You are given between 60 and 90 minutes to complete this section.

Note: The accent of the speaker in this section can be from North America, the U.K., Australia, or New Zealand – this more accurately prepares students for the variety of accents they could expect to hear at in a university classroom.

Speaking

The third section measures your ability to express yourself in the English language. There are two parts to this section: integrated speaking and independent speaking. The integrated speaking section requires you to respond to questions based on written or verbal content, while the independent speaking section requires you to speak on a topic that is familiar to you. The total time limit for both is 20 minutes. Overall, there are six activities in the speaking section.

Writing

The writing section is also broken up into two parts: integrated writing and independent writing. In the integrated writing section, you will read a passage and listen to a lecture. You will then be asked to complete a writing task based on what you read and heard. Conversely, the independent writing question will simply supply a prompt, and then you will write an essay that agrees or disagrees with the statement or question. The total time limit for the writing section is 50 minutes.

 

How to Register for the TOEFL iBT

  • Select Your Location: Start by choosing your location. This is important because the exact registration procedures and fees vary somewhat from country to country.
  • Identification Documents: There are specific requirements for identification. Be sure that the name you use to register is exactly what is listed on your identification document.
  • Register: You can register online, over the phone, or by mail.

What Happens After the Test

It’s important to note that the there is no “passing” or “failing” the TOEFL iBT. Certain universities require higher scores than others, and some might expect a higher score on a certain section, but allow for a lower overall score. Make sure to contact the admissions departments of the universities that you want to attend to find out what each institution’s requirements are. Generally, an overall score of 80-100 is required to attend American universities.

Once you take TOEFL, a detailed scoring report will be sent to you and can be sent to the universities that you are interested in attending. Remember, this isn’t a “certificate,” – it’s designed to test how fluent you are in the language, and specifically, how ready you are to attend an English-speaking university. If you get a high enough score, you will be ready to take your next step, but if you didn’t score high enough, you would need to retake the test at a later date.

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a TOEFL iBT Prep Course

Almost All of the Courses Are Written in English

In order to effectively use these prep courses, you need to be an intermediate or advanced English speaker. These courses aren’t designed to teach beginners the English language.

Not All Courses Are Legitimate

We were careful only to recommend quality courses, but there are plenty out there that are either scams (or just overcharge and underdeliver). Only submit your payment information on a secure site, and if you are ever suspicious, it may be wise to enter the name of the prep course into a search engine along with the word “scam” and see what pops up.

How We Chose the Best Online TOEFL iBT Prep Courses

Contender’s List

We started the process of choosing the best prep courses by developing our list of contenders. We gathered a list of 16 online prep courses and eliminated seven courses that didn’t meet our criteria for consideration.

Here are our criteria:

  • We only considered sites that provided a self-guided online prep course.
  • We didn’t include sites that weren’t functional (links that didn’t work or other obvious flaws that impacted the functionality of the site).
  • We only considered sites with pricing transparency (sites that required a phone call to establish pricing weren’t considered).

Once we made our cuts, we were left with nine prep courses:

Core Metrics

In order to research effectively, we decided on the most important features of online prep courses. We categorized these features as “core metrics.” (An in-depth look at all of our metrics and a detailed explanation of our scoring methods will be provided below in the section “Full Methodology and Metric Walkthrough.”)

The following list gives a brief explanation of each of our core metrics:

  • Cost: This compares the cost and pricing options for each of the courses.

  • Learning Tools: This core metric is the primary measurement of the quality of the course – the different types of features offered by the course are compared.
  • Additional Features: This metric identifies how many useful “extras” are offered. These additional features are helpful, but not essential.
  • Guarantees and Refunds: Some courses guarantee that participants who have previously taken the test will experience a certain increase in their scores after completing the course or their money will be refunded.
  • Accessibility and Security: This metric primarily measures whether the site is secure and how easy it is to contact the course providers.

Sub-Metrics

Once our core metrics were established, we identified specific features that were used to evaluate the courses further. These are called “sub-metrics.” Sub-metrics fall into one of two categories. The first type of sub-metric asks whether a certain condition or feature is present – this is a “yes-or-no” question. The second type of sub-metric is a comparison between all of the courses. For instance, the actual cost of each course is comparative, and the availability of study plans is a yes-or-no question.

Here are the sub-metrics we used to complete our research:

Cost

  • What is the average cost? (in US Dollars)
  • How many pricing options are there?
  • What is the length of access?
  • What is the number of practice tests that are available?

Learning Tools

  • Does the course cover all four categories on the TOEFL iBT?
  • Does the course specifically focus on vocabulary building?
  • Are full-length practice tests available?
  • Are there exams that are scored by instructors?
  • How many Practice Questions are available?

Additional Features

  • Are there simulated tests with all new questions and material?
  • Are there study plans?
  • Are video lessons available?
  • Is tutoring also available?
  • Are there interactive quizzes?
  • Is “Ask an Instructor” available?

Guarantees/Refunds

  • Are there non-satisfaction refunds?
  • Is there a free trial or demo?
  • How many additional points are guaranteed? (if any)

Accessibility and Security

  • How many languages are supported?
  • Is the site secure?
  • How many points of contact are there for customer service?

Scoring

Once all of our research was completed we used the following process to get the overall score for each online prep course:

We Scored the Sub-Metrics

If the sub-metric was a “yes-or-no” question, the course got either a “10” or “0.” If the sub-metric was a comparison, each course was given a score between “0” and “10” with the worst performer(s) getting a “0” and the best a “10.”

We Scored the Core Metrics

The average of all of the sub-metrics in a single core metric was used to give each prep course an overall score for that core metric. Each course was assigned a value between “0” and “10” – the course with the lowest average received a “0,” and the course with the highest average received a “10.”

We Weighted and Combined the Core Metric Scores

Each core metric was assigned a weight that reflects the overall importance of that specific core metric. Once we weighted each course’s core metric scores, we combined them together to get the overall score for that course.

Here’s how we weighted each core metric:

  • Cost - 30%
  • Learning Tools - 30%
  • Additional Features - 20%
  • Guarantees and Refunds - 10%
  • Accessibility and Security - 10%

What We Didn’t Include in Our Metrics

Ease of Use

Ease of use is inherently subjective, so we couldn’t include it in our metrics. Each person is different, so the prep course that’s easier for one person to use might not be the easiest for someone else to use.

