Mind Matters Series: Are You Suffering From Test Prep Burnout? How To Recognize It + Come Back Stronger

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Are You Actually Suffering From TOEFL Test Prep Burnout? How To Overcome It

Intro: What is Burnout

When it comes to both standardized testing as well as language learning more generally, perception and mindset can have a big impact on results.  While lacking confidence and overconfidence are both real issues that can hold you back, they are not the only issues that can stand in the way of making progress.  One of the most common issues that students preparing for standardized tests face is burnout.  Burnout can take a real toll on your TOEFL score, but by recognizing the signs, you can combat this problem head on.

Burnout is when one health or work suffers as a result of mental or physical exhaustion.  In other words, one ceases to be able to function properly-- to do what one needs to do, like study for an exam, get a project finished on time, or finish writing a term paper.  Burnout happens when you are so fatigued that you cannot move forward with the tasks you need to accomplish, and it is particularly likely to happen when you are faced with a particularly large task, meaning that the TOEFL is a likely candidate for causing burnout.

Signs of burnout

Even though you now know the definition of burnout, it might be difficult to identify in the moment.  While every person copes with mental of physical stressors differently, look out for these three common signs of burnout.

1| Inability to focus

Are you noticing that you are having a problem with staying on topic?  If it exceeds the normal, you might be suffering from burnout.  Although everyone will encounter the inability to focus from time to time-- maybe you've got something weighing on your mind, like a fight you've had with your significant other-- or you keep getting interrupted by pop up messages on your computer as you work-- the inability to focus whatsoever in multiple study sessions in a way that seems out of the ordinary for you could be a sign of burnout.

2| Lacking motivation  

Although the vast majority of people don't get excited at the thought of test prep, if you are so lacking in motivation that you are making a habit of not sticking to your test prep, you may be suffering from burnout.  If putting in your regular test prep time is like pulling teeth, you may be experiencing test fatigue.

3| A pattern of declining scores  

Are you putting more and more time in and seeing lower scores every time?  When there isn't a language skill problem to explain a series of declining scores, burnout may be the answer.  If you are putting tons of time in but nothing seems to be changing in a positive way, it is very likely that burnout has occurred.

How to beat burnout

The good news is that once detected, burnout can be overcome.  There are several different strategies that you can use in order to rectify the situation.

1| Change up your routine  

Are you stuck in a rut? To put it another way, are things getting stale?  If you've been test-prepping for a long time, you may need to shake things up in order to breathe new life into your study habits.  Do you always study at your desk in your room?  Maybe try spending a few days at a desk in the library instead.  By changing your location, you might be able to recharge.  In addition to switching up your study site, consider changing the exact study plan you've been using.  Do you do the exact same thing all the time?  Perhaps you always start with vocabulary flashcards, then work on one essay and then move on to one hour of reading practice.  While routine is good, it could cause burnout faster.  Consider batching your days instead of thinking about every single section of the test every day if that is different from your usual schedule.

If changing the study site or practice set up itself doesn't seem to be enough, consider changing your reward strategy.  How do you keep yourself on track with your study plan?  Do you always buy yourself a coffee after you've completed a full study session?  If that has been your routine but you no longer feel motivation, change your reward strategy.  Perhaps after a full week's worth of test prep you treat yourself to a bigger reward, like getting a pedicure or going to the movies with your friends.  Know what motivates you-- material items, experiences, keep a streak, etc.-- in order to find what else could work for you other than what your default has always been.

2|  Take a scheduled break  

If your test burnout is severe, you may want to take a short, scheduled break from all test prep activities.  If you have been studying for hours every day for months on end without a break, you are bound to be feeling the effects.  Take a long weekend off from formal test prep completely, only reading or listening to English for fun.  If you opt for this, which offers the most powerful potential benefits, you need to be very disciplined when it comes to scheduling this break.  Without an exact start and end date and with burnout having overtaken your mindset, you might never return to your study plan.  For that reason, it is important to take a short but clear break.

3| Bring in reinforcements

Often students see test prep as a solitary endeavor.  Make it a team effort to help you avoid burnout.  By keeping an eye on one another and acting as one another's motivation, you can avoid burnout before it happens, keeping each other to study schedules (and scheduled breaks).

Key Takeaways

While experiencing burnout is not unique to test preparation, it is extremely common in this area because of the time-consuming and difficult nature of getting ready for a standardized test.  By recognizing its signs, like lacking motivation where you once had it or focusing on constantly declining scores, you can implement the suggestions above, recharge your batteries, and get back to regular test prep with progress. 

Need ideas for fun ways to practice English that won't leave you feeling burnout?

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