‘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 can I do better?’ — message from a troubled IELTS Blog reader.
Exam stress is not just frustrating; it can have a negative impact on your IELTS band score. But there are measures you can take to help you feel prepared instead of nervous on your IELTS exam day. In this post, we will consider three ways you can get into your best possible form for test day.
1. Set a routine
You must have heard from your teachers to get enough sleep before an exam to keep a sharp mind for the big day. Still, you would be surprised by the amount of ‘zombies’ rushing to the exam venue, with double eyebags and a face filled with panic. Insufficient sleep lowers your attention and makes it very hard to stay focused during the IELTS test. Don’t forget, in the Listening test you only have one chance to listen to the audio, so if you are not concentrating, your answers are gone, forever. To avoid this, here are a few short- and long-term things to think about:
First, imagine your IELTS test is next week. Like most other students, you are taking the test during the holiday seasons (summer vacation, spring break, Christmas holiday, etc.), but your test is at eight o’clock in the morning. If you are used to waking up at nine — or even later — throughout the holiday, you will likely perform worse at the early-morning, intense, three-hour exam.
To counter this, you can tune yourself to an ‘exam condition’. That means if your IELTS test starts at eight in the morning, do your practice tests at the same time for several days straight. This way, your body and mind will be accustomed to functioning well at this time of day.
The night before the test, you can also exercise before sleeping to shake off some of your stress and allow you to sleep soundly. Don’t forget to schedule ahead when you should have tea or coffee, and avoid big breakfast — they make you sleepy in the exam hall.
In the long run, however, you should also consider adjusting your sleep, exercise and meal schedules as these can all have an impact on your performance. Having a regular routine can help you manage stress better, amongst many other benefits. This sounds like common sense — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it in advance.
2. Practice in real conditions
Just as you should practise waking up and taking the test at the same time as you would on exam day, you should also be practising in ‘exam conditions’. There are lots of distractions when you’re taking your IELTS test — invigilators watching you, other candidates coughing or squeaking their chairs. But during the IELTS test, you should try to pay no attention to your surroundings, or they will slow you down. Of course, there are ways to help you concentrate before you set foot in the hall.
Try to do your practice tests in exam conditions. This means no music, no chatting, in a quiet place where you can sit down for an hour and focus on studying strategically. Focusing on a task for an hour is a big ask. According to this article, ‘common estimates of the attention span of healthy teenagers and adults range from 10 to 20 minutes’. If you are not used to focusing for 60 minutes, you will need to put in plenty of practice in advance and build up to it. That should be part of your IELTS preparation.
3. Build confidence
Remember that your stress is all in the mind. Try to pin down what you are afraid of:
– Are you nervous you won’t achieve the band score you need?
Why not find out what your current IELTS level is. With the Road to IELTS Score Calculator, you can figure out what your current level is, and how much work you need to put in. Or, find out if your institution offers the Dynamic Placement Test. This will give you an idea of your general English level and can map out your strengths and weaknesses.
– Do you feel you don’t understand the task types?
There is clear evidence that learning the various task types in IELTS is the quickest and most effective way of improving your band score.The IELTS test always follows a pattern and consists of a regular set of question types. To a certain extent, you can predict what might come up in some of the sections. Do your research.
– Are you nervous about retaking the test?
Of course you want to get the band score you need on the first try. But if you have to, retaking the test can work to your advantage. The test is going to look familiar and everything will be more predictable. Remember: even Einstein had to re-sit his university entrance exam.
– Do you feel underprepared?
An easy fix to this is practice, practice, practice! Take IELTS mock tests or practice papers to check the level you are at before you apply for the real test. Road to IELTS offers plenty of practice materials and tips on how to prepare for the IELTS test. You can find them all here.
There are a few things you can do to manage your stress and manage your time. In the meantime, you can take a look at the resources on IELTSPractice.com and read through the posts on this blog to learn more about how to prepare for your IELTS test.