Overcome the Top 5 TOEFL Fears Quickly and Easily
What you should and shouldn't be afraid of
Around Halloween, there is endless discussion of scary movies and costumes. While some people derive great pleasure from the manufactured fear of watching a horror film or dressing up like a zombie, few would say the same for the very real fears that surround test day. With a handful of tricks, turn the test into the closest thing to a treat, eliminating the most common TOEFL terrors.
1| Not having background knowledge on the topic
For many students the idea that the first reading passage will be on a topic that they've never heard about before and in a discipline that they know little to nothing about strikes fear into test-takers hearts. While it is easy to see how a reading about a chemistry topic might be intimidating for a person who struggled in science classes in his/her native language, do not allow yourself to get intimidated. The TOEFL passages are designed so that way anyone could answer the questions even if they did not come in with any prior knowledge. That means that all the academic terms that are specific to that field will be defined for you, but most people get so panicked that they do not even attempt to find the gist of the passage.
In order to combat this problem, read passages on a variety of topics before test day. Follow all sections of the newspaper or sites like Newsela instead of only reading the topics that you naturally gravitate towards. If you struggle with having enough self-discipline to seek out passages that you do naturally feel inclined to read, follow along with the passages I like to on Twitter to get a well-rounded selection.
2| Running out of time
For many students, the sound of a ticking clock counting down the minutes or seconds left on each section of the exam is enough to make their blood run cold. If looking at the clock brings about feelings of apprehension, you need to rethink the way you consider the clock. Being afraid of the clock almost always means you are ignoring the clock, usually resulting in looking at the remaining time so late that you can no longer change your strategy.
Time management is a learned skill. For each section of the test, you need to be able to pace yourself, and you should follow a pacing guide so that way you can check at regular intervals to make sure that you are sticking to the time recommendations per question. By checking the time left regularly, you can determine what you need to do moving forward. This is particularly important on the reading section as the test does not prompt you to move to the next passage. You need to take the responsibility for using the time allotted wisely, and that means not being afraid of the timer. Don't do practice problems or full-length practice tests without a time limit. Knowing your limits (and where you need to be at any given point) will give you confidence when checking the clock, not fear.
3| Not recognizing the vocabulary word being asked about
Students frequently spend tons of time memorizing new vocabulary words because they are so afraid of encountering a word they've never seen before on test day. While learning new terms is good, it is nearly impossible to know every word that you see in the passage as there is a such a range of academic vocabulary and discipline specific terms you would need to know. While you don't need to understand every word in a passage (after all, the passages are roughly 800 words and you are only asked 13 questions per passage), what happens when the word you don't know is in the question stem or the answer choices?
Most students freeze up when they are asked about a word they don't know (or are given a word they don't know as an answer choice). If this happens, don't fret. ETS has likely given you a clue in either the sentence before or after or enough information to allow you to make an educated guess. Can you use part of the word-- like a prefix, for instance-- to make an inference about what the word means? Do you know the word that they are asking about, but not one of the answer choices? Just like on the SAT, if this happens, ask yourself, how close of a synonym are the other answer choices you do recognize? If someone asked you what the word means and you would have selected one of the answers that you know, odds are that that is the right answer and the brand new word is simply a distraction. Don't fall for the predictable trap like those in horror movies; be confident in the knowledge you have.
4| Freezing up on the speaking
Perhaps the single scariest section for test-takers is the speaking section. Having to speak in your non-native language might induce fear on a regular basis, and the idea that you are creating a recording with the sole purpose of having your speech be judged only raises the stakes. Add in the additional stress of having only seconds of preparation time, and this fear seems valid. While worrying about your accent or that you will make a grammar mistake can cause people to lack confidence about their speaking abilities, the number one phobia students have is not having anything to say at all when the recording time begins.
To cope with this feeling of alarm, make sure that you have a solid template to fall back on to get you started with each of the 6 types of speaking questions.
This way you will never feel like you have been caught off guard. After getting the first sentence of two under your belt, you will feel the momentum on your side and be able to complete your speaking response.
5| Not having ideas for what to write about
You see the essay prompt-- and your mind goes blank. You cannot come up with anything to say that seems relevant or important. If this sounds like a recurring nightmare that you've had, then you might be suffering from common fear #5: having no clue what to write about.
One of the easiest ways to fight this fear is with solid preparation. First, you can and should free write on some of the most common topics-- like education and technology-- that the TOEFL loves to ask independent questions about. In fact, by exploring your ideas ahead of time, you will be able to prepare yourself for both the writing and the speaking sections as there is often a great deal of overlap.
Remember, too, that you do not need to give your honest opinion. If you had a gut reaction as to what your answer is for the question but you cannot come up with any reasons, don't feel like you need to draw upon the rationale that actually supports your initial feeling. Similarly, don't feel like you can't modify a story from your life in order to make it fit the position you are taking. For example, if you don't have direct experience with the topic but you know that a personal example would offer the support and the authority you need to round out a particular paragraph, for standardized test writing, stretching the truth is perfectly fine (and no one needs to be the wiser).
Being afraid of the test only leads to poor test-taking come exam day. Fight fear with sound strategies and practice before the test, making your test-taking fears rest in peace once and for all.