Test-taker Tuesday: The Night Before Your Exam

The most important thing to do the night before the exam is not to study; it is to relax.

Too many people make the same mistake.  They stay up all night trying to cram last minute knowledge into their brains, but studies have shown that this isn’t a good strategy.

I have had students tell me that they have taken an entire, full-length practice test the day before their official TOEFL.  Remember, the TOEFL is a long test!  That means you will probably feel tired and burnt out before the real thing the next day, so I strongly discourage you from doing this.

Even for those who decide not to stay up late studying but decide to do just a little bit of a review might find that they are not doing themselves a favor.  If you do one last practice reading section, for example, and your score is far lower than you anticipated, you might have ruined your confidence in your abilities.


Why do very intelligent students do these silly, counterproductive things the night before the big test?  Often it is because they don’t feel that they did enough prior to prepare; refuse to listen to those doubts.  Those insecurities probably aren’t true.  And honestly, if they are, there is nothing you can do about it now, so don’t try to learn everything in one night.


But relaxing before a standardized test is not easy.  For some people, this might be more nerve-wracking than taking the actual test the next day. So what should you do?


If it will calm your nerves to look over some flashcards or do some reading, then by all means, you should do that.  However, you want to make sure you are doing these tasks in a no-pressure situation.  Look over what you feel comfortable or do some reading for pleasure.

What are some other things that you enjoy to do when you are feeling stressed?  Do you like to listen to calming music or do yoga?  These could be great activities to encourage relaxation the night before the test.  

Further reduce your anxieties by having everything for the next morning ready to go before you leave.  Put all of the things you will need— your passport, keys for your car, etc.—all in the same place the night before.  You should even pick out the clothes you plan on wearing (remember to select a comfortable outfit).

Make sure you eat normally the night before and the morning of the test.  This isn’t a good time to try something you haven’t had before.

Go to sleep at a reasonable time.  You want to be as focused as possible tomorrow, and that starts with a good night sleep now.  So if you are taking the TOEFL tomorrow, stop reading, get all of your things together, set your alarm for tomorrow morning, and get comfortable on the couch for a while.  Tomorrow you will be great— but you need to do your homework tonight: relaxing.

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