The User Experience

Since all of the writers of this guide are native English speakers, it’s not possible to gauge the actual effectiveness of each course personally. However, we did include metrics that give extra points to courses that guarantee a specific improvement for repeat test-takers.

The Best TOEFL iBT Courses of 2017

Rank

Site Name

Score

#1

BestMyTest

8.6

#2

English Success Academy

6.9

#3

TestDen

6.0

#4

Magoosh

5.9

#5

Kaplan Test Prep

4.7

#6

EdX

4.0

#7

TestMasters

3.4

#8

ETS

2.0

#9

Thunderbird

0.6

First Place: BestMyTest

Overall score: 8.6

Best for: Budget-conscious individuals who need help with all four sections and vocabulary

BestMyTest was clearly the best online prep course that we reviewed. It’s three pricing options ($35 per week, $80 for a month, and $130 for six months) were all very competitive, and it has the largest variety of learning tools and course material. With each pricing option, participants are given access to four reserved simulated TOEFL iBT tests – this means that the questions on those tests don’t appear in any other practice material. Another great feature is the guarantee that those who complete the course will increase their score by at least seven points.

While BestMyTest performed very well on our top three core metrics, it placed in the middle of the pack in the last two core metrics. One reason for the poor performance in the “Guarantees and Refunds” core metric was the lack of any sort of free trial – once you purchase the course, you are stuck with it and won’t be refunded unless your scores don’t improve (for repeat test-takers who have completed the course).

Overall, BestMyTest was the clear winner and the best all-in-one TOEFL iBT online prep course – the low cost and excellent selection of course material really set it apart from the rest.

Core Metric Scores

  • Cost: 8.8
  • Learning Tools: 10
  • Additional Features: 10
  • Accessibility and Security: 6
  • Guarantees and Refunds: 4

Second Place: English Success Academy

Overall score: 6.9

Best for: Those who only need help on one or two sections of the TOEFL

English Success Academy took second place mainly because of its flexibility – unlike every other prep course we reviewed, you don’t have to purchase a package that covers every section on the TOEFL iBT. Instead, you can choose from four different mini-courses that focus on unique skills and sections of the test. This allows those who are struggling with a specific aspect of the TOEFL iBT to spend their time and money on material that exclusively covers what they need to work on. For instance, the Advanced Speaking Guide solely focuses on the speaking section.

English Success Academy is the only course that allows you access for an unlimited amount of time (as opposed to the average 1-6 months that are the typical time limits). This allows you to start preparing a year or more in advance if you so choose. Another helpful feature is the option to get additional help with online tutoring from the same site that provides the prep course. However, you should keep in mind that online tutoring is much more expensive than online prep courses.

English Success Academy’s biggest weakness is its complete lack of any guarantees or refunds – there also isn’t a free trial or demo option. Another significant negative is the fact that the course doesn’t have instructors that grade your exams and give feedback. It also had a very small variety of practice questions (only 40). If you are looking for an “all-in-one” prep course, this isn’t your best option, but if you only need help with one or two sections, this course might be a great option for you.

Core Metric Scores

  • Cost: 10
  • Learning Tools: 5.7
  • Additional Features: 6.7
  • Accessibility and Security: 8
  • Guarantees and Refunds: 0

 

Third Place: TestDen

Overall score: 6.0

Best for: Those who are starting their preparation 3-6 months in advance and want access to a large number of practice questions

With an overall score of “6,” TestDen wasn’t too far behind English Success Academy (6.9). One of its best features is the amount of time you can use this course for: six months. The price for the course is only $129. While the price point is higher than some of the other courses, it took the top spot in our core metric “Cost” because of its length of access and the number of practice questions available (2480). In fact, Test Den has the most practice questions – more than double the amount of the next closest course.

TestDen’s largest drawback is its lack of additional features. It doesn’t have many of the helpful features that other courses boast, like study plans or the “Ask an Instructor” section (if you get stuck on a difficult concept or question). It also doesn’t offer specific help with building your vocabulary.

If you want to start preparing early and like the idea of endless practice questions, then this prep course may be the right choice for you – especially if you don’t care about some of the additional features like video lessons. The good news is that if you purchase this course and decide it isn’t right for your learning style, you can get your money back within 30 days of purchase thanks to TestDen’s non-satisfaction return policy.

Core Metric Scores

  • Cost: 7.5
  • Learning Tools: 8.6
  • Additional Features: 0
  • Accessibility and Security: 4
  • Guarantees and Refunds: 8

Other Ways to Prepare for the TOEFL iBT

Personal Tutoring

Pros and Cons

Personal tutoring can be a great way to prepare for the TOEFL iBT, but is it better than online prep courses? The answer to that question depends on your unique situation and budget. Take a look at some pros and cons for personal tutoring when compared with online prep courses.

Advantages:

  • Problem Areas: Personal tutors are beneficial because they can identify your strengths, and focus on improving your weaknesses, which allows you to maximize your study time.
  • Learning Style: Not everyone learns the same – a good personal tutor will key in on your learning style and design material and practice sessions specifically for you.
  • Tips and Strategies: There are quite a few tips and strategies out there for taking the TOEFL iBT, but not all will be effective for you. For instance, some people struggle because they focus too much on analyzing each question and making sure each activity is “just right,” while others don’t score well because they blaze through each question too quickly. An effective personal tutor will be able to recommend strategies and give you tips that will be personalized for you.

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive: The main drawback of personal tutors is their relative expense. Tutors are almost always many times more expensive than online prep courses. It’s not uncommon for tutors to charge $50 (USD) an hour, and if you were to spend an hour with a tutor three times a week over the span of a month, you would be looking at a $600 bill.
  • No Performance Guarantee: While many online prep courses offer a performance guarantee or non-satisfaction refund, most personal tutors won’t give you your money back should you decide their services weren’t helpful. You also have a better idea of what you are getting when you sign up for an online prep course, while many tutors might not have a fully developed course for you to look over before your first session.
  • No Full-Length Practice Tests: Most tutors won’t be able to provide you with full-length practice tests that simulate the TOEFL iBT. Instead, tutors tend to focus on skills that will usually translate to higher scores in the long run. Full-length practice tests are a powerful tool in preparing for the TOEFL, so it might be wise to utilize a personal tutor alongside a quality online prep course.

 

Online Tutoring

The first (and cheapest) way to get a personal tutor is online. There are two basic types of sites that offer online tutoring. The first type is full-service tutoring sites. These sites provide a wide variety of online tutoring for all sorts of subjects (Math, Science, etc.), and many employ tutors that can help with the TOEFL iBT. This tends to be the cheapest online tutoring option, but the tutors may not have a whole lot of experience with the TOEFL iBT.

