How to Manage TOEFL Test Anxiety

We all know that the TOEFL is a high-stakes test. What I mean by “high stakes” is that if you don’t pass, you won’t be able to move forward into your career or the university of your choice. As a result, many of my students get extremely nervous before and during the test. Here are some tips from both my own experience and psychological research about how to deal with test anxiety.
#1: Be Prepared. This tip is #1 for a reason- it is by far the best way to manage your anxiety. If you have studied and practiced a lot, you will feel comfortable during the test. You need to know what to expect and what is coming on the test. For instance, if you aren’t aware of the order of the speaking questions, you will feel a lot more anxious.
Of course, I am talking about more than just being familiar with the layout of the test, although that is important as well. You must be confident in your English skills also. For some people, it takes months to become confident in their English, for others it might take years. But the #1 thing that will keep you calm throughout the test is the feeling that you know what you are doing and you are prepared for the TOEFL.

#2: Don’t rely on memorized information. This might seem unrelated to test anxiety, but it isn’t. If you have certain answers memorized and then the TOEFL test asks you about a completely different topic, you will panic.  For example, imagine you have this memorized:
If they ask about children wearing uniforms to school, I’m going to say it saves money, and use my nephew as an example. My second reason will be about time, and I will say that in the morning they can get dressed quickly.
Now imagine you have a bunch of ideas memorized for a variety of prompts, but then the prompt they give you is completely unexpected, and none of your memorized ideas will work. You are going to panic, and then that anxiety will follow you the rest of the test. It’s not worth it to memorize answers.

#3: Don’t cram the night before.  The TOEFL is not the type of test you can “cram” for the night before. It’s much more important to get a good night of rest and sleep than to cram. The day before, try to relax and review some speaking practice.

#4: Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing.  It’s very important that you stay focused on your screen. Do not look around. Do not check what the person next to you is doing. Only talk to the proctor if you need something.

#5: Take the home edition if you can. I know this doesn’t apply to pharmacists, but you have MUCH more control in your own home than in a test center. You can pick the quietest room in your house, and explain to your family that you should not be disturbed. In the test center, people near you can be very disruptive.  Unfortunately, you won’t be able to silence them in the test center.
#6: Keep your eyes on the screen. Do not look around the room at all. There is a clock on your screen for timing.

#7: Eat a balanced breakfast and get to the test center early.  Give your body the fuel it needs in the morning so you have energy for the test. Do not arrive at the test center at the last minute. Get there early so you feel prepared and calm.

#8: Slow down when you read the PROMPTS.  Make sure you understand all the questions they are asking you before you attempt the answer. It would very stressful to start writing an independent essay, then review the prompt and realize you are off topic and have to start over. This is important in all sections of the TOEFL.

#9: Take an at-home practice test (approximate cost: $45.95 in 2021) from the ETS before you do the real thing. I really do not understand why more people skip this. Yes, it costs money, but you will spend way more if you keep failing. If you have never looked at a TOEFL screen and taken a timed TOEFL test, even if it’s just for practice, you will feel much more unprepared. Just spend the money to know what it feels like to take the test. (You can’t use these results, but that’s not why you are doing it.) The link is here:

#10: Keep a positive mindset.  Remember, if you do not get your goal score the first, second, or even third time it’s not the end of the world. If you keep in your mind that you can always take the test again, then you will be able to stay calm and relax. Do not have a “IT’S NOW OR NEVER!” attitude. This will only cause you to panic.
Good luck everyone!