TOEFL Stress

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.


Charm is NOT the Power

Charm is NOT the Power

Whenever a client asks me about books on communication, I’m quick to recommend Thank You for Arguing and You Just Don’t Understand. Well now, I have another title to add to the list: F*ck Love by Michael I. Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett.

But this time, I want to do a better job of detailing what I hope you get out of it. Just like with movies and music, not everyone picks up the same meaning and impact from literature. I feel like I’m in the minority sometimes when it comes to gleaning from reading. (I’ve yet to find anyone who actually talks about the ending to Tokyo Vice or Arnold’s real purpose for writing Total Recall).

This book is a great read, and I’d hate for you to just be like “Oh, interesting” after you finish. In this post, let’s tackle Chapter 1: F*ck Charisma.

Pre-reading Predisposition

When it comes to discussing charm, I’ve been pretty frank on how jealous I’ve been. Some guys seem to have all the luck making the girls swoon. Sometimes it makes sense (hey, Robert Downey Jr. is a pretty charming guy). Sometimes it’s pretty damn frustrating (i.e. white guy swag in Japan).

Actually, let me rephrase that. “Frustrating” isn’t the right word. I was fucking bitter.

But eventually I learned that, charm has its limits. Charisma is not depth. And if there’s people who want to be swept away by the superficial, no foul on them. It is me who be the dumbass for involving myself with such people (i.e. girls).

But After Reading…

This chapter does a really good job of flipping perspectives. Before, I had to make peace with what I might lack, and over time I’ve been able to keep any fit of envy on low. And that’s always been pretty easy logic to follow: you don’t have X, so you want X.

But when you do have X– in this case, charisma– what do you lose out on?

As the Bennetts point out, you lose sense of scope and power. When your charm naturally pulls things in your direction, you can think you’re capable of more than you are. Confidence is cool, but the reality is some folks just won’t ever click with you. You really can’t win over everybody. If you’re conditioned to think you can, you’ll wind up wasting energy and effort trying to pull in people who aren’t worth your time.

So on both ends of the spectrum –charmful/charmless– you can end up wasting time. Limited perspective be damned.

Chapter Highlights

“Charisma often misleads people into thinking that they have more control over relationships than they do, distracts them from examining character factors that determine whether a relationship is safe or dangerous, and burdens them with an unreasonable sense of responsibility for the feelings of others. So if you don’t keep those risks in mind, you may end up going into emotional debt.”

“Unless you’re in love with your charisma, you may well feel an obligation to offer something in return for this attention, such as not disappointing all those people who are unlucky enough to be drawn to your gift/curse. Unfortunately, making yourself available to admirers can’t create a real, lasting relationship…”

Closing Thoughts / TL;DR

  • Charisma is powerful
  • Charisma is not the end all be all power
  • Because charisma is so envied and desirable, people overestimate what it can actually do
  • I want something else, to get me through this, semi-charmed kind of life

These write ups are not meant to be a substitute for reading the book. Seriously, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t check out Michael I. Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett’s work, so do yourself a favor and check out a copy.

Don’t Flip the Switch

Don’t Flip the Switch

In the latest Dr. NerdLove podcasthe give a great breakdown covering speaking apprehension in dating (i.e. when the girl is really hot). Great listen. Highly recommend. It helped rekindle some thoughts I’ve sat on for awhile, so this post is finally happening in part to Dr. NerdLove.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I’m going to define “starstruck” as that moment when you’re at a loss for words because you’re so wowed.

Being starstruck is kind of crazy. Your jaw might drop. You might stutter. But it’s unlikely you’ll run into traffic to grab a selfie when you’re starstruck. You can think of it as a type of fandom, but more crippling than erratic.

And the crazy thing is we like that feeling. In fact, a lot of us come to expect it.

In the dating world, we’re looking for that person to take our breath away. We want to feel butterflies in the stomach. We want to get floored. It’s a weird, but hypnotic kind of experience.

It is fun. Just… don’t buy too much into the hype. That sort of “chemistry” is a terrible way to gauge your actual connection with a person. Plus, it makes it harder to actually connect.

I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve seen it happen to plenty of friends: when they’re with their buds, they’re cool. Really cool. There was one friend in Japan who looked like he ought to be on TV, so I was surprised to hear he had a hard time getting a girlfriend. And then, I saw how her interacted with the opposite sex.

He changed into a completely different person.

Some people become a doofus (i.e. get starstruck). Others go to the other extreme and get unnecessarily vulgar. Said friend suddenly only wanted to talk about sex. He didn’t have any finesse. He wasn’t having a conversation anymore. It was like he was just slapping the topic around.

And, it was such a strange switch. With his friends he was smooth. Which was the real persona? If he could’ve kept the calm and collectedness held then, and carry that to the dating context, I had no doubt he’d be successful.

But he chose to flip the switch. Or who knows, maybe it’s subconscious. Even if that’s the case, I think it’s a part of human nature that can be trained and conditioned.

To sidestep the dating talk for a moment, people unnecessarily flip the switch in other environments too. Take an interview for example. Sure, there’s a certain amount of prep that needs to be done. If you’re kind of a slob, you’ll want to clean up and raise the air of professionalism. But too often we overthink it, and we handle the conversation in a way that doesn’t sound like our normal self at all.

We turn it into something bigger than it is. Yes, there might be higher stakes (i.e. income, bills to pay, etc.) but you can’t bring that baggage into the interview.

Just like you can’t bring the baggage of finding your soulmate, happiness, or whatever when you’re talking to the opposite sex. You can definitely be hopeful. Feel free to indulge the fantasy (that’s always the fun part). It’s just that in the moment, you don’t know. You can’t know. And the path to being in the know takes a calm, cool conversation. Real talk. Making a real connection.

And you can’t do any of that if you’re being a starstruck doofus.

Stop Focusing on Body Language

Stop Focusing on Body Language

You guys see those sponsored ads on your Facebook feed? There’s one by LinkedIN that really caught my eye. I didn’t screencap it then, but here’s the clip via YouTube:

I’m familiar with Vanessa Van Edwards. Her site, the Science of People, is all about interpreting and maximizing body language.

I think learning these aspects in order to improve your expressions and what you can convey is a good thing. However, I draw the line when it comes to trying to use body language to read people.

It’s a dark rabbit hole that I don’t recommend for most people.

Sure, the FBI uses body language interpretation to profile people. If you’re in the military, you probably want to read body language to assess potential threat.

But for your everyday person, I think you’re always going to have a bias that skews either too positively or too negatively. For instance, some guys are just going to read it that the girls are always into them. On the flipside, some people are just going to interpret every movement as a sign that things are going bad.

When you get caught up in trying to read these movements, you’re engrossed in the idea of certain communication. And that stops you from having actual communication.

Body language can be a good thing to be aware of and adjust, but don’t read too deeply into it.