The other type of online tutoring site is specifically designed for TOEFL tutoring. These sites offer help and tutors that specialize in the TOEFL iBT. Many of the tutors are former employees of Educational Testing Service (the company that administers the TOEFL).

In order to take advantage of online tutoring, you will need the following pieces of equipment:

  • A computer
  • A reliable internet connection
  • A microphone and webcam
  • Video chatting software (such as Skype)

In-Person Tutoring

This type of tutor requires a face-to-face meeting, and finding a tutor that specializes in the TOEFL iBT may be challenging (depending on where you live and your proximity to a large city). In order to find a quality tutor, you can check websites that allow individuals to advertise their services. One example of this type of site is Craigslist, which may or may not be heavily utilized in your area. You can also use social media to ask for recommendations from friends and other acquaintances.

Be sure to consider your personal safety when finding and meeting a tutor in person. Always use your best judgment and practice common sense – the following are few safety tips to get you started:

  • Ask for references before the first meeting (and contact at least one for verification)
  • Meet in a public place (like a coffee shop or a public park)
  • Don’t pay until the service is received

When trying to find a personal tutor on a site like Craigslist, you might not know exactly what to look for – just because someone says they can help you learn the English language doesn’t mean that they will make the best tutor for the TOEFL iBT. Remember that your goal is to get a high score on the test, learning English is part of that, but you also need a tutor that can help you develop strategies and good habits specifically related to the TOEFL iBT. Be sure to verify ahead of time that the tutor you select has personal experience with the TOEFL iBT and has previously helped other students be successful on the test.

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In-Person Tutoring vs. Online Tutoring

While some may have no other choice but to opt for online tutoring (due to location or other circumstances), there are some important factors to weigh if you are trying to decide between the two. Take a look at the benefits of online tutoring and those of in-person tutoring.

Online Tutoring Benefits:

  • Reputability: There are reputable online tutoring sites out there that can give you a sense of security in knowing that the tutors are held to a high standard and are verified to be experts in their field.
  • Affordable: Compared to in-person tutoring, online tutors tend to be cheaper. Of course, prices can vary depending on the in-person tutor and the online tutoring site.
  • Flexibility: Online tutoring can happen anytime, and at anyplace you can bring a laptop and get a wifi signal. In-person tutoring might require a commute and a strict appointment time.
  • Large Selection of Tutors: The number of tutors available online is staggering when compared to most people’s selection of in-person tutors. Depending on where you live, you might only have access to a couple TOEFL iBT tutors in your area, while there could be hundreds available online that would fit your needs.

In-Person Tutoring Benefits:

  • Personal Interaction: A simple high-five after doing well on a difficult exercise can go a long way. In-person tutors allow for personal interaction that can be especially beneficial for some students.
  • Familiar Teaching Style:. Those who are used to interacting online may be totally comfortable with an online tutor, but those who don’t have experience using a computer might prefer an in-person tutor since it’s more natural for many people to learn from a real person that’s sitting across from them.

Table Comparing Online Tutoring and In-Person Tutoring

Online Tutoring

In-Person Tutoring

Available to everyone who can access the internet

X

Flexible schedule (available day or night)

X

Face-to-face interaction

X

Large selection of tutors for everyone

X

Doesn’t require a computer (or other hardware)

X

Doesn’t require competency with modern technology

X

Usually comes with the guarantee and reputability of an established company

X

Personalized courses and exercises

Language Schools

Pros and Cons

Language schools are the best bet for in-person tutoring to prepare for the TOEFL iBT. Unfortunately, they are often quite expensive as well. Take a look at the following pros and cons to see how language schools stack up against online prep courses.

Advantages:

  • In-Language Teaching: Most online prep courses are only available in English which may make it more difficult for intermediate level English speakers. On the other hand, language schools are often taught by those that speak the local language.
  • Helpful for Beginners: Those whose skill level is closer to “beginner” can benefit from courses at a language school – although a beginner’s course that doesn’t directly relate to the TOEFL may need to be purchased first.
  • Learning in a Social Environment: Many students benefit from learning in a more natural social environment where interaction with other students and teachers is possible without the pressure and nervousness that can come into play when trying to converse with native English speakers.

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive: Language schools will almost always be more expensive than online courses – especially if one-on-one tutoring is necessary.
  • Commute: Unlike private tutoring and online prep courses, language schools’ locations aren’t flexible so attending classes may require a long commute.
  • Full-Length Practice Tests: Quality online prep courses all provide full-length practice tests which are extremely helpful when preparing for the TOEFL iBT. Unfortunately, many language schools may not furnish full-length practice tests.

Group Tutoring

The first way to prepare for the TOEFL iBT is with a group of other students who are also planning on taking the test. Many language schools offer a group class that may be similar to a language course at a college or highschool. Some language schools may even have classes specifically designed to prepare students for the TOEFL iBT – these are the best choice if available.

One-on-One Tutoring

Many language schools also offer one-on-one tutoring, but it may not be advertised. Call or contact schools directly to find out if they offer one-on-one tutoring with teachers that have experience with the TOEFL iBT. You can usually expect a higher quality of tutoring from an instructor at a language school when compared to that of a random person you found on the internet. However, personal tutoring from a language school is usually quite a bit more expensive than private tutoring from an independent tutor.

Group Tutoring Vs. One-on-One Tutoring

When deciding between group tutoring and one-on-one tutoring at a language school, it’s important to consider the factors below.

Benefits of group tutoring:

  • Cheaper: Depending on the school, one-on-one tutoring could be many times more expensive than group tutoring.
  • Social Setting: Some students really benefit from conversing and studying with a group.

Benefits of one-on-one tutoring:

  • Personalization: What’s best for a group of students might not always be best for you – a personal tutor can tailor the course and material to fit your unique needs and learning style.
  • Face Time: Group tutoring requires instructors to split their attention between many students. Students often find that they can get more out of a one-on-one teaching experience since the teacher can solely focus on him or her.
  • Flexibility: Some language schools may allow their instructors to meet privately with individual students at a more convenient time and location.

Table Comparing Group Tutoring and One-on-One Tutoring

Group Tutoring

One-on-One Tutoring

Tends to be cheaper

X

Interaction and learning in a group environment

X

More flexibility with time and location

X

Personalized courses and exercises

X

Ability to rely on a reputable business

Helpful for beginners

TOEFL iBT Prep Books

Pros and Cons

Using TOEFL iBT prep books is the traditional way to prepare for the TOEFL iBT. The advantages and disadvantages of prep books (compared to online prep courses) are listed below.

