How To Get Over A Fear Of Speaking Up In Your First Grad School Class

By Danielle Wirsansky on August 16, 2016

This article is brought to you by Kaplan, the leader in test prep for over 90 standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

Applying to grad school is scary. Choosing a grad school is scary. Moving to a new city for grad school is scary. Starting grad school is scary. Grad school is a scary endeavor, for pete’s sake.

Once you have gotten this far and are actually in grad school, the descriptor “scary” may not even cut it anymore because speaking up in your first grad school class will most likely be scary (or worse). But you have made it this far — you scaled all the scary hurdles in order to make it this far. You can speak up in your class.

And once you do it the first time, it will only get easier with each try. However, you need to give that first time a go in order to turn that mountain right back into a molehill. Read on to learn how to get over a fear of speaking up in your first grad school class!

Read up.

A great way to allay your fears about speaking up in grad school is making sure you are prepared to speak up! Especially while you are making first impressions, you want to do so positively and in a good light.

Part of the fear of speaking up is accidentally saying something ignorant or wrong and appearing gauche. Avoid this by doing all your reading and homework (which you should be doing anyways) and making sure that you really do know this stuff.

Prepare yourself before new lessons, especially on material that you are unfamiliar with. Give yourself a head start! You do not need to know everything yet as you are not an expert (that is what you are in grad school to become).

Just take the time to really familiarize yourself with the material you will be discussing so that you come across as confident, poised and knowledgeable.

Create talking points.

Another reason speaking up in your grad school class can feel scary is because you can feel put on the spot and you end up scrambling for an answer that is both correct and urbane. It can be hard to sound intelligent on the fly!

Help yourself out by creating a list of talking points that you can use to help guide your responses. As you are doing your readings or studying, jot down important notes and questions that you have. You have the syllabus, so you will have an idea of what will be discussed and what the focus of the class will be. Use this information! Write it out and avoid scrambling at the last minute and grasping at straws for important information. It will make you more confident, and writing it down or typing it out can also help you to remember these important points better as well.


Sometimes you know all the right things to say. You have the knowledge; you have the facts; all you need to do is speak up.

But that can often be the hardest part. When you open up your mouth to speak, your voice escapes you and it feels like all the air has leaked out of you and no words can come out. Inflate yourself! Regulate your breathing and make sure that you actually are breathing!

If you feel a twinge of anxiety, take a deep breath. The professor poses a question, take a deep breath. You have a response, take a deep breath. Fill your lungs so that you can have a voice. And then say it. After all, you know it. Breathe and then say it!

Picture your classmates … naked?

Look, when you start grad school you are all really beginning on an even playing field. You come from all different walks of life; there is the older adult student coming back to school in a bid to change careers or pursue their true passion; there is the perky, overachiever fresh out of their undergrad days; there is the laid-back student who took a couple years off of school between their undergraduate and graduate studies to get a feel for life and what they want to do.

No path is perfect and no path is better than another. You are all there because you need, nay want, to gain more knowledge in this area because you are lacking in it for now. But remember, that is just for now. You can overcome this! But to do so you need to participate in your classes by speaking up.

So if you are having trouble finding your voice, remember that you are all equal and you can take it one step further by putting yourselves on an equal level, or rather, a naked level. Imagine your classmates naked if it helps you to feel more confident speaking. You are all unique but you are all equal.

Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.

Danielle Wirsansky graduated from FSU with a BA in Theatre, a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in History, and an MA in Modern European History with a minor in Public History. While a graduate student, she served as the Communications Officer for the History Graduate Student Association and President/Artistic Director of White Mouse Theatre Productions. She studied abroad in London, England for the Spring 2015 semester at FSU's study center for the Playwriting Program and interned for the English National Theatre of Israel in Summer of 2015. Her first musical, City of Light, opened as part of FSU's New Horizons Festival in Spring of 2016. She has also won the MRCE and URCAA Research grants from FSU. In the past, she served as the Marketing Director for the FSU Student Theatre Association, the intern for the Holocaust Education Resource Council, and the research assistant of Prof. Nathan Stoltzfus. She has previously written for Context Florida (Contributing Writer), USA Today College (Contributing Writer), Sheroes of History (Contributing Blogger), No(le)Reservations (Contributing Blogger), Female, Reloaded (Arts/Entertainment Editor) , I Want a Buzz Magazine (intern), Mandarin Newsline (youth arts update columnist), Distink Designs (Guest blogger), (associate editor), (associate editor), Spark TLH (Contributor), the Tallahassee Democrat (contributor), Elan Literary Magazine (Head of Marketing), and the Improviser Newspaper (Opinions Editor). Danielle has been lucky to be writing for Uloop since 2015 and to have served as the FSU Campus Editor since 2015.

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