Three Tips to Help Calm Your Nerves and Ace the Exam


Almost a year ago now, I was asked by another language school to come in and give a presentation about TOEFL. It was a relatively new program at the school and the teachers were having trouble thinking of activities for class. Also, since they knew so little about the test, they couldn’t provide the students with decent advice.

I was frightened.

The night before I couldn’t sleep. You see, I had never given a presentation to a group of other teachers before. There would only be about 20 other ESL teachers in the room, but I was still terrified. Also, I was young, only 32 years old at the time, and I was afraid that some of the older teachers wouldn’t want to listen.

Images of failure flooded my mind leading up to the presentation.  I could hardly breathe when I stepped into the school. I met the teachers and began to speak. My fear didn’t leave. I was still a bit nervous, but I had prepared beforehand and was eager to share my knowledge with the rest of my colleagues.

The presentation turned out to be a success and I was invited to speak again a few months later.

You may be surprised to learn that teachers get nervous speaking in front of an audience, just like students.

It’s important to note that fear never leaves you. It’s always present. There are different degrees of fear, but it’s a part of being human. So, there’s no way to completely get rid of your TOEFL speaking fears, but I have three tips to help you turn that fear into focused energy:

1. Practice – I know it seems simple, but this is the most effective way for you to feel more confident on exam day. Think about it, the more experience you have in something, the more confident you are in doing it. If you never speak English outside of class, than you’ll never feel confident speaking in English. Not only that, but for the TOEFL, you have to practice speaking for the TOEFL exam. Talking with your friends or at work is not good enough. You have to sit down in front of a computer and go through an entire speaking section of the exam the same way you would on exam day. Familiarizing yourself with the exact structure will help build your confidence and you’ll know what to expect during the test.

2. Turn your nerves into enthusiasm – Like I mentioned before, your nerves never fully disappear. The best you can do is to take your nerves and turn them into positive energy. Yes, your nervous, but you’re also excited. Tell yourself, “I’m excited.” (Here’s a link to a good Youtube video about turning fear into excitement).

Famous actors and celebrities get nervous all the time. They get nervous just like the rest of us. However, their attitude towards fear is different. They don’t think of it as a reason not to do something, but instead, it inspires them to go after their goal. If you’re nervous, it means your doing something worthwhile. Focus on the positive aspect of what makes you nervous and turn it into positive energy that you can use as you speak.

3. Bring a lucky charm – Public speaking experts provide a host of different tricks to help calm their nerves before a presentation. Many public speakers have an object that helps. For example, my friend Mike has a rubber band around his wrist and he pulls at it when his nerves get overwhelming. The rubber band brings small but sudden pain that takes his attention away from his nerves.

On days when I have an important presentation, I have a bracelet with a quote from Lance Armstrong, “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.”

Probably the most effective object I bring with me as a picture of my wife and kids. When I look at it I remember that, whatever it is I’m nervous about, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as they do.

Fear never goes away. My advice is to recognize it, remember you’re prepared, turn it into positive energy and bring some object to take your mind off of your nerves.

If you want some free independent speaking practice questions to help you prepare before exam day, you can check out the free PDF at the link below.

150 Free Independent Speaking and Writing Questions

Now I have to ask, what about you? How do you stay calm when you feel nervous?