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For many people doing the IELTS test, it doesn’t matter what level or language it is or how many hours of preparation they do. Sometimes they just fail for one reason and one reason only, and that is stress. So in this lesson, we’re going to look at why stress is a problem on exam day and what to do about it, and we’re going to give you some very practical steps that you can take to help you with your stress on exam day. I’m Chris from IELTSadvantage.com. I help thousands of students every year get the score that they need, and we did a little poll on my Facebook page last week. It was Stress Awareness Day last week, and I asked students how they cope with stress, and what stresses them out, and what tips they would give to other students to help them combat stress. So that’s what this lesson is about.
Now, it’s really, really important because it’s that hidden factor that not a lot of people, not a lot of teachers talk about, but it’s something that is really, really crucial because as I said, many, many students that deserve a high score get a lower score just because of stress. So, first thing we need to do is figure out what stress is. So a lot of people talk about, “I’m stressed. I’m worried. I don’t know what to do.” A lot of people say “I feel sick,” and things like that before their test, but they don’t really think about what stress is, and within the context of IELTS, stress is just another word for fear. About being afraid that different things might happen. So fear of not being prepared, fear of difficult questions, or maybe a difficult examiner, fear you won’t get the score you need, and fear you’ll let other people down. So you could have all of those things, if you’re really, really stressed out, but you could just have one of those things.
So let’s talk about that a little bit about things that you can do to combat these four things, before we look at the more practical steps you can take. So fear of not being prepared. So that is a very, very, very real fear, because most people do not prepare properly for the test. So, there is a really easy way to make sure you’re not stressed out about not being prepared, and that is to prepare. That sounds like unbelievably simple advice, and advice that you’re like, “Of course, I know that already.” But you would not believe the number of students who email me the day before their test, or the week before their test and say, “I need a band 8, I haven’t done any study, what do I do?” So of course you are going to be stressed out if you need such a high band, but you haven’t done any work. So it’s really about being realistic about what you need to do, realistic about where you are, and realistic about the amount of work you have to do in order to do well on the IELTS test.
So, there are a number of different ways you can do this. Probably the most efficient way is to find a teacher, or find a course that they will be able to show you exactly what you need to do. If you can’t afford that, go online, IELTSadvantage.com, there’s an article called IELTS Preparation, which will help you for free work out what you need to do, but really the number one piece of advice I can give you for combating stress is to be prepared. If you are prepared, and you know what is going to happen, and you know what score you’re going to get because you’ve put in all the preparation, the fear magically just disappears. I very, very rarely get a student who is very stressed out, if they are prepared properly.
Second one; fear of difficult questions, or maybe a difficult examiner. So, the fear of difficult questions, this is a huge problem, and it’s a problem you can fix really, really quickly. The reason why it is a problem is because there are so many fake questions online. Every single day in my VIP Facebook group students post questions up, and it’s like, “Oh my god, I’ve never seen a question like this, it’s so difficult. How are we going to do this question?” And then everybody panics like, “I hate this test.” And people start getting very stressed out. There’s a really simple solution that I normally put at the bottom in the comments when somebody posts a really difficult question: this question is fake. So there are, I’d say over 90% of the questions you can find online, are created by people that don’t really know what they’re doing. The real questions that are produced by Cambridge, go to the Cambridge English website, or IDP website, or the British Council website, or IELTS.org, or one of the Cambridge books. If you look at those questions, they’re not as difficult as some of these fake questions you can find online.
So that’s one thing to do, do not use fake questions, you will freak yourself out if you use those questions because they’re normally ten times more difficult, and in a really weird format, than the normal questions. Another thing is people say that they are afraid of difficult examiners. Now, the examiner is trying to do a job, the examiner is not trying to be your friend. Some of them are friendly, some of them will smile at you, but some of them won’t, because they’re just trying to listen to you and do their job. It’s not their job to be your friend, and the way I describe it to my students is, you don’t need to worry about what the examiner thinks of you personally in any way because the examiner doesn’t care about you at all, they’re just doing their job.
The way I describe it is, would you be afraid to go and order something in McDonald’s because you were afraid what the person in McDonald’s thought of you? Absolutely not, because the person in McDonald’s is just thinking of you as another client, as another customer, as another person coming through the door. That’s exactly the same way that the examiners will think about you. They have probably that month, that year, they’ve probably done hundreds of speaking tests, you’re just another face to them, and they are judging you on very objective standards. So just do your best in the speaking test, and for that 15 minutes of the speaking test just do your best and don’t care whether the examiner smiles at you, or isn’t friendly to you or anything. Just talk to them in a normal way and you’ll be absolutely fine. So that’s two big fears alleviated to some extent.
