Lucas Fink

Stress and Worry on the TOEFL

Let’s be honest: the TOEFL is not an easy test, and it’s not very similar to many other tests you’ve ever taken. It’s extremely long, it includes some very advanced English, there are no instructions in your native language, and it doesn’t focus on any specific grammar or vocabulary so it’s difficult to study for.

Well, actually, it does focus on a certain type of grammar and vocabulary—academic language is extremely important—but the test isn’t exclusively academic, and even within academic language there is an extremely large number of words and grammatical structures you need to know.

So yes, it can be stressful. In fact, it will be at least a little bit stressful. But that stress can be, surprisingly, a good thing.

The difficulty of the test and its importance means that most test-takers get a rush of energy. You know how much focus you need. You know how important it is. So you become more awake, more attentive.

For some people, that’s a bad thing. Too much stress makes them panic, and they can’t focus. But here’s the good news: if you practice many times, even if you are easily stressed, the panic will disappear and the extra energy will help you.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

So if you are stressed about the TOEFL, practice is key.

But that’s before the test. What do you do if you become very stressed during the test?


Breathing and relaxing

It can be hard to relax during a test like the TOEFL, but learning how to do so can be a huge help. The most important thing is to act relaxed. Even if you don’t feel calm, try to look calm. Sit back. Keep your head high. Keep your legs uncrossed. And above all (I know this is cliche, but it’s true), breathe deeply. If your brain is racing and your heart is pounding, this might not feel very helpful at first, but after a few minutes it can make a large change to how you feel. The best way to use the extra energy from test pressure is to be both confident and energized.

What should you do if you start to panic, though? During a reading section, it’s simple. Forget about the text and the questions for just a few seconds. Take a 10 or 15 second break. Close your eyes, sit back, and take a few deep breaths. Then, move on to the next part of text or the next question.

But to be honest, there are times when you can’t forget about the test. During a listening section, for example, you have to stay focused on what the people are saying in the recording. And during the speaking section, you can’t pause for very long. But if you do start to panic then, it still helps to close your eyes and sit back. Stretch your arms, look up at the ceiling, and act calm.

This is a skill that takes practice, though, and the best way to get that practice is with a full-length practice test. So if you know that test stress has caused you trouble in the past, it’s a good idea to start training!



  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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