Beat Test Anxiety with a Plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you in a time crunch? Do you feel stressed out or are you in a bind?

If you have a couple days before your TOEFL® iBT exam, feel hope. Take a bit of time to lower your anxiousness about the test. To keep your anxiety under wraps, you need to prepare mentally. Since you know that you have prepped sufficiently before the exam day, you can reduce your feelings of nervousness so that come exam day, you will be mentally strong. A few key study tips are useful if you still continue to struggle with some anxiety about the day of the exam and the outcome:

Breathe. And again. Take a deep breath. Focusing on the breath will take the stress away from thinking about the actual test.

Know what you have to do, and concentrate on how you can get it done well in time. Look at your calendar, and the day you will take your test. Count how many days or weeks remain before you take the plunge. Highlight your test day in yellow. Don’t panic! Maybe your nerves are feeling jittery just thinking about that day. Take a breath and put your anxiousness aside. When you confront the test day with confidence, you are forced to know what time you have left before the date. Assess exactly how much time you have prior to your test. Is it days or weeks? This step gives you a sense of what you need to plan for, so you can take more control over your nerves. Feel confident, because even if only two days exist before your upcoming test, you still have the opportunity to prepare.

Now that you know the exact time frame of how many days or hours you have prior to taking your TOEFL, create a detailed study plan for reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary. Take a pen and journal, or in your notebook or weekly calendar, come up with a plan with study sessions that addresses the priorities you want to get done in the time frame left. How long will you spend on each skill? Whichever skill is your weakest, practice that first to improve upon it. Even practice it longer than you work on other skills. Humans often tend to procrastinate what overwhelms… and the skill that is your weak point is a daunting task. How will you organize your practice sessions to maximize effectiveness? Do not stray from your plan even if you feel overwhelmed. Re-focus your brain to stay on track and get whatever needs to be done completed within the time frame. After you finish every study session, you will feel more confident that you accomplished what you had planned out in advance, which lowers your level of worry.

Short on time? If you just have a few days before your test, make a plan to study numerous hours every day or more for each of the days left. If you have a few weeks, create a study plan for minimum an hour and a half per day or several hours at various times every week.

What not to do when you fine tune your schedule? When you are setting your study time, avoid a plan to study the night before the exam. The day before the exam should be used as a day of rest so that your mind stays fresh for the test date. You don’t want to be lacking concentration during the listening or speaking sections, do you? You wouldn’t want to run out of steam when you get to the final section, writing, either. So, in your plan, budget the last day before the test as a resting day, with minimal focus on studying. Rather, relaxation will help your mind be at ease and loosen your anxiety.

Prioritize what you need to do first by using a study guide. What are you going to tackle during each study session? For how long? Since the exam covers such a wide range of material, you want to make sure you face each skill during your study sessions. If you have test anxiety, maybe it’s because you do not know where to begin. You may feel overwhelmed with too many parts to study at once. This is where prioritizing comes in handy. To reduce your nervousness, attack the study materials by making a checklist of what you must study first as the most important to the least important. Stick to that order. How to know what is the most important? If you use a study guide with practice questions or a sample test, you can pinpoint your weaknesses. Address your weak areas first. In this way, you can use your study time more efficiently.

Finally, you need to hit the books. Study! So, if your study plan has a time frame of two hours, then get to work. Sit down and follow your plan. Do not procrastinate, not even 15 minutes. It would increase your anxiety level as the exam day approaches. If you mentally feel like putting it off, just remember your ultimate goal of success. Paint a mental picture of getting to your objective. Know that you will reduce your test anxiety by putting your study plan into effect effectively.

 

If you liked this post, you’ll enjoy Use Technology for Proficiency in English.

 

Effective Note-taking for TOEFL Success

Taking notes is a dual skill (using the brain and the body) that is one of the most essential academic skills for successful learning at university. People need notes to remember important information which they can use later on. Of course it is challenging since it is mentally and physically demanding. Whether you are taking notes on a class material, a text, an article, a reading passage, or a presentation, video, podcast, audio, or lecture, you have to train your hand to physically move and take notes while your ears keep listening or your eyes move along the material. Essentially, you are training yourself to do two actions at the same time, thinking and moving your hand to transcribe or moving your fingers to type.

 

Can you remember back to a time when you mastered a physical skill? Think to when you were a child. Did you every play a sport that you got good at or play an instrument? Advancing at a sport or playing a musical instrument well did not happen in one day. You need to perfect these physical skills with practice. The same strategy works for note-taking activities. If you are able to practice taking improved notes on a day by day basis, you will become more confident, and eventually a master.