So, fear you won’t get the score you need. Alright, so, this is probably the biggest one. So students are sitting there on exam day and they realize that they’re not prepared. They realize that they haven’t done enough work and they’re probably not going to get the score that they need. So what I do with my students is, what I help them do is identify their weaknesses, pinpoint the exact things that they’re not doing well, the exact reasons why they’re not getting the score that they need, and then help them turn those weaknesses into strengths, and I also encourage my students to not do the test until they’re consistently getting the score that they need in practice before the test. So, for example, reading, if you need a band 7, you should be doing practice tests and consistently getting at least a 7 each time. If you’re not getting a 7 each time, if you’re consistently getting a 6, or a 6.5, and you need a 7, you’re not ready for the test. Don’t do the test and put yourself through that really stressful situation.
With my students, what I like to do with them is make getting the score that they need just an inevitability, a foregone conclusion. That they know exactly what they’re doing, they know the exact things to do in the test, no matter what question comes up. So that’s where you want to be before you do the test, and then that fear of not getting the score that you need just melts away, because you know you just have to do the things, kind of like a boxer preparing for a big fight, or a footballer before a big football match, or a ballerina before she goes on stage, or an actor before they go on stage. If you know exactly what you’re doing, you’re going to be confident, you’re not going to get stressed out, and again, there are many different ways that you can do that, but find some way to do that in order to make sure that getting the score that you need is kind of guaranteed for you.
Number four, this is another big one, especially with family members and friends, and people like that, especially mums and dads. Fear you’ll let other people down, fear you’re going to disappoint someone. Now, think about this; if you prepare, and if you do lots of practice questions and you’re working really hard, and you know that you’ve done everything you can do in order to get the score that you need, and you’ve been realistic with what score you need, and you do everything you can, and your parents are still angry with you, then that’s probably their problem, not your problem. But if you just are completely unrealistic, you haven’t done any preparation, you haven’t practiced, you haven’t worked hard, and you get a low score, then your parents maybe can get angry with you.
But if you’ve done everything you can do, and you’ve prepared properly, the only person that you can let down is yourself. Do not worry about what other people think because you are just really competing with yourself. The months and weeks before the test is where you will get the score that you need, you do get the score that you need on test day, of course, but all that hard work before that is where you will really win or lose. So, as long as you are competing against yourself, getting up every day, getting up early, doing all the work, doing everything you need to do, then you can’t be disappointed in yourself and your parents definitely shouldn’t be disappointed in yourself, and if they are after you do all that, maybe you need to have a conversation with them about their expectations.
So, here are seven things, some things that I suggested and some things that other students of mine, I asked them how they dealt with stress, because I have done lots of exams, I did a law degree and I remember one module called Irish Land Law, which was extremely difficult, and I didn’t prepare properly, and I was extremely stressed out and I just passed, and it was the lowest mark that I got during my whole university experience. So some of these are things that I use to help me because I’ve done so many different tests throughout the years, masters degrees and all of those different things, and here are also some things that students, people who’ve actually done the test, suggested to me.
So, number one is one from me and other students; be honest with yourself. Be honest about your current level, be honest about where you need to go because the way to get the score that you need is to establish where you are, establish where you need to be, and then figure out what you need to do to get from here to here. And a lot of people lie to themselves. Why do they lie to themselves? Because if you’re honest with yourself, then you will have to do a lot of hard work, because most people who are, say they’re at a band 6 and they need a band 7, if you’re honest with yourself in terms of the amount of work you need to do, then you are inevitably going to have to do a lot of work. People don’t like that, but the people that are really, really honest with themselves, and honest with what they need to do in order to get the score that they need, they prepare properly. If you prepare properly, you’re not going to be as stressed out.
Number two; take practical steps. So, these come from a lot of suggestions from students. What they said was, make sure you get proper sleep the night before. I know that’s difficult for a lot of people, because you’re going to be stressed out, but get to bed early, don’t go to bed with books and your iPad and your iPhone, you’re not going to learn anything the day before your test, you’re not going to learn anything the night before your test. Do whatever you can to relax, do something nice for yourself, and get a good sleep. Number two, be aware of where the exam center is, where the test center is. Where I used to work, in a test center, you would not believe the number of students who were late, or running towards the speaking session, or running towards their reading test, or their listening test, because they just had no idea where the test center was and they were stuck in traffic, and all of those different things.
