You perform well in class. You understand the IELTS question types. You’ve worked through the IELTS prep books. But studies show that this doesn’t mean you will do well in the IELTS test itself. Why is this?

Dr Sian Beilock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, studied why people perform badly in stressful situations such as exams. She found that exam stress takes up your working memory — the part of your mind you use to focus on the questions. As a result, you perform worse than you would in a less stressful environment, such as the classroom or at home.

The solution

So, how can you solve this problem? I’d like to suggest three solutions.

  1. Try an activity recommended in the journal Science, which reports Dr Beilock’s findings. Studies, it says, ‘found that students who spend 10 minutes before an exam writing about their thoughts and feelings can free up brainpower previously occupied by testing worries and do their best work.’ Read more about the studies here.
  2. Do lots of test practice. The more familiar you are with the test environment, the less stress you will feel. Try to simulate test conditions by sitting in a quiet room and timing yourself. Ideally, do this with friends who are also taking IELTS to make the situation even more lifelike.
  3. Make sure you understand what the exam expects of you well in advance. If you do nothing else, you really must become familiar with question types and task types in each of the four skills tests. Seeing an unfamiliar task for the first time on test day is guaranteed to raise your stress levels. A good place to start is the Starting out section of Road to IELTS, here. When you have opened the page, click Start to go into the Test Drive version — it’s free, provided by the British Council — then choose a skill (Reading, Writing, Speaking or Listening), and work through the Starting out section. It will give you critical information about what you will be expected to do in the test.

The outcome

All three of these measures will reduce your stress levels on the IELTS test day, and should improve your performance — and your band score

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