How to Reduce Test Anxiety in the TOEFL iBT

How to Reduce Test Anxiety in the TOEFL iBT

As with so many other things in life, practice before the TOEFL does indeed make the journey to perfection much smoother.


  • Prepare, Rehearse and Succeed

The test is divided into four parts: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Prepare for each section as well as you can. Don't think that just because, for example, you write well, this will be your passport to success. You need to perform competently in all areas.

The TOEFL iBT involves you talking to a computer - not a real person - while other examinees mill around and talk in the background. You will use headphones for the listening and speaking parts of the test but you can wear them throughout if you wish. Even so, it's best to get used to a slightly noisy atmosphere by sitting some timed, computerised exercises in a communal working environment beforehand.

The reading section appraises your ability to understand some academic vocabulary. So make sure you read some formal texts beforehand, noting new words as you go along. It would also be advisable to get a friend to probe your understanding of the material. It may be helpful to read some text on a screen while taking notes so that the material sinks in.

The more you read in English, the less daunting academic-style writing will seem. Take an interest in what you read, do so regularly and you will learn to catch key points. Practised readers can scan a newspaper article quickly while taking on board salient themes and facts.

For the listening section you could enlist a friend to read a piece to you and then test you on your comprehension. Get used to various English accents and see how quickly you can take notes. If you have some kind of deep-seated psychological aversion to a computerised voice, then the TOEFL iBT is not for you and you should consider the IELTS.

The speaking section is again one you can practise beforehand by recording yourself. If you have a speech disability - or indeed any disability that may impair your performance - you should convey this beforehand. A good way to overcome nerves at speaking is to concentrate on the content. If you can feel enthused about a topic, this will often come across.

Writing is the fourth component of the test. You will have to learn to write when you get into business school so it is an essential skill to master. Read plenty of quality English-language media and magazines. You could practise writing about a subject close to your heart and then get a native speaker to evaluate its quality.

  • Fit for a Four-hour Fight

Bear in mind the length of the TOEFL iBT and prepare psychologically. In an era when attention spans seem to be diminishing, four hours can seem intimidating. The only way is to simulate a similar test under timed conditions. You can also familiarise yourself with the kinds of questions you can expect through practice materials.

Check out: TOEFL Practice Questions

  • Learn the Layout of the Land

Acquaint yourself with the test conditions as well as the standard QWERTY keyboard if, for some reason, you are not used to one. You can get a realistic idea of what to expect on the day itself by looking at the following video.

The Day Before the Test

  • Visit the test centre a day before

If possible visit the test centre location on the previous day to make sure you are at the right place, to plan how much time you will need for travel, etc. If you are going to another town to take the test – travel the previous day and make sure you sleep enough.

  • Rest well and take an energy boost

Some general advice holds true as much for the TOEFL as it does for all exams. Eat and sleep well beforehand and drink a glass of something like lemonade before the test. Don't overdo the consumption of fluids, however, because the test is over four hours’ duration and any period away from the computer - apart from the mandatory 10-minute break - is time out for which you will not be compensated.

  • No last minute studying

As with most other tests, last minute cramming of information is unlikely to reap dividends. If you haven't learnt the required standard of English by the eve of exam then staying up all night trying to catch up is unlikely to make a difference. A good sleep will be more beneficial than anything else. Arriving early on the day is always advisable.

On the Test Day

  • Arrive at the test centre early

Be sure to arrive at the test centre early. Avoid a stressful journey by allowing for plenty of time to get to the test centre, and steering clear of crowds. Getting a taxi to the centre can be a worthwhile investment if it helps you to stay calm.

  • Dress up for success

Make sure that you dress in a way that makes you feel confident and invincible. Be aware, however, that you will be spending several hours in a warm environment. You may wish to wear several layers so that you can remove one if you feel yourself becoming sweaty.

  • Stay relaxed

Try to stay relaxed. Deep breathing can help you remain calm. Bad posture when sitting in front of the computer can make you feel stiff and awkward, so adjust your position accordingly.

  • Take your time to read the instructions

Always read the instructions carefully and try to calculate the approximate time to spend on each assignment.

  • Don’t spend too much time over challenging questions

Do not spend an inordinate amount of time agonising over a question. Pick a random answer in the multiple choice questions rather than spending ages wracking your brain for an answer that simple won’t come. On TOEFL iBT you will not be penalised for a wrong answer – in other words you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a calculated guess. Return to the question that is causing you difficulty later if you still have time.

  • Stay concentrated despite any noise or movement around you

If you see someone finishing before you then do not get demoralised. It could be that they rushed their answers or simply that they have completed their tests but answered incorrectly. Try to concentrate on what you’re doing, not on the movements of those near you.

  • A simple way to overcome writer’s block

If the writing section triggers some kind of blockage then you can overcome this by jotting something down that may be not entirely on the topic but which may lead to you recovering your stride. Professional writers often overcome writer’s block by putting something down that may not be completely relevant but leads them to recover their train of thought. And you can learn to do likewise.

  • Beat panic

If you feel yourself starting to panic at any stage of the test then bear in mind that it is not the end of the world if you hit a stumbling block. You can always re-sit the TOEFL iBT if you do not perform well enough the first time. Concentrate on the subject at hand and avoid introspection.

Remember that some test anxiety on such occasions is inevitable. An adrenaline rush actually helps you to perform well. It makes you more alert and can trigger a release of ideas. But the trick is to try not to let your nerves overwhelm you.

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