Advantages:

  • Inexpensive: Most prep books are relatively cheap – they can range from $20 to $50 (compared to prep courses that can range from $50 to $250).
  • Offline: While many prep books have a component that requires a computer, no internet connection is necessary, which can be beneficial for those who don’t have a solid internet connection.

Disadvantages:

  • Not Interactive: Exercises aren’t interactive – instead, the traditional method of reading a section and then answering questions or completing activities is used.
  • Potentially Outdated: Online prep courses can (and should) be updated automatically as adjustments are made to the TOEFL iBT or as improvements are made to the course. Prep books can become outdated if changes are made to the test.
  • No Feedback: Practice tests aren’t graded, and personalized feedback isn’t given – this is an important component of online prep courses that prep books can’t provide.

How Prep Books Work

Prep books are made up of three main components:

  • Strategies and Tips: This type of content helps you understand what will be on the test and how each section will be graded. There will be strategies for how to approach each section and exercises designed to improve specific test-related skills.
  • Practice and Quizzes: This component directs readers to answer questions or practice certain skills related to each category of the test.
  • Practice Tests: Not all books have practice tests, but those that do usually include them on a CD-ROM – so a computer is required to take advantage of this component, but an internet connection shouldn’t be necessary.

Different Types of Prep Books

TOEFL iBT prep books are varied in scope and purpose, but most fall into one of the three following categories:

  • Complete Guide: This type of prep book is meant to be an “all-in-one resource.” An example of this type of prep book is “The Official Guide to the TOEFL” which is published by ETS (the company that administers the test). Certain third parties have written comprehensive guides as well.
  • Practice Tests: This type of prep book exclusively provides practice tests. One such book is the Official TOEFL iBT Tests (provided by ETS).
  • Skill Building: Some books are designed to help individuals who are struggling with specific skills. These prep books focus on building skills that will result in better test scores, rather than actually focusing on the test directly. For example, there are books specifically written to improve the vocabulary and grammar of the readers.

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Free Resources for the TOEFL iBT

There are a number of free resources on the internet, but you should be very careful about which you use – some aren’t high quality and can actually hurt your preparation if they aren’t teaching you correctly. For instance, some free “vocabulary building” exercises use incorrect grammar and weren’t written by qualified experts. Another problem with using free resources is that they can be out of date, and have information pertaining to an older version of the TOEFL.

The following sites have been vetted and can be used to supplement preparation. However, none of these are comprehensive resources – so if you really need help, you shouldn’t depend on these in place of one of the other preparation methods mentioned above. The resources are divided into several groups, but some sites have resources related to multiple categories – these are placed in the category that best describes the majority of the practice content available.

Note: Watch out for ads that redirect you to another site. Many “free” sites use aggressive marketing techniques to make their site profitable. Click carefully.

YouTube

YouTube is a valuable, free tool to use when preparing for the TOEFL iBT. This site allows you to access countless samples of fluent English speakers. Recorded lectures are especially useful in preparing for the test since the TOEFL iBT will require you to listen to these types of clips and either answer questions or write a response based on what you heard.

Here are a couple YouTube “channels” to get you started:

  • TOEFL TV: This channel was created by ETS (the company that administers the test), and has many helpful videos that can help you prepare or understand specific aspects of the test.
  • #Education: YouTube provides a compilation of educational videos – some are specifically ESL related, but others are simply lectures by professors or other educational videos.

Vocabulary and Grammar

There is a large variety of resources in this category. Some sites provide flashcards or vocabulary lists, while others offer interactive quizzes testing vocabulary or grammar proficiency. Here’s a list of quality, free sites that can help you build your English vocabulary and learn proper grammar:

  • Learn4Good: This site provides interactive quizzes that test vocabulary and grammar comprehension.
  • QuizTree: This resource is made up of multiple interactive vocabulary and grammar quizzes that instantly indicate whether the selected answer was right or wrong.
  • Cram: This is a site that hosts a variety of flashcards made by users (you can create your own as well). It can be a useful tool to learn vocabulary words, but care should be exercised with flashcards that are created by third parties, as they may not always be 100% accurate.
  • Quizlet: Similarly to the previous resource, this site also hosts flashcards that are created by users, and it can be used to learn difficult vocabulary words.

Reading Comprehension

Like the reading section of the TOEFL iBT, these types of resources will provide an essay or excerpt for you to read, and ask you to answer questions that gauge your comprehension. The following is a list of resources for you to utilize:

  • Test Prep Review: While this site does provide some resources to assess your grammar skills, the bulk of the resources provided relate to reading. The basic format is a passage of reading, followed by questions to test comprehension. The answers to each question are listed at the bottom, and the questions are not interactive (you can’t “click” the right answer – you have to record your answers on a separate piece of paper).
  • GraduatesHotline.com: This resource mainly provides practice material for the reading section. Answers are selected after each reading section, and then there is an option to score your answers and see the results.
  • TestPrepPractice.net: The three categories of interactive practice tests available on this site are Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction, and Sentence Completion. The tests are timed, and users get a detailed report showing which questions were answered incorrectly and how much average time was spent on each question.

Listening Comprehension

  • 4Tests.com: This resource helps to prepare for the TOEFL iBT by providing a way to practice listening to a conversation, and then answering questions based on what was heard.

Free ETS Resources

While ETS provides official guides that you can purchase, the company that administers the test also has four free resources that you can utilize during your preparation.

  • TOEFL iBT Interactive Sampler: Windows users (Mac OS X isn’t supported) can use this downloadable program to sample activities from all four sections that were previously on the TOEFL iBT.
  • TOEFL iBT Test Questions: The main purpose of this resource is to help future test-takers to understand what type of questions will be asked, and what the overall format for each section is.
  • TOEFL iBT Quick Prep: This resource is made up of four PDFs that each contain multiple practice questions from all four sections of the test that were previously used. Several volumes have embedded audio, while the other two utilize audio that has been transcribed.
  • TOEFL iBT Test Prep Planner: This is an eight-week study guide that gives strategies and tips for preparing for and taking the test, as well as activities and practice questions.

TOEFL iBT Study Methods

Vocabulary

There are two ways to approach vocabulary-building: passive learning and active learning. Passive learning is all about immersing yourself in as many environments where English is being spoken as possible. The idea is that the more you are around the language, whether through reading or listening, the more your brain will pick up on the English language without you having to do anything at all.

