‘I have no idea how people cope with nerves on the test day. The previous night I could not sleep and it was hard for my brain to function at 7AM in the morning. And of course the result is worse than I anticipated. How did you do it?’ — from a troubled IELTS blog reader.
Exam anxiety is annoying but there are ways to help you feel prepared instead of nervous. Let’s look at how we can get into our best possible form on the test day.
Rise and shine
Talking about getting enough sleep and staying sharp on the test day seem a little bit old-fashioned and uninteresting, but you will be surprised by how many zombies turn up on the big day and find it hard to stay focused during the listening test. Most students choose to take the test during holiday seasons (summer holiday, spring break, Christmas holiday etc.) and physically they are not ready to take an intense, 3-hour exam at seven o’clock in the morning.
What you really need to do is to tune yourself to an ‘exam condition’ that allows your brain and senses to be at their best at a particular time of the day. If your IELTS test starts at eight in the morning, do the practice test(s) at the same time the day before. Do just enough sport so you can shake off some of your stress and sleep soundly the night before the test. Schedule ahead when should you have a cup of tea or coffee, and don’t go for a big breakfast so you won’t feel sleepy in the exam hall.
Keep your concentration
During the test, pay no attention to your surrounding, because there is, really, nothing to it. Other candidates are as nervous as you, the invigilators have no interest in you and there is no reason to interact with anything other than your test papers. If you are the type of person who gets distracted by the sounds of loud pencil-writing, coughing and squeaky chairs, consider putting on some earplugs.
Fear no failures
Our stress comes primarily from the thought that we can fail to get the band score we want. What that really means is that the stress will cease to exist if we are not afraid of failing the test. Always take mock tests or practice papers to check the level you are at before you apply for the real one. Take language proficiency tests such as the Dynamic Placement Test and see if your English is good enough for the band score you want.
The IELTS test always follows a pattern and consists of a regular set of question types, meaning if you have to re-take the test, it is going to look familiar and everything will be predictable. Didn’t do well enough? Don’t worry — you can try again anytime you want, and the next one will be much easier. Remember: even Einstein had to re-sit his university entrance exam!