7 Phases of TOEFL Study

Updated: Aug 4, 2018

Phase 1: Deer in Headlights

“No way! I can’t do this!”




Phase 1 is a freak out. You’ve just had your first encounter with a TOEFL book or a TOEFL course and you can’t understand what is going on or how you’re ever supposed to get the score you need. You are in shock.


Common experiences: fear, shock, inability to do anything, depression, despair and the feeling of wanting it all to go away


Phase 2: OMG!

“I don’t even understand these topics in my own language, never mind in English!”



Phase 2 is a continuation of the previous freak out, but this time you’ve experienced enough lectures and readings to know that this TOEFL test is really horrible. You work on trying to answer the questions, but you are now aware that the test has secretly designed traps to make you get the wrong answer. It’s like the entire test is designed to destroy your life.


Common experiences: anger, sadness


Phase 3: Ah-Ha! (or the First Tiny Spark of Light)

“I’m actually doing this and getting some answers right!”



Phase 3 is when you begin to feel more confident about this test. You’ve done a lot of practice and you are starting to see progress. You’re familiar with the entire test and it’s not as scary as it was before. You start to believe that getting your score is possible after all!


Common experiences: realizations, joy, impressing your friends with your new cool TOEFL expertise


Phase 4: The Roller Coaster Ride

“I’m up and then I’m down!”


Phase 4 is characterized by extreme fluctuations in your practice test scores. Sometimes the scores are really high and sometimes they are really low. You can’t quite figure out what’s going on or how to be consistent. This is extremely annoying. You wonder if you’re ever going to feel ready enough to sign up to take the real test.


Common experiences: anger-joy, sadness-happiness, frustration-elation, bipolar emotions


Phase 5: Readiness

“I’m so sick of TOEFL! I’m just going to take the test and get it over with!”



Phase 5 happens when you are so frustrated with studying TOEFL that you actually cannot stand one more moment of it and you sign up to take the real test. This is EXACTLY the right moment to take it because you have so much energy of frustration built up that it transforms to focus. This focus gives you the strength to go in and slay that TOEFL dragon! It also gives you renewed energy towards your goals that you wish to accomplish after TOEFL.


Common experiences: frustration, readiness for anything, not caring anymore, determination, courage


Phase 6: Burnout

“I’m never going to get my score. I’m so over this.”



Phase 6 occurs once the thrill of taking the test for the first time dies down. You may be waiting for your results to come in. Once you see your results, you find you didn’t do as well as you would have hoped. You think about what went wrong during the first test. The fourth reading made you tired or you were distracted by someone speaking loudly next to you and you couldn’t pay attention to the lecture. You sign up for another TOEFL test, but studying becomes really difficult. You can’t concentrate. Perhaps you are two points away from the score you need, but you feel you will never ever get there.


Common experiences: exhaustion, inability to concentrate, easily distracted by incoming text messages while you are reading a TOEFL passage, feeling discouraged


Phase 7: Return to Peace

“It will be okay. All is well.”



Phase 7 happens when you have reached peace with the TOEFL. You may have achieved the score you need and you can now forget about TOEFL forever and finally move on with your life. On the other hand, you may not have achieved your score, but you know in your heart that one test cannot stop you from achieving your dreams. You will not let a test define you and you are open to new ways of making your dreams happen. Perhaps there is an alternative test that your university accepts. There may be an English program your university offers in lieu of the TOEFL. You may discover a university that has what you want and doesn’t require the TOEFL. You may have come to peace with the fact that one or two more years of English study is needed before you attempt to take the test again. Whatever happens, when you achieve peace, you know in your heart that your fate cannot be determined by one test. You know who you are and what you are made of. You also know that there is no one like you in the world and that you have come to share your gifts in your unique way. Your unique essence cannot be stopped, not by a test, not by an institution, not by anyone. You were made to share your gifts and you will!


Common experiences: peace, gratitude, love, empowerment, strength

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