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.


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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.,, 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.