Ways to passively learn English vocabulary include:

  • Online Gaming
  • Youtube Videos
  • Books
  • Television/Movies

While passive learning is great for those who are starting their preparation well in advance, those who need to gain a larger working vocabulary quickly will have to take an active role in building up their vocabulary. The following are six steps that will help to learn useful vocabulary, which should result in higher scores on every section of the TOEFL iBT.

Step 1: Create Vocabulary Groups

The first step is to identify groups of words that will be useful to study. Many study guides and online prep courses can assist in determining important categories of words to study. Here are some examples of a few:

  • Religion
  • Sports
  • Politics
  • Family
  • Recreation
  • Education
  • Food
  • Business

Once the categories of words are established, start creating sections beneath each main category. Such as:

  • Objects
  • Feelings
  • People
  • Actions
  • Events
  • Descriptions

Step 2: Identify Your Working Vocabulary

Once you have your main groups and sub-categories established (you will need to continue to add to these as you think of more), start filling in each sub-category with words that you already know.

For instance, sections under the category “business” could look like:

Objects

  • Briefcase
  • Desk
  • Business Card

Feelings

  • Accomplishment
  • Bored
  • Frustrated

People

  • Boss
  • Co-Worker
  • Supervisor

Actions

  • Work
  • Type
  • Present

Events

  • Meeting
  • Lunch
  • Performance Review

Descriptions

  • Productive
  • Shady
  • Challenging

Step 3: Choose New Words Every Week-Day

First, choose a category for the week, and then pick five words for each day of the week. Many online prep courses or prep books can assist you in identifying words that are essential for the TOEFL iBT. You can also select words you don’t understand from practice activities. If you need more help finding vocabulary words, look for material (like lectures or essays) that relates to your current category. Once you have your words chosen (you can choose the words daily or at the beginning of the week), add them to your vocabulary list under the appropriate sub-categories.

Step 4: Create Your Personal Word Definitions

Each day you will be creating your own definitions for each of the five words. For instance, if the category is business, the words for the first day could be:

  • Shrewd
  • Income
  • Profit
  • Investor
  • Office

You can start by guessing at what the meaning of the word is (based on your knowledge of the English language), and then turn to the dictionary to see how you did. Once you have a good grasp on what the word means, create your own definition (you can record your definitions with a list or on flash cards).

Note: Using a dictionary that’s only written in English (monolingual) will be helpful to acclimate you to reading and thinking in English. Try to avoid using a bilingual dictionary (with definitions in your native language) whenever possible.

Your personal definitions should include a sentence with the word that’s easy for your to understand. You can also define the word in your own terms. For instance, if the word is “briefcase,” you could say, “A briefcase is a medium sized object used by businessmen to carry important papers.” Another good component to include is synonyms and antonyms which can be found using a thesaurus (keep in mind that not all words have synonyms or antonyms).

Here’s an example of what a completed personal definition of the word “profit” could look like:

  • Definition: A financial gain, especially the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent in buying, operating, or producing something.
  • Personal Definition: The amount of money that is earned after deducting expenses.
  • Sentence: The investor bought himself a new boat after the sale of an investment property brought in a large profit.
  • Synonyms: Surplus; revenue
  • Antonyms: Loss; deficit

Step 5: Review Your Words During the Week

There are a lot of different ways to review words throughout the week, but one of the most popular methods is to use flashcards. With flashcards, you can write the word on one side, and your personal definition on the other. Then you can work through them multiple times a day as you have time (like while you wait for the bus or eat lunch). Try to practice with your flashcards at least three times a day. Add new flashcards for the new words each day, and once you are absolutely sure that a word is firmly established in your working vocabulary, you can set it aside until the weekend.

Another way to review your words during the week is to use sticky notes. This strategy can be used on its own or in conjunction with flashcards. To use sticky notes without flashcards, post sticky notes around your house (or other environments where you spend a lot of time) with your words and add to them each day. When you pass by the sticky note, say the definition several times and use it in a sentence. If you are around the sticky notes constantly, try to say the definition of each word at least three times a day.

The other way to utilize sticky notes is to use them in conjunction with flashcards – only post sticky notes with words that are difficult for you. You can use this as a way to get extra practice with the words that are the most challenging for you to learn.

If you are using an online prep course or another method to prepare, you can also review your vocabulary words by intentionally using them in the Writing and Speaking practice sections.

Step 6: Use the Weekends for Extra Practice and Review

Don’t learn any new words on the weekend – instead, use this time to practice and review. Here are a few creative ideas for extra practice:

  • Write a short story or essay relating to your category for your week and be sure to use your vocabulary words.
  • Look for opportunities to interact with English speakers and try to use your vocabulary (this could either be in person or online).
  • Play a modified game of Jeopardy or Scrabble with others that are preparing for the TOEFL iBT.

Summary

The earlier you start to learn vocabulary, the better off you will be. Pick your category each week, choose five words, and then review and use them as often as possible. A word to the wise: don’t try and overload yourself with much more than five words a day, a slower gradual approach will be more effective in the long run.

The Speaking Section

The speaking section is tough. It requires you to speak clearly in the English language while being timed and then measures your vocabulary and ability to use correct grammar while under pressure. Without adequate preparation, this may be the hardest section of the test for you. Keep in mind that this section is only 20 minutes long, but it’s 1/4th of your overall score – this underscores the importance of practice.

What’s on the Test

There are two sections: Integrated and Independent. The integrated section asks you to respond verbally to a question that is asked, while the independent section requires you to answer a question based on your personal opinions and experiences.

What to Practice

It’s important to practice for the speaking section, but knowing how and what to practice can be challenging. The first thing you should focus on is grammar. When you are speaking, your grammar doesn’t have to be complex, but it does need to be correct. Grammar can be learned actively by taking classes or courses on the subject, or passively by conversing with and listening to English speakers.

The second area to focus your practice on is vocabulary (the section above provides ways to study and learn new vocabulary). If you don’t know enough English words, getting a high grade on the speaking portion of the TOEFL iBT isn’t going to be possible.

Some of your practice time should also be spent developing testing skills related to this section. The test will require you not only to speak well, but also to think quickly. Since it’s timed, you will have a limited amount of time to think about what you want to say before you start speaking. To develop these skills, practice responding to questions in a short amount of time. Quality prep courses will help with these skills by simulating a testing environment where you are required to respond to a question within a certain time frame.

