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.


Use Technology for Proficiency in English



Have you ever found yourself wanting to use technology to study English, but you do not know how to search for the proper sites to advance your language learning skills?

Let’s look at a list of convenient ways to take advantage of technology to quickly gain English proficiency.

  • Download podcasts, lectures or songs on iTunes or listen to mp3 English songs. Listen to the language while driving a car, walking the streets, or commuting by bus or train.
  • Download iPhone or Android apps for free English, study skills, exams, TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT, reading, listening, speaking, grammar, vocabulary, mind mapping, note taking and writing skills.
  • Search for websites to review English grammar such as the Owl at Purdue: the Online Writing Lab, play learning games, or do research in English for any other subjects you are studying.
  • For listening, watch movies or listen to popular English songs. You could even sing to the words or learn the lyrics.
  • Get an online native coach of the language for speaking, listening, and writing.
  • Enroll in an online course to improve your academic skills.
  • Take a course of your academic interest on Coursera or edX
  • Speak to online partners to increase your practice in English.
  • Register for an English webinar in the area of your interest.
  • Study your hobby online in English.


Immerse yourself online in the language because gaining proficiency English is not only fun and interesting but also useful for boosting a career.



Build Vocabulary in English Effectively for TOEFL

An isolated shot of a beautiful asian college student carrying books

Keep a reading journal and a vocabulary notebook to advance your progress in English

Have you ever gotten stuck on words on part of a TOEFL section because you fail to understand those vocabulary words?

In the integrated sections of the speaking and writing sections, are you sometimes at a loss over difficult word choice?

If you do not understand some words, you most likely may be unable to successfully speak or write responses in the integrated tasks of these TOEFL sections.

The key to success is to understand the essential information in the source even if you may not comprehend a challenging word.

In the case of the integrated task, how would you filter through unknown words to answer the integrated task prompt?

The wise approach to learn how to tackle the various integrated tasks is first to understand the task, then accomplish the task as required by the prompt. Think about if you were able to read the information and take organized notes focusing on the information requested by the prompt. Let’s say you read the passage and took notes on the main idea and three key points. However, whether or not a word that appeared is difficult is not critical since you can imagine what that word may mean in context. Don’t let coming across a hard word in the passage cause you to lose focus on the main purpose and important points. Of course, the TOEFL will have words that you might not recognize. Those words are present to confuse you. The test also puts those advanced words in a text to stall you, so that you waste time. Yet, don’t let those words distract you from the overall goal of getting the main idea and answering your response more quickly and effectively.

Remember that if you can read, take notes, paraphrase, summarize, report, and synthesize the crucial information precisely, you will see a difference of a higher test score. Start by reading the prompt very carefully. Then, begin by identifying the organization of the passage. When you read, read with a particular purpose in mind: to answer the prompt. In the summary, you will analyze and describe the reading and lecture (citing the sources) in the integrated writing task number one. Be sure to identify and refer to accurate points as well as draw precise conclusions from the information provided in the source. Produce academic writing that summarizes the sources, leaving time to revise so that the end result leaves an impression of an advanced level of English proficiency. For timing your writing, refer to your written notes and practice writing from actual prompts under the same time constraints as on the exam day for simulation. What will be a valuable practice is to summary and paraphrase the content of short academic lectures such as TedX and readings online like on NatGeo.

Not only will reading, listening, and writing skill advancement help to prepare you for future academic life in English, but you will advance quickly in the language through the practice routine of collecting reliable and valid sources of information, particularly when you need to support a thesis in your integrated writing. You can also related readings to other related passages to analyze the content or relate a reading and a lecture that have a similar topic. During your integrated writing process, write a unified, well-developed, cohesive, and coherent essay being sure to include a clear thesis in your introduction, body, and conclusion while using accurate grammar. Whenever you see words that you do not know in a reading or hear words you are unfamiliar with in a lecture, take notes on those word chunks in a vocabulary notebook with definitions, examples in real context, and synonyms. If you review them daily or each study session, you will see your retention rate soar and your proficiency go up.

To aid your learning of vocabulary, read extensively daily. Read for at least 30 minutes 5x/week and keep a reading notebook with the date, amount of time spent, length of passage/article (word count) or pages read, a short written summary of what was read, and a vocabulary journal with a few new word choice to actively learn. Online, you can look up at for those words. Take note on word form, definition/meaning, and an example in a sentence to write in your vocabulary notebook. The goal of the reading notebook is track if you are reading more quickly, while the objective of the vocabulary journal is for increasing your knowledge of English words. With these tools, you are sure to transform into a self-learner and master reader.

