The five things about IELTS that people are most afraid of – and how to overcome them


Article contributed by Simone Braverman,

Nobody likes exams. They make people nervous and uncomfortable. They undermine students’ confidence and stress them out. In the most extreme cases people simply panic and lose the ability to think clearly.

IELTS is no different and for many people that is a problem. There are many parts of IELTS that can be intimidating unless you know how to handle them. People are afraid of the unknown, and the solution is to get familiar with all the “scary” aspects of the IELTS exam. Take the element of surprise out of IELTS and these fears will fade away.

Here are the 5 things people are afraid of the most about IELTS:

1. What if I miss the answers in the Listening module?

This is a fear of losing concentration. Ask any IELTS candidate what they are afraid of in the Listening module and they will say:  “I am afraid to miss answers. I am afraid that I won’t be able to follow the recording”.

To make this fear disappear there is only one solution – practice. Practising builds up confidence and teaches you how to recover even if you’ve missed a question or two; how to move on and get all the rest done. Practice reveals what your weaknesses are, which tasks are the most difficult for you, and where the points are usually lost. Paying extra attention to those tasks will save precious points and improve the overall band score.

2. What if I don’t have enough time?

In the Reading and Writing sections the most common fear is to not finish on time. The best way to deal with this fear is to take control of the time and manage it carefully. The students are given several passages and under no circumstances should you let one passage eat up all the time.

One of the time management techniques is called “Divide and Conquer”. Divide the time in the very beginning of the test and write down when you will start working on each passage. Stick to that contract no matter what. Even if you have questions unanswered, move on to the next passage. Consider this a damage control system – it will make sure that even if some questions were missed, most of the questions will be answered.

3. What if I have nothing to write about?

This is a fear of writer’s block. Many students are afraid of getting a topic for the essay and having nothing to say about it. The easiest way to get over it is to read a lot of essays on different topics and to absorb other people’s ideas. The truth is that IELTS examiners don’t care about the source of the information; it is the way an essay is written that matters.

4. What if I say the wrong thing?

This is a fear of expressing the “inappropriate” ideas. Contrary to what many people think, there are no right or wrong ideas. As long as the student is speaking on topic and expressing their thoughts in a logical way, no idea can harm their score.

5. What if I have nothing to say?

This is a fear of interaction with the examiner. In general, the Speaking module often makes people feel uncomfortable because there is little or no time to think. What if they ask me a question and I have no idea what to say, no opinion? To make this fear go away people need to build up confidence. Practising speaking for a couple of weeks with a list of topics can do wonders; after you’ve proven the ability to speak to yourself, it becomes much easier to demonstrate it to the examiner.

Some students get nervous about being recorded. Surprisingly the reason for this procedure is to evaluate the examiner, not the examinee. There are cases when students are not happy with their score and demand re-assessment, which can only be done if there is a recording of the exam.

In conclusion, I will say it again – we, humans, are afraid of the unknown and comfortable with the familiar. Don’t let irrational fears get in the way of your success.


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