The speed with which you talk is also important. Many individuals tend to speed up when they are nervous or feel the pressure of time running out. It’s important to practice speaking at a controlled pace.

Pronunciation is also important. Note that speaking with an accent is acceptable and expected – don’t try to sound like an English speaker, instead focus on clearly pronouncing each syllable and word.

How to Practice

There are three basic ways to practice for the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT. The first is to practice on your own. This is an important way to practice as you will be speaking into a microphone (not to a test administrator) when you take the TOEFL iBT, so getting experience with that process ahead of time is valuable.

In order to practice on your own, you will need a recording device, and the hardware to record yourself speaking. Compile a list of TOEFL topics to speak on, and then set a timer and record yourself speaking. You can find realistic speaking prompts and practice activities in prep courses or other resources (there are a number of free resources listed above).

Afterwards, playback the recording and take note of the following:

  • Pace: Was your pace steady and even, or slow and then rushed?
  • Flow: Did the individual parts flow logically from one to the next throughout your speech?
  • Pronunciation: Would a third party be able to understand your words easily?
  • Content: Was the overall content of your speaking logical and thought-out? Did you answer the question that was asked and stick to the given topic?

The second way to practice for the speaking section is with a study group. If you don’t have a study group of others that are learning the English language, seek one out or create one. You can utilize social media or sites like Craigslist to find a group of people that are studying for the TOEFL.

While you should definitely spend time with your study group dialoguing in English, be sure to take turns monologuing on a specific subject within a time limit, and then give each other feedback at the end. This form of practice can be helpful to gauge how well you pronounce English words.

The last way to practice for the speaking section is in a social setting. You won’t be directly practicing your testing skills, but it will help you to become more comfortable and confident when speaking in English which can make a big difference on test day. While you may be able to find everyday environments that allow you to practice your English speaking, finding a group that specifically gets together to practice English may be a bit less intimidating at first. Meetup.com is one example of a site that you can use to find a group of individuals that are learning English and want to practice together.

Summary

Practicing for the speaking section on the TOEFL iBT can be a challenge, but if you make an effort, you can make a lot of progress – you will learn a lot along the way, and you might even make a few new friends. However you choose to practice, it is important to spend a little bit of time in front of a computer with a microphone so that you will be comfortable with the process on the day of the test.

The Independent Writing Section

Many students struggle with the very thought of having to write an essay while being timed. This can be one of the most difficult sections of the test since you will be required to present your opinion on a given topic in 30 minutes. The good news is that there are several ways to practice for the test that will increase your confidence and skills, but first take a look at a few common mistakes.

Mistakes to Avoid

The following are a few common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Apologizing: Instructors know that you aren’t a native English speaker, so apologizing isn’t necessary, and it can only hurt your confidence and expectations going forward.
  • Writing Nothing: Write something – even if it’s not very good. Many students freeze up and write little or nothing. Many people find that the hardest part of writing is getting started.
  • Prioritizing Quantity: One well-written paragraph usually gets a higher grade than three poorly written paragraphs – as long as a complete idea is presented logically.
  • Going Off-Topic: While some students try to cheat the system by memorizing an essay ahead of time, even those who genuinely create their response on the spot can wonder off topic. Don’t try and fill up space by writing on a subject that isn’t logically related to the prompt.

How to Prepare

This may go without saying, but it’s crucial that you practice writing in English with the pressure of a ticking clock. Online prep courses will facilitate this type of practice, but you can also practice on your own – simply decide on a topic, set a timer, and start writing. Once your time is up, go back and check your grammar and the quality of your work.

Another way to prepare is by learning a variety of basic sentence patterns. Do some research online if you aren’t familiar with English sentence patterns. To get you started, try using a variety of connectors like:

  • “Not only, but also”
  • “But”
  • “Although”

The third way to prepare is to research TOEFL iBT prompts. This section will require you to respond to a prompt that asks you to present your opinion on a random subject. For instance, a prompt might be worded something like “In some countries, drivers of motor vehicles are allowed to talk on their cell phones. Should the government allow this behavior?” While there’s no way to know what your topic will be ahead of time, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the way prompts are presented and what kind of subject matter you might be given.

How to Practice

Start by getting a timer and a computer set up. While you can practice with pen and paper, the TOEFL iBT will be typed, so it’s more beneficial to practice with a computer and an English QWERTY keyboard. Once you are ready, select a realistic prompt at random (preferably on a subject that you aren’t overly familiar with and don’t hold a strong opinion on), and then start your timer and begin.

The following are important steps to include in your writing process:

  • Choose a Side: You will be required to hold and defend an opinion. It’s not always wise to choose the side with which you naturally identify. Instead, think of which opinion would be the easiest to defend logically.
  • Plan Your Response: Don’t start writing right away. Instead, start by developing a very brief outline of several points you want to include. This can be as few as three, or as many as five. A couple of minutes of planning at the beginning can save quite a bit of time later.
  • Start with a Thesis Statement: State your chosen opinion clearly and simply at the beginning. Don’t try and make this part too complex – you can even use the same language as the prompt in your thesis statement.
  • List Reasons and Succinct Examples: Use the brief outline that you created at the beginning, and then try to bolster each point with an example or logical reasoning.
  • Edit Your Work: Try to save a couple of minutes so you can go back and edit your response at the end. The best native English writers have to edit their work, and you are no exception. It’s better to have a shorter essay that doesn’t have many errors, than to go on writing until the last minute and have multiple mistakes.

Summary

Writing under pressure isn’t easy, but if you practice writing while being timed and develop a rock-solid methodology, you can succeed. Be sure to focus on increasing your grammar and vocabulary skills as well as practicing the writing task itself.

Full Methodology and Metric Walk-Through

Summary of Our Filtering Process

Step 1: We Started with 16 Online Prep Courses

We gathered a list of prep courses primarily through a number of Google searches, and also from the recommendations of other guides that have been written.

Step 2: We Eliminated 7 Courses

The courses we eliminated:

  • Didn’t offer a self-guided prep course
  • Weren’t functional
  • Didn’t list pricing information

Step 3: We Established Our Final List of Contenders

After the cuts were made, we were left with the following nine companies to research and review:

Summary of Our Scoring Process

  • We established five core metrics and 21 sub-metrics.
  • Then we assigned each sub-metric a value between 0 and 10.
  • Next we averaged together the sub-metrics underneath each core metric.
  • We scored each core metric between 0 and 10 (based on the average of the sub-metrics belonging to that core metric).
  • Finally, we weighted each core metric’s score and added the weighted scores together to determine the overall score for each prep course.

