TOEFL Stress

TOEFL sucks.

I hate teaching about it just as much as students hate taking it. TOEFL is stupid, as I’ve covered before. But let’s take a moment to breakdown how TOEFL is crafted to be as stressful as possible. As one of my clients gears up to take down the TOEFL this Saturday, this is basically what I’m drilling in this final week:

Shock + Timing + Energy = (TOEFL) Stress


One of the best ways to fight an enemy is with a surprise attack. TOEFL totally expects to catch you off guard.

If you’ve never taken the TOEFL before, of course you’re going to experience some level of uncertainty. But you know what? That really isn’t any excuse.

There’s plenty of free practice tests out there that you can take. Actually, you should take. Remember: TOEFL isn’t an accurate way to gauge English ability. TOEFL is a stupid test. And in order to get better at taking a stupid test, you need to be used to taking lots of stupid tests.

What the test covers isn’t really all that surprising (i.e. reading, listening, speaking, and writing). But after taking it, I hear things like:

  • Wow, I didn’t know I’d have to read so much.
  • Wow, I didn’t know I’d have to listen to so much.
  • Wow, I didn’t know I’d have to speak so much.
  • Wow, I didn’t know I’d have to write so much.

TOEFL is stupid, but don’t be an idiot!

You’re going to have to tackle a lot of long tasks in a short amount of time. And if you’re not reading that much (or ever) in your daily life, it’s going to be tough. If you’re not talking in English that much (or ever) in your daily life, it’s going to be tough. If you’re never listening or writing, you can’t be surprised this shit is going to be hard.

Speaking of time management…


When you get homework or assignments in school, you deal with deadlines. But the TOEFL is very demanding of how you use your time, on that day, in that given moment.

The biggest mistake I see with students is their lack of time management.

For one, whenever they practice the TOEFL, they go at a leisurely pace. Oh, I’m doing the practice test— but they take as much time as they want. You’re not practicing in terms of the test. Writing the “perfect” essay in two days doesn’t mean shit for how you’re going to write on the day of test.

You need to not only practice, but practice in the same style of the test.

Second, students don’t utilize time management nearly enough. You need to set the timer. You need to watch the clock. And then, you need to make sure you’re not wasting too much time on any one section or question. For instance, you cannot take 10 minutes to read the passage. You cannot take 2 minutes to think of what to say in the speaking section.

You cannot waste any time feeling sorry for yourself or think “Oh, I should’ve studied more”.

And to top it off, after you’ve been shocked and freaked out by the time…


The TOEFL test really is a marathon. It’s so freaking long, it hopes you don’t survive.

TOEFL iBT Test Sections

Section Time Limit Questions Tasks
Reading 60–80 minutes 36–56 questions Read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions.
Listening 60–90 minutes 34–51 questions Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer questions.
Break 10 minutes
Speaking 20 minutes 6 tasks Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks.
Writing 50 minutes 2 tasks Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing.

That’s anywhere from 3.5 – 4 hours! In other words, a test is longer than any Transformers or Marvel movie, and just as long as any Lord of the Rings films!

It’s like jogging around the block and thinking you’re ready to run a 5K.

After you get familiar with practicing each individual section, you need to practice the sections back to back to back to back.

And you know what else? The shock and time management is energy draining in itself, sure. But, students often sabotage their stamina further by staying up all night to cram and skipping breakfast.

TL;DR TOEFL is hard, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by falling for these stress traps.


Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

One thought on “TOEFL Stress

  1. “It’s so freaking long, it hopes you don’t survive,” is a great illustration. The more you study for the test, the more you wonder if it is about English and not just studying for one particular test.

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