When you come across a hard vocabulary word in a reading passage, you can use it in your integrated writing. Remember to spell it correctly by looking at the right spelling in the source and to use the word in correct context. Use the chunking strategy wherever possible to decode challenge words. With more exposure to words in reading, you will expand your vocabulary in the language. Develop a game plan—a plan of attack for overcoming vocabulary barriers and progressing your level of English:

  • Note taking on readings and lectures
  • Keep a vocabulary study notebook
  • Use internet tools for accessing more vocabulary
  • Understand a reading for the main purpose and key support rather than get lost in an unknown word choice
  • Use vocabulary in context in writing

Use these techniques to learn more successfully.

If you like this post, SUBSCRIBE to my email list to get helpful updates for mastering advanced English.


Rules How to Use a Semicolon Accurately in the English Language


When you read books, articles in a newspaper or passages online, are you able to recognize the difference between a colon and a semicolon in English? Perhaps, you sometimes struggle using the semicolon punctuation mark correctly in written English.

Often mistaken with colons, semicolons have their distinct functions. Thus, they must be written in sentences according to the grammar rules. Similar to other punctuation marks, a semicolon is unique in the manner in which it is used, so avoid interchanging this punctuation with others unless it has the same rule. Therefore, if you know the rules about when to use a specific punctuation, you will be in a better position to perform well in formal written English on an exam such as the TOEFL writing section or the AWA on the GMAT.

What does a semicolon look like? A comma with a period on top of it. This is no coincidence! A semicolon, like a comma, indicates a spoken pause, a bit longer than a comma’s pause but shorter than the pause of a period at the end of a sentence. When we read  or speak out loud, our voices pause for semicolons in a similar way–but slightly more–than we would pause for a comma. So, when you listen to spoken English, you can actually hear a pause for a semicolon.

In many cases, a semicolon links two thoughts or related ideas. In formal academic written English, each thought or idea is usually in its own sentence. However, the flow of the writing might not be smooth if all the sentences are short or simple. Yet, if you are able to master the art of using semicolons accurately, it can give a smoother flow to your writing and even improve your performance on the written portion of a standardized test.

The functions that semicolons perform are unique, so be sure you avoid the common mistake of using a semicolon to replace a colon. For instance, an example of incorrect usage is as follows: I have one objective; to get a high score. The correct punctuation would be to employ a colon ( : )  in this case. Correct >> I have one objective: to get a high score.

Avoid confusion by practicing to write with semicolons precisely because even though semicolons look a little like a period on top of a comma, they do not have the same uses. Here are some grammar rules of when you can use semicolons in your writing.

  1. Connect two related sentences (independent clauses)–like replacing a period. A semicolon divides the thoughts but also links those ideas.
  • Structure: Sentence #1 + ; + related Sentence #2.


  • Give me a ring on Saturday; we can decide then if we want to go out to the party.
  • Mom still rides her bike; her two back baskets balance her stability when riding.

2. Connect two sentences close in meaning using a transition (moreover, furthermore, namely, nevertheless, for example, however, otherwise, therefore, thus, then, finally, likewise, consequently) such as a conjunctive adverb. Use a comma after the transition.

  • Structure: #1 Sentence + ; + transition, + sentence #2 close in meaning.


  • My sister does not agree with my nephew riding around on a motorcycle; however, she used to ride a motorcycle when she was young.
  • My friend thinks that working 80 hours per week is normal; consequently, he has hardly any downtime to spend with his partner.
  • My grandma passed away at a ripe old age; nevertheless, she had filled herself with chocolates, desserts and liquor every day.

3. Use semicolons with a complicated list of items of a series(e.g. with commas within the series) to clarify and prevent confusion

  • Structure: #1 item+, + other + ; + #2 item +, + other + ; + and #3 item +, + other


  • On her bike, my sister has traveled to Barcelona, Spain; Toronto, Canada; Vancouver, Canada; and San Francisco, California.

Remember to keep in mind:

  • Avoid using semicolons too much; you shouldn’t write them often in an essay. Focus on using them for that special circumstance, only when necessary.
  • The two main clauses that the semicolon connects must be related.
  • After the semicolon, do not capitalize the beginning letter of the word that follows (like you do following a period) unless that word happens to be a proper noun, such as I, which is always capitalized.

Since these rules are super easy to familiarize yourself with, you should have no trouble using them correctly in your next essay or on an exam such as on the TOEFL writing section or the AWA (GMAT.)

If you like this post, SUBSCRIBE to my email list to get helpful updates for mastering advanced English.