 

Examples of Our Scoring Process

How We Scored the Core Metric “Learning Tools”

To understand how we determine the score for each core metric, take a look at the breakdown of the scoring process for the core metric “Learning Tools:”

  • There were eight different scores given out for this core metric since two courses had the same sub-metric average.
  • We divided the scores up into eight equal parts, which resulted in a difference of 1.428 points between each course.
  • The course with the lowest sub-metric average in this core metric got a “0” (in this case there was a tie at the bottom – there were two courses that tied for the lowest sub-metric average, so they both got a “0”). The next lowest scoring course got a “1.4,” the next received a “2.9,” etc. The highest scoring course received a “10.”

How We Weighted Our Core Metrics

We weighted our core metrics according to each core metric’s importance in the overall quality of the prep course. For instance, “Accessibility and Security” was only given a 10% weight, while “Cost” was given a 30% weight.

Here’s a detailed example of how we applied weights:

  • If a course is given a “5” in Cost, then we would multiply “5” by “0.3” (Cost is weighted at 30%).
  • In this example, the course’s weighted score for Cost would be “1.5.”
  • After all the core metrics’ scores were weighted, we added them together to get the overall score for that course (theoretically, if a course got a “10” in every core metric then its overall score would add up to 10 as well).

“Learning Tools” Scoring for Kaplan Test Prep

To better understand our methodology for ranking prep courses, we will provide an in-depth look at how we scored the core metric “Learning Tools” for Kaplan Test Prep.

We started by researching Kaplan Test Prep to determine the values for each sub-metric under “Learning Tools.” The sub-metrics for Learning Tools are:

  • Does the course cover all four categories on the TOEFL iBT?
  • Does the course specifically focus on vocabulary building?
  • Are full-length practice tests available?
  • Are there exams that are scored by instructors?
  • How many Practice Questions are available?

We assigned sub-metric scores based on our research which was gathered directly from Kaplan Test Prep’s website. Here’s how we scored the sub-metrics:

  • It does cover all four categories, so it got a “10” in the first sub-metric.
  • It doesn’t specifically provide help with vocabulary building, so it got a “0” in the next sub-metric.
  • It does provide full-length practice tests, so it got a “10” in the third sub-metric.
  • Instructors do score some of the exams, so it got a “10” in the fourth sub-metric.
  • The site advertised that 100 practice questions were available, so it was given a “4.”

April Fools Day is coming. Prank your friends opening a never ending fake update screen on their computer. Sit back and watch their reaction.

Note: Since the final sub-metric (“How many practice questions are available?”) is comparative (rather than a yes or no, where yes = 10 and no = 0), the score for this sub-metric was determined by comparing the performance of all the courses. Once the scores were divided evenly (and accounting for several ties), the difference between each score was 2 points. There were three courses that got a “0,” and two courses tied with a “6.” Kaplan Test Prep was given a “4” since three courses had a higher number of practice questions.

The average for Kaplan Test Prep’s sub-metrics in this core metric was found to be “6.8,” and we used that average to determine its score in Learning Tools (“7.1”). Here’s how we found the overall score for Learning Tools:

  • There were two courses that tied for the lowest average at “2.”
  • The scores were then divided up into eight equal parts, with the lowest two courses both receiving a “0.”
  • The difference between each score was 1.438.
  • Since Kaplan Test Prep had the third highest average (at 6.8), it received a “7.1” for the core metric “Learning Tools.”

The last step was to weight Kaplan Test Prep’s score for Learning Tools. This core metric is weighted at 30%, so the score of “7.1” was multiplied by “.3” to come up with Kaplan’s weighted score of “2.13.”

Reference Table for Learning Tools

Rank

Site Name

Score

Average

Covers all 4 Categories

Vocab Help

Full-Length Practice Tests

Instructor Scoring

Practice Questions

#1

BestMyTest

10

9.6

10

10

10

10

8

#2

TestDen

8.6

8.0

10

0

10

10

10

#3

Kaplan Test Prep

7.1

6.8

10

0

10

10

4

#4

English Success Academy

5.7

6.4

10

10

10

0

2

#5

Magoosh

4.3

5.2

10

10

0

0

6

#6

EdX

2.9

4.0

10

0

0

10

0

#7

ETS

1.4

3.2

10

0

0

0

6

#8

TestMasters

0

2.0

10

0

0

0

0

#8

Thunderbird

0

2.0

10

0

0

0

0

Individual Summaries for Each Core Metric and Sub-Metric

The following is a breakdown of each core metric and an explanation of its importance in determining the overall quality of each prep course.

Core Metric 1: Cost - 30%

Cost is one of the two most important core metrics because it measures the price as well as the quantity of services you are getting when purchasing a prep course. One of the great features of online prep courses are their affordability compared to personal or group tutoring, but some courses charge a considerable amount more than others. For instance, our top course (BestMyTest) cost $80, while TestMasters cost $600.

The other main factor we measure in this core metric is the quantity of service that is purchased. There are two sub-metrics that we used to factor this into the equation: the first measures the amount of time the subscriber can use the course, and the second measures the number of practice tests that are offered. There’s no clear-cut way to measure “cost per unit” (like the cost per gallon of gas, for instance), but this compares the offerings of each course as fairly as possible.

The sub-metrics we used are:

  • What is the average cost? (in US Dollars)
  • How many pricing options are there?
  • What is the length of access?
  • What is the number of practice tests that are available?

Reference Table for Cost

Rank

Site Name

Score

Average

Average Cost

Number of Pricing Options

Length of Access

Number of Practice Tests

#1

English Success Academy

10

7.83

3.8

10

10

7.5

#2

BestMyTest

8.8

6.05

7.5

6.7

0

10

#3

TestDen

7.5

4.60

5

0

8.4

5

#4

Magoosh

6.3

3.88

8.8

6.7

0

0

#5

EdX

5

3.74

10

3.3

1.67

0

#6

ETS

3.8

3.68

6.3

0

8.4

0

#7

Kaplan Test Prep

2.5

3.13

2.5

0

5

5

#8

TestMasters

1.3

1.68

0

0

6.7

0

#9

Thunderbird

0

1.38

1.3

0

1.7

2.5

Core Metric 2: Learning Tools - 30%

Similarly to the core metric “Cost,” Learning Tools is weighted at 30% since it’s the main measurement of the quality of what is being offered. While we couldn’t survey 500 people who’ve used each course to determine which prep course is the highest quality, we can measure certain aspects – like whether the practice tests are full-length simulations of the real TOEFL iBT, or whether instructors scored exams or tests to give personalized feedback.