Make sure you go there, you know how long it will take you to get there from your home, or wherever you’re staying, and what the traffic is going to be, and go into the place and ask them. Ask the staff, “What do I do? Where can I go? Where are the toilets?” Really, really important, and find out everything you need to know. You don’t want to be finding that out five minutes before your test. So that is a really cool, practical tip, and something that really works for a lot of students. The third thing, breakfast. So a lot of people said that if they don’t know where the test center is, they panic, and then they run to get the bus or get a taxi to the test center, and they forget about breakfast. You will be in there for a very, very long time, and you’re going to have to focus for hours. So make sure that you get good sleep, have a good breakfast, and get there on time, and it’s going to make a huge difference on test day.
Number three; avoid negativity. Alright, so negativity, in general, will come from two places. One place will actually come from maybe your friends and your family, think about what’s going to happen if you get the score that you need, you will be moving to a different country, having a completely different life, a different career. Some of your friends are not going to like that, they want you to stay where you are because maybe they would like to do that but they’re not prepared to do the work. A huge number of my students, I’ve spoken to them, and I have one on one sessions with them, and they talk about how negative their friends are, and their friends are teasing them, and their friends are making them go out drinking, and go out having a good time, and just sabotaging their progress. Stay away from people, if someone is not happy that you are improving your life, and doing all this study, and spending time by yourself and not time with them, and they don’t understand that, maybe they might not be the best friend that you have.
The other side of negativity is there’s a huge amount of negativity about the IELTS test online. So things like it’s just a business, it’s a scam, it’s just luck, it is rigged, and all of these different things. None of these are true. These come from people who have failed the test, they’re very bitter about failing the test, they’ve maybe done the test many, many, many times and not gotten the score that they need, and instead of being positive and trying to improve themselves, they’re trying to drag other people down, and this really does stress people out, and when you surround yourself with negativity, maybe not the best thing.
Number four, I didn’t think of this one, this was the most common suggestion from my students, was sugar, specifically chocolate. So what they suggested was you get very tired, especially in the reading test, the listening test, and the writing test you have to focus for a long time, and they found that just having some bars of chocolate, or Haribo, or whatever sweets you have, just reward yourself. It not only gives you energy, but chocolate also has some neurochemicals in it that might just boost your mood and help you, and it’s just an excuse to eat chocolate, which is always a good thing.
Number five, this is my idea; meditate. I started meditating about three years ago, just when I was starting my business and I was still working a full-time job at the British Council, I was trying to start my business, trying to start my website, my baby had just been born, I was living in a foreign country. So lots of different things were happening and I was pretty stressed out. Meditating really, really helped me and it will help you in your IELTS preparation for two reasons. Number one; if you have lots and lots of different things going on in your life, it’s just 10 minutes a day, 20 minutes a day where you can just shut all that out, and helps your brain organize things, which is huge if you’re very, very busy and stressed out.
Number two; it helps you be present and it helps you focus. So, a lot of meditation is just helping you shut out all the noise, and all the different things that are happening, and just focus on the here and now. The listening test and the reading test, that is going to be huge if you do that. There’s a free app called Head Space, H-E-A-D S-P-A-C-E, I’ll try and link to it below this video. It’s amazing, it allows you to do 10 minutes a day for free, check out it, I promise you it will really, really, really help. I was skeptical about it at the beginning, but it does really, really help.
Number six; use stress. Use stress, not on test day so much, but in the months and weeks leading up to your test. Use stress to stop you procrastinating, use stress to help you get up earlier and do some work, use stress to maybe put in some work before you go to bed. For times when you don’t feel like working, a really good way is to not be negative about it and thing of the bad things that will happen but maybe think about the good things that will happen if you do pass the test. So, think about the country that you could move to, the job that you could get, or the course that you could join. How would your life be different? And that will give you a little push and will allow your brain to really kickstart and help you focus, and help you work harder. So stress is sometimes a good thing.
Number seven; accept that you are going to be a little bit stressed. Nobody, no student that I know, I mean you can do all of these different things, you are going to be a little bit stressed. So, totally overcome by stress, that’s not where we want to be on exam day, but having a little bit of stress that will help us focus, and have that nervous energy that will help you do well on test day, that is where you want to be. So if you prepare properly, do all the things that we were talking about today in this video, you can combat stress and stop having it take over test day, and use it and channel it to help you get the score that you need. So if you need help with preparation, free help, or my personal one on one help, go to IELTSadvantage.com and check out the stuff there, it will really help you out. I hope this video helped you out and you will be able to use stress as a positive, rather than a negative.
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