 

To accomplish taking good notes in another language is a complex feat since you are using another set of skills working in a non-native language. In most cases, there are those college students who type on a laptop what is spoken in class, and in recent studies in university classes it has been discovered that this type of note-taking is not necessarily developing critical thinking skills on the material since the fingers are simply typing what is being said. On the other hand, hand-written lecture notes has proven to be effective in cases where the writer is able to abbreviate concisely what is being said quickly by a lecturer without letting the pen or pencil movement distract from listening to the key points of the lecture content.

 

For taking notes on lectures, you can listen to videos, podcasts, English TV or movies, or audios to gain improvement and comfort on your note-taking speed, accuracy, and skill. Listen only once so that you simulate TOEFL. You will only be able to listen once on the day of the exam, so when you listen to a lecture just once, you force your ears into training your brain to listen and write at the same time. Use shorter lectures under 5:00 minutes for note-taking practice. If you choose to do longer listening to videos or lectures of over five minutes (let’s say a 30-minute Ted talk, for instance,) then simply listen for advancing your listening skills rather than taking notes.

To practice for the TOEFL exam, aim for listening an hour per day. You can listen to longer lectures during your commute, for example. Practice at least five minutes note-taking each day on short lectures or news clips. For successful notes, consider and concentrate on these steps:

 

  1. Which words are the best terms to write in your notes? (nouns—subjects or objects + verbs–actions) vs. What words should you avoid writing in your notes (prepositions, articles)?
  2. Which abbreviations are smart to use? (e.g. Btw, w/, o, wt./yd./in/gal univ., months, directions, co, corp, no., op, pop., pt., pl., sing.ie., inc. inst, dr, dist, div., aca, alt, assn, b. [born in])
  3. Which symbols help have faster notes in TOEFL? &, +, ß, à, X, %, $, #, @, <, >
  4. What’s another way to speed up accurate note-taking? Write no vowels in words or shorten words: e.g. universityàuni., peopleà p, studentsàss, studyà s, talkà t, schoolà schl, technologyàtch, informationànfo
  5. Listen (at the beginning) for what happened and who—what person that did the action (often the main purpose)
  6. Listen for key points that will support a description of what happened and who—steps… why (reason)
  7. Listen for details to support those points: where (place), how (in what way/manner), when (time, year, month, date, day), who (people involved), how much or how many
  8. After you listen and take notes during some TOEFL speaking tasks questions, consider the best way to organize your notes quickly and practice that pattern so you can talk easily from your notes.
  9. For other speaking TOEFL questions, build your confidence and comfort level by practicing note-taking.
  10. For the integrated writing task #1, practice note-taking to build speed and accuracy.

Note-taking can help you in all areas of your life. By becoming better at note-taking for TOEFL, you can succeed in improving your score. Once you get into college, you will be building on these skills to take notes well during classes and around campus for studies and professional advancement. Finally, polishing this skill, you will be able to apply this skill to life outside of your studies such as in your career.

Best tips to remember what you study in TOEFL

  1. Focus. You first need to learn it before recalling it. So, in order to learn it well, focus on listening if you are in a language class or reading if you are doing that task. If you are doing self-study, make sure to select a quiet study space set up for optimum least distracting desk area. In this way, you will be able to focus and not be distracted by your phone, internet, or friends.
  2. As you are reading, ask yourself important questions about what you read
    Of course, you are much more likely to recall it if you know your purpose for reading it. Ask yourself questions such as who (did the action,) what (happened,) where (did it happen,) when (did it happen,) why (what’s the reason for it,) how (did it happen) about the subject matter.
  3. Employ various learning approaches while studying
    Studies show most humans remember 20% of what is read, 30 % of what is heard; 40% of what is seen visually, half of what is written down on paper (typed) or said out loud, and 60% of what is performed manually with movement. Remember when you study, to use all your different senses for learning different ways: write notes down, say your notes out loud and record them, or draw pictures to take visual notes.
  4. At the end of each study session, quickly go over what English you studied. If you skim the main objective and retrace the key points of the goals of each study session, you will remember the lesson at that moment, and the next time you study, it will help you recall them. Be sure to take a few minutes to summarize your notes using key words that will improve your memory later.
  5. As often as you can, look over what you studied as a short review
    It is much easier to recall things with a regular study pattern. For instance, if you study once a week, review briefly what you did the last session. Or, if you study every other day, start your session by reviewing what you studied the last time. If you have time to study daily, then begin your study time by reviewing just a couple minutes what you did the day before. On the other hand, if you try learning everything at the last minute, your memory will not retain the information.
  6. Take time to recall your study sessions without your notes
    Without referring to your books or materials, take a few minutes to remember what you studied. Give your memory a quiz make creating notes on what you think you studied, then go back and check your notes or texts to see if it is consistent. You will recall more if you practice this technique.

