Is Overconfidence Standing in the Way of Your TOEFL Goal Score?
Not All Score Problems Are Language Issues
Confidence is critical for success. Whether you are trying to get a job, to make a good impression on your future in-laws, or to get a perfect score on the TOEFL speaking section, being self-assured (or at least projecting that you are) is key. Is it possible to have too much confidence? In a word, yes. In fact, being overconfident could be the very problem holding you back from achieving your goal score.
While many would agree with the statement that a language test is not an indication of one's intelligence, too often we assume that language is the only factor in determining what score one receives. Sometimes the score you get on the TOEFL has nothing to do with your language ability but is more of a reflection of one's attitude and preparation.
While lacking confidence comes with many of its own problems, being overconfident can undermine your study habits and ultimately your score.
5 Common Mistakes That Overconfident Students Make (And How To Fix Them)
The #1 most common mistake that overconfident students make is that they simply do not study for the exam.
Not preparing for the exam is a recipe for disaster. Students who are extremely confident in their language abilities might think that they will be able to take the test without any problems because their language skills are so good. Doing this puts you at a huge disadvantage, and remember, even native speakers might not get a perfect score if they went in not familiar with the exam. For some people, they might see it as a point of pride that they are able to take the exam without having studied for it, but you do not get any extra points and no one in the admissions office will know that you took the exam cold. As a result, there is no benefit to not getting ready for the exam.
The solution: acknowledge that studying for the exam is not a sign of weakness or a sign that your language skills are insufficient. Think of it as leveling the playing field considering that most students preparing for months before they ever take the exam. If they are putting their best foot forward, you should as well. Even if you do not need to prepare for the same length of time as those who do not measure up in terms of language skill, you absolute should need to familiarize yourself, at minimum, with the structure and scoring of the exam.
While not quite as bad as problem #1, problem #2 is very similar: not preparing for the exam properly.
Students who are overconfident tend to focus on the wrong things, and they inadvertently squander their time as a result. Although these students are studying for the exam, they are using their time and focus to learn about the wrong things. For example, if you are reading a particularly difficult passage, going back to review, record, and memorize the unknown vocabulary words is a good idea. However, students that fall into this category frequently try to dedicate every single new vocabulary word to memory, dismissing a key consideration: the likelihood of that particular vocabulary word to occur again. Students are not concentrating on anything specific or being systematic when it comes to their test prep, resulting in a lot of time spent on test prep without a lot of progress.
This can lead to problem #3: burnout.
Students who are overconfident might be incredibly motivated students. In fact, the underlying reason behind their confidence is probably due to the success they have had in academic settings in the past. For extremely motivated students, it may be difficult to draw boundaries or realistic expectations. This can result in burnout, where you have spent so much time studying you become absolutely exhausted.
The solution here is to stick to a study plan. (Bonus points if you stay with an approved study plan). If you know that you are the kind of person that sets unrealistic expectations, like memorizing 100 new vocabulary words each day, have a teacher, tutor, or a friend who is also preparing for the exam look over your study plan. Stick to your schedule. Do not let yourself go over the allotted time to spend on preparation. When you are out of time, you are done. That means that you need to start using your resources, in this case time, more wisely, preventing you from focusing on the wrong areas and eliminating or at least minimizing the risk of burnout.
Common problem #4: Attempting to utilize every vocabulary term at one's disposal to the detrimant of clarity of concepts (In other words, over using fancy vocabulary).
This one is probably the most shocking of the problems on the list for most overconfident students. They have worked hard to learn many new terms, and they want to make sure that they show them off in their essays. While it is admirable to use a range of vocabulary and you want to showcase your extensive knowledge, frequently overconfident students fail to make progress on the writing section of the test in particular because no one knows what their essay is about. When students become consumed with using challenging vocabulary words, they often do so at the expense of their essay. Forcing yourself to use every single vocabulary word you know often results in awkward or imprecise phrasing. Reading these essays takes serious effort on the reader's behalf, ultimately lowering your score.
The solution: use good synonyms when appropriate. It is perfectly okay to show off that vocab. You can and should! But try to limit yourself to two serious vocabulary words per sentence, maximum. If you stack the vocabulary words, any errors become compounded and leave the reader lost.
The last frequently occurring mistake that overconfident students make is refusing to play the test's game.
Even after taking the time to learn the structure and scoring systems, to make and stick to a study plan and focus on the areas linked to score, sometimes, students refuse to follow the advice from teachers or tutors regarding how to make the most of their time on the test. I always advise that when you find something that works for you, keep doing it over and over again. For example, if you've got a topic sentence that works really well to start the second paragraph of your essay, use that same sentence structure each time because you'll know the grammar and vocabulary will be correct and the transition will be strong, all resulting in a high writing score. However, after giving this suggestion to a student, sometimes overconfident students in the very next essay would come up with an entirely new topic sentence for the second body paragraph. This sentence may not have been as strong, but at the very least, it would have cut into valuable composing and editing time. Teachers and tutors know what test scorers are looking for and the strategies to help you make the most of every second on the test. By ignoring ways to take advantage of the test, you might actually be leaving points on the table.
The solution here is a complete mindset shift. Listening to the advice of your teacher or tutor does not mean that he or she is necessarily smarter than you are or that you are dumb. They are not suggestions that you are incapable of writing a great essay; instead, they are trying to help you make the most of your study and test taking time by making the structure and patterns of the test work for you instead of you always working for the test.
The good news is that your language skills, which take a long time to cultivate, are well-developed, and changing your attitude will be a much quicker fix. By determining if your goal score obstacle is a mindset issue, specifically, that your overconfidence is the root cause of why you aren't making progress, you can easily implement the solutions. Being confident is great, but being overconfident can lead great English speakers to see less than impressive scores. Stay humble and get to the score you deserve.
Now that you know the potential problems (and how to fix them), put what you've learned into practice by concentrating first on the independent essay question with 30 free essay prompts.