EdX is a good illustration of why quality matters – that prep course had the cheapest cost, but only scored a 2.9 in Learning Tools which was only 6th best. The course is free, but it doesn’t have full-length practice tests, and it doesn’t offer vocabulary help. This core metric showed that EdX probably isn’t worth your time – it’s a better investment to spend $80 on something that will be really useful, than to spend nothing, but invest your valuable time with a prep course that won’t do the best job preparing you for the TOEFL iBT.

The sub-metrics we used are:

  • Does the course cover all four categories on the TOEFL iBT?
  • Does the course specifically focus on vocabulary building?
  • Are full-length practice tests available?
  • Are there exams that are scored by instructors?
  • How many Practice Questions are available?

Reference Table for Learning Tools

Rank

Site Name

Score

Average

Covers all 4 Categories

Vocab Help

Full-Length Practice Tests

Instructor Scoring

Practice Questions

#1

BestMyTest

10

9.6

10

10

10

10

8

#2

TestDen

8.6

8.0

10

0

10

10

10

#3

Kaplan Test Prep

7.1

6.8

10

0

10

10

4

#4

English Success Academy

5.7

6.4

10

10

10

0

2

#5

Magoosh

4.3

5.2

10

10

0

0

6

#6

EdX

2.9

4.0

10

0

0

10

0

#7

ETS

1.4

3.2

10

0

0

0

6

#8

TestMasters

0

2.0

10

0

0

0

0

#8

Thunderbird

0

2.0

10

0

0

0

0

Core Metric 3: Additional Features - 20%

Additional Features is our next most important core metric because it also measures quality, but the availability of any of the features listed in the sub-metrics aren’t as crucial as those measured in Learning Tools. For instance, instructor feedback (a sub-metric in Learning Tools) is much more valuable than the availability of video lessons (a sub-metric in Additional Features). Of course certain aspects may appeal to you more than others – if that’s the case, make sure to take a close look at our sub-metrics so you can choose a course that offers the features that will be the most important to you.

The sub-metrics we used are:

  • Are there simulated tests with all new questions and material?
  • Are there study plans?
  • Are video lessons available?
  • Is tutoring also available?
  • Are there interactive quizzes?
  • Is “Ask an Instructor” available?

Reference Table for Additional Features

Rank

Site Name

Score

Total Average

Reserved Simulated Tests

Study Plans

Video Lessons

Online Tutoring Available

Interactive Quizzes / Exercises

Ask an Instructor

#1

BestMyTest

10

6.67

10

10

0

0

10

10

#1

TestMasters

10

6.67

0

10

10

10

0

10

#2

English Success Academy

6.7

5.00

0

0

10

10

10

0

#2

Magoosh

6.7

5.00

0

10

10

0

0

10

#3

EdX

3.3

3.33

0

0

10

0

10

0

#3

Kaplan Test Prep

3.3

3.33

0

0

10

0

0

10

#4

ETS

0

1.67

0

0

0

0

10

0

#4

TestDen

0

1.67

0

0

0

0

10

0

#4

Thunderbird

0

1.67

0

10

0

0

0

0

Core Metric 4: Guarantees and Refunds - 10%

While this core metric is one of our two least important metrics (it has an equal weight to “Accessibility and Security”), it still plays a significant role in comparing the prep courses to determine which are the best. This core metric is pretty straightforward – it measures your ability to count on this course to prepare you for the TOEFL iBT, and what your options are if it doesn’t end up being worth your investment.

The reason we didn’t give this metric more weight is because these kinds of guarantees aren’t useful for everyone. For instance, the sub-metric that identifies how many additional points you are guaranteed to add to your score after completing the course isn’t applicable if you haven’t taken the TOEFL iBT at least once before. These guarantees are also not air-tight – there’s a lot of fine print.

The sub-metrics we used are:

  • Are there non-satisfaction refunds?
  • Is there a free trial or demo?
  • How many additional points are guaranteed? (if any)

Reference Table for Guarantees and Refunds

Rank

Site Name

Score

Total Average

Non-Satisfaction Refunds

Free Trial / Demo

Guaranteed Point Increase

#1

Magoosh

10

8.33

10

10

5

#2

EdX

8

6.67

10

10

0

#2

TestDen

8

6.67

10

10

0

#3

TestMasters

6

3.33

0

0

10

#3

Thunderbird

6

3.33

0

10

0

#4

BestMyTest

4

2.5

0

0

7.5

#5

Kaplan Test Prep

2

0.83

0

0

2.5

#6

ETS

0

0

0

0

0

#6

English Success Academy

0

0

0

0

0

Core Metric 5: Accessibility and Security - 10%

The final core metric is only weighted at 10% since it mostly measures aspects that aren’t directly related to the quality of the course itself. For instance, the ease of contacting customer service is measured, but that doesn’t directly impact the quality of the course.

One sub-metric (“How many languages are supported?”) is included in this core metric but it isn’t given significant weight because it’s not possible for us to measure it with 100% confidence. Since we aren’t native speakers of any other languages, we couldn’t judge the translation (even if we could, it would be very subjective). On top of all that, only two courses offered the course in more languages than just English. One offered two languages (BestMyTest), and another offered four (Kaplan Test Prep). Even the course that is offered in four languages still isn’t available to a large number of people in their native language. Despite all of those factors, the sites that are available in more languages than just English are more accessible and were given a slight boost to their overall score.

The sub-metrics we used are:

  • How many languages are supported?
  • Is the site secure?
  • How many points of contact are there for customer service?

Reference Table for Accessibility and Security

Rank

Site Name

Score

Total Average

Number of Languages Supported

Secure Site

Customer Service Points of Contact

#1

Kaplan Test Prep

10

7.78

10

10

3.33

#2

English Success Academy

8

6.67

0

10

10

#3

BestMyTest

6

5.00

5

10

0

#4

ETS

4

4.44

0

10

3.33

#4

Magoosh

4

4.44

0

10

3.33

#4

TestDen

4

4.44

0

10

3.33

#4

TestMasters

4

4.44

0

10

3.33

#5

EdX

2

3.33

0

10

0

#6

Thunderbird

0

2.22

0

0

6.67