 

How to Study Effectively, Part 3

Besides evaluating your level and identifying your learning needs, reading and taking notes, there are three additional aspects to consider to study effectively.

  1. Concentrate
  • Avoid distractions that can waylay your progress to your target TOEFL goal. Avoid day dreaming by focusing in on the task at hand. Put all your brain juice into whatever skill you want to perfect in that activity. Concentrate on what you are studying.
  • Take a few minutes break after 25 minutes, or have a 10-minute break each hour to give your brain a rest from your study task. Research, such as the Pomodoro technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com/,) shows this will help you concentrate. The best way to take a break is to stand up, stretch, move around and face away from your desk, computer, books. Avoid staying at your desk looking at your book or surfing the web on your computer or phone. The physical movement of standing up and moving around will help stimulate better thinking as the blood circulates throughout your body.
  1. Understand what you are learning

 

  • Understanding the directions to activities, paying attention to stay on target with the task, asking yourself what the main purpose of your task is, taking notes of key ideas, jotting down new vocabulary, and being proactive to ask questions to your instructor for feedback when you do not comprehend something. Take an active role in learning to improve your understanding and be better at recalling information.
  • Take notes on the passage or lecture writing in short noun/verbs, abbreviations or symbols. Spelling is unimportant, but content is key.
  • Summarize a reading passage or listening/lecture in your own words. When you summarize, it should be short and to the point, addressing all the key points.
  1. Revise

 

  • It is normal to not recall everything in the English language; however, if you want to have a better grasp of English, keep reviewing constantly so that your memory retains more information over the long term and you can progress to an advanced level.
  • Revise information soon after (the next day) you learned it. Aim for reviewing once a study session or every two or three study sessions. Go over older materials that you need to recall; it will refresh your memory.
  • Reviewing and revising daily or every other day will save you having to re-study a topic all over again. Be sure your calendar schedule has “review or revision time” blocked into your study timetable. Refer to your summaries or note-taking or notebooks to help you review.

How to Study Effectively, Part 2

Aside from being organized and identifying your target range for TOEFL, you will need to identify exactly what you need to learn. That is to say, consider which academic skills you can improve on to have the best advancement in your language and to achieve a high score. If you are weaker in listening, then be sure that you practice listening daily. If speaking is your weakness, practice recording your voice in simulated responses on a recorder or on your smartphone and listening to your voice to evaluate your speaking. If you do not know your weaknesses, you will need to first identify your strengths in English and find out your level of English according to separate language skills. In fact, you may have excellent grammar and reading skills and thus need not dedicate time to practicing reading passages; however, first you need to discover what you need to improve upon.

  1. Identify your level and learning needs

 

  • By taking a practice TOEFL test, you can find out your current level. Once you have an idea of your exact level, you can pinpoint your target and lay out a strategy of how to get from Point A (current level of English) to Point B (TOEFL target score) in your exact time frame. You do not want to waste any precious time, so if you can identify the task you need to strength (e.g. listening or note-taking,) that will help you work accordingly within your study time table.

Example: Let’s say you have one week of time before you need a final score, that would be a very different study plan than if you had a 90-day study plan (if you had more time to attain a TOEFL score.)

  1. Read and take notes

In the previous blog, How to Study Effectively, Part 1, you learned that having a notebook or computer files of notes is useful.

  • Read & make notes: When making the notes under each academic skill or sub topic, read your subject and make notes either writing comments or short summaries. (How to take notes effectively will be addressed under a different blog heading.)
  • Write key ideas taking notes: in addition to reading and note-taking, practice identifying the main purpose and writing down the main idea, key points and supporting facts from your memory of listening or reading into your notes. You will retain information better later on. Be sure if you write by hand to handwrite legibly, otherwise, it will be useless to read later on when you review and you might not interpret your notes or waste your valuable study time. Save time by composing neatly.
  • Highlight key points: if you are on the computer, highlight key information with colors (not too bright) in the file so that you can locate key words later on when you review. If you are using a notebook for taking notes, highlight with a colored marker (not too bright or it can distract you) to easily relocate key ideas. If you have these key ideas highlighted, it will be an outline of the information that you can review quickly at a later day.

