The 24 hours before your TOEIC exam

Summary: What you can usefully do before the TOEIC exam

Students who often take the TOEIC exam, especially students of Intermediate level or lower, are often confused by the fact that their scores go up and down each time they take it and try to find help from books or their teachers to stop this happening. Although this can sometimes be the result of being confused by new language that you haven't had a chance to learn well yet, or your speed of comprehension being slowed down because you can understand more and so read more thoroughly and therefore slowly, for most people it is simply a result of being tired, unhappy or unhealthy some of the time when you take the test. Here are the sixteen things that are most likely to help you improve your TOEIC score that you can do in the 24 hours before the exam- you will notice that none of them are about studying English!

  1. Don't cram. As there is only one TOEIC exam for all levels of English learner up to very Advanced, all standard American English (both General English and Business English) could be in the exam. That means tens of thousands of words or expressions. Therefore, the chances that the language you study in the 24 hours before the exam are in the test on that day are very low or even zero. Doing language study that close to the exam could even have negative results due to making you tired or making you look out only for the language you have just studied. It is therefore best to finish all your studying at least 2 days before the exam.
  2. Stop all other studying. As well as tiring yourself out and confusing your brain with unnecessary English study, reading or studying anything else too heavy and intellectually stimulating can have the same effect. This includes movies and novels with stories that are difficult to understand. The night before the exam, try to watch some comedy or music videos, and leave all studying and other serious stuff until the day after the exam.
  3. Avoid other languages. If you speak other foreign languages apart from English, if at all possible avoid speaking, reading and listening to those languages in the days before the exam. This is so that your brain doesn't take any time to switch to "English mode" on the day of the exam.
  4. Make sure you sleep well, but not too much. To be on top form on the day of the TOEIC exam, you need to be well rested but not still sleepy from oversleeping. Even if your test is in the afternoon, set your alarm clock to make sure you wake up after 7 to 8 hours of sleep.  
  5. Eat and drink well, but not too much. Even though you are sitting still, you will burn a lot of calories in the exam due to your brain being active and being stressed. You will need lots of complex carbohydrates from things like bread, bananas etc. to keep up your energy levels until the end of the exam, but make sure you don't eat too much and make yourself sleepy for the first part.
  6. Eat and drink healthily, but not too healthily. Avoid sugar, as this will give you lots of energy at the beginning of the exam but leave you tired by the end. Vitamins and other healthy foods can be important to combat stress, but if you are on a diet for slimming reasons you will need to give it up for one day as you won't have enough energy.
  7. Get a little exercise. Especially if you are the kind of person who cannot easily sit still for 3 hours, some light exercise and/ or stretching the night or morning before the exam will stimulate your brain, help you avoid fatigue, reduce stress, and give you a break from thinking about the exam. Be sure not to tire yourself out though- a good guide is probably to only do 50 to 75% of your usual workout.
  8. Be careful what you drink. Some people find that a single glass of wine or small glass of beer helps them relax on the night before the exam and so get to sleep, but for most people even if it helps you fall asleep it can still make your sleep less deeply and so mean that you wake up more tired than if you hadn't drunk anything. Any more than one glass can also have a negative effect on short term memory (very important for the exam) and also make you need to go to the toilet more often. Avoid too much coffee or tea, as like sugar it will leave you tired when the effect wears off later in the exam. Also, don't drink too much water before you go in, because you won't have time to go to the toilet once the exam has started.
  9. Arrive early, but with a plan B. The last thing you need on the day of the exam is more stress from difficulty in finding the place where the exam is being held or worries about being late. At the same time, though, extra time standing around outside the exam venue waiting for the exam to start can make you more stressed and tired. One way of avoiding all of these is to go to the exam venue the day before so that you are sure how to get there. Another is to find out from the internet where the nearest local café is, find the exam venue and go back to the local café for a rest before you go back 20 minutes or so before the time you have been told to arrive for the exam.
  10. Reduce all other stress. Especially in the Listening part of the TOEIC test, if your mind wanders off to think about something else for even one second, that could be enough to make you miss the information that can help you answer the question. In the last few days before the exam, sort out all the things that might cause you extra stress and make your mind wander if you have forgotten them, e.g. paying utility bills, replying to all your emails, picking up dry cleaning, and taking out the rubbish.
  11. Write a checklist. Another possible source of stress is suddenly remembering you have forgotten something you have to do on the day of the exam. Write a list of all the things you will need on the day. Ticking each thing off as you do it can be a great way of taking away your stress. Things you might need to include are: map to the exam centre, photo ID with your signature on it (e.g., passport), pencils and erasers, turning off your mobile, and a bottled drink for before and after the exam. This could also include things you need to do before you leave the house, like switching off the heating and feeding the cat.
  12. Do something relaxing in English on the way there. For example, listening to English music on the way to the exam can help you put your mind into "English mode", without tiring your out at all.
  13. Do the same routine the day before. To make sure your body and mind are not expecting sleep or food when you want them to be concentrating on the exam, try to wake up and eat at the same times as you will be able to on the day of the exam at least one day before.
  14. Lock your English books away. To stop you doing any unnecessary or counterproductive study, and to stop you even thinking about it, put all your TOEIC textbooks, exam practice materials and notebooks away in a drawer and don't even touch them in the 24 hours before the exam.
  15. Do something half your usual level. Reading something in English can be a useful way of getting your brain ready to understand English from the first minute of the exam, but only for someone who reads a newspaper in English everyday. Even somebody who is used to doing something in English everyday should try to make it easier in the 24 hours before the exam in order to make sure they don't get tired, e.g. reading an easier to understand newspaper than usual, only reading the headlines, or reading a newspaper from yesterday you already know all the news from.
  16. Have a warm up chat. Again, you will need to make sure it isn't something that will tire you out, but if you can meet with one of your friends outside or near the exam centre and have 5 minutes of chat in English, that will mean you are ready for the exam right from the first question (Listening Part One).

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Written by Alex Case for

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