How to Study Effectively, Part 1

Be organized

  1. Create a study calendar. Organize your timetable so that your biggest weaknesses are prioritized first and given the most attention time. Prioritize (high-medium-low) skills and practice what needs to be learned urgently first. Then, address what weaknesses you can strengthen and plan out how long you expect it to take you. Avoid procrastinating and be sure to give equal time to your least favorite task. Practice the skill that you enjoy most LAST not first. The skills that are the least urgent to learn practice last as well. Use color coding on your calendar to highlight the most important skill to learn.
  2. Use a study notebook. It can be either a traditional notebook, or Notes in an app on a smartphone. Whichever you use for taking notes, keep it handy at all times so you can refer to it in your free time. Notes are a valuable tool to keep yourself organized and to retain information you already studied so you are able to track your progress and advance in the language.
  3. Address different language skills when you study. If you take too much time on just one academic skill, it will give you less time for another skill, which may be just as important to improve your English or test-taking strategies.
  4. Keep your notebook/notes/computer files well organized. Create files by academic skills in your computer files, notes in a binder, or notebook. For instance, have a notebook for vocabulary, for speaking, for listening, for reading, for writing; or otherwise, have different sections of your notes in your binder for each academic skill. Write the skill name to label the differing sections, so that when you go to study, you can quickly reference your notes. Be sure to write the date on the left side of your notes for each day that you write new notes. You skill subjects can be then divided into sub topics such as a particular topic of different kinds of vocabulary words or where you got those vocabulary words from. In this way, you can quickly reference your notes by skill, by sub topic, or by date. All of this organization will make it much easier to locate a certain topic when you need to refer back to it quickly later on in your practice.

Have a target range

  1. Timing: when you make your study table with your deadline date, be sure you have given yourself a realistic time frame to complete what you would like to achieve. For example, “Complete writing essay task 2 for 30 minutes timed. Clearly write exactly what you have in mind to accomplish in terms of an activity during a specific time and on a certain date.
  2. Be realistic. When you set your target, it needs to conform to what you can attain. If, for instance, you set an unrealistic ideal, you may not be able to get your target, or you will feel discouraged if you cannot get your objective. By looking at your calendar and working within a specific time frame to complete practice activities, you can set real targets which are attainable.
  3. Reward yourself for minor achievements: think daily in terms of what you can achieve. Every little achievement is like a baby step, and it will help you feel more comfortable in the language as well as assist in building your confidence in TOEFL and for test taking. With this in mind, you can reach your short term and long term goals. Reward yourself after each study session. When you reach a target, mentally congratulate yourself. Positivity goes a long way in building your confidence to succeed.

Study tips to prepare you before the TOEFL:

  1. Make sure your study time is well-organized. Use a wall calendar or your phone calendar to create a timetable that will help you make the most of your study time by dividing the hours you have available for studying into what you will learn, practice, and strengthen for separate skills. Figure out which schedule works best for you to study during the weekdays and on weekends. Some individuals need to wake up early since they are early birds and want to study early in the morning (before work), and others may be night owls and feel it’s best to study later (after work.) Once you select a study time, keep to your schedule and be rigorous about studying at those designated times so you will not procrastinate.
  2. Designate your quiet study spot: select a place to study where no one bothers you as any noisy distraction can make it challenging to focus. It will affect the amount of information you recall.
  3. Drink water or tea while you study to rehydrate you. It is known that using the brain uses energy and dehydrates the body, so not taking into enough liquids can affect your concentration. It may even make it harder to recall or retain the information you study. Shoot for having a glass of water every hour.
  4. Eat a healthy snack prior to studying. Since food–particularly fruit or vegetables which have natural sugar rather than a cup of caffeinated coffee–feeds the brain energy, you can focus better for intensive periods of time.
  5. Take breaks while you are studying. For instance, if you take a few minutes break after a 25-minute activity, the affect will be better on your brain retention. Or, resting five minutes each hour to walk around and stretch out, the movement you do will circulate the blood to the brain, making it better to recall what you studied. It will also keep your juices flowing to help you focus on more study time if you have an intensive 3-hour session, for example.
  6. Be sure to comprehend what you study. Do not memorize it, rather understand the meaning to apply it to your next practice and real exam.
  7. Ask a native coach or a peer who is fluent for help if you find something difficult.
  8. After you study, review again the next day to go over what you studied so you can recall the information within 24 hours.
  9. Take practice tests: you need to simulate exactly as the exam is on the test day, and there is no better way to get ready for a real TOEFL exam than taking practice tests on a regular basis. You will be able to learn the vocabulary language you need to be familiar with on the exam, and you will also familiarize yourself with the type of exam questions for each section and practice strategies that will help you be more comfortable and hence more confident on the actual exam day when you confront the real test.
  10. Participate in a study group or work with a native-speaker to get insight and feedback into your weaknesses to strengthen those. For example, if you have instructors, friends, peers, colleagues, or classmates who speak fluent English, join with them in a group to practice your language skills. It will help motivate you to study more often.