At My IELTS Classroom, we take the emotional welfare of our students very seriously. In the past we have spoken to a trained psychologist about how test-takers can remain calm before and during their exam (and if you haven’t watched that episode, I strongly recommend that you do as even I learned a lot!), and have written a lot of about motivation and how to get it back if you have lost it. Today, though, we are going to look at what to do if you have lost IELTS confidence.
Losing IELTS confidence can be difficult, but is every student really right to feel this way if they don’t reach their target scores? And what can you do to regain your lost IELTS confidence if it really has gone? That is what Nick and I will discuss in this episode.
Below, you can find a summary of the episode, which includes all of the links to useful materials and the times of each part of the discussion (so you can go directly to the part you want to listen to) 🚀
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When should you NOT suffer from lost IELTS confidence?
Many students tell me that they have lost their IELTS confidence after “failing” the test (I don’t like to use that word “fail” but there isn’t really an alternative except for “did not reach their target scores” but that is too long!). However, for some, this feeling is not entirely logical. Let me explain when I think this is the case.
1. If you are a student who has taken the test 3, 4, 5, or even 10 times without any guidance.
Should student a student who has taken the test multiple times without preparing lose confidence in their ability? I would argue absolutely not. IELTS is a specialist exam that requires high-level knowledge of English language and academic skills (even if you are a GT student). If you have not prepared and learned those skills with a well-qualified teacher, then you cannot really expect to reach a very high score.
Yes, self-study is possible, but if you have taken the test more than 2 times and not reached the scores you need, then it really is time to bring in professional help.
Taking the test again and again in the hope that you may somehow finally “strike it lucky” is an expensive mistake, but it is not a reason to lose your confidence. After all, you have never really sat the exam with the knowledge needed to pass it.
2. If you are a student whose level of English is not high enough to reach their target score.
Should a student with B1 level of English lose confidence when then don’t get a C1 score? I would argue, again, absolutely not!
It would be like me, having done no training at all, trying to run a marathon and not reaching the finish line! Did I do my best? Sure! Is it a surprise that I failed to finish? Of course not!
I’ve noticed that many students seem to think that if they are willing to put in the time and effort to prepare for the test they will be able to improve quickly. This may be because in terms of numbers IELTS uses to give scores. There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between the number 6 and the number 7.
However that one band or one point actually represents roughly 200 hours of study.
So if you are currently at a 5.5 or 6.0 and you need a7.0, it is realistically going to take you around six months to be able to achieve that score. In today’s world where everything comes pretty quickly that may seem like a long time, but that is the reality of language learning. If you can accept the you simply do not have the skills yet to pass the exam, your confidence will come back and you will be able to continue your preparation in comfort.
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3. If you are a student who has worked hard and has the right level of English, but has been (sadly) guided in the wrong direction by a poor teacher
This is a difficult topic, but the sad truth is that some students put in a lot of time and effort to prepare for the exam but follow, in good faith, a teacher whose advice it taking them away from their target score rather than towards it.
Now, I am not suggesting that every student who fails the IELTS exam should blame their teacher. However, you should honestly consider the score that your teacher predicted for you and what your actual score was. If there was a massive difference between what you were predicted and what you achieved (and your teacher has no explanation for why that is), then you may want to consider if you have been led in the right direction.
Again, if it turns out that you have been following poor advice, this may be difficult information to accept, but those failures are NOT a reason to lose your IELTS confidence.
After all, you have never sat the test armed with the right information to pass.
How to regain your genuinely lost IELTS confidence!
So, maybe some of you reading this blog already understand that there is no reason at all for you to have lost your IELTS confidence. But, what if you are a student who has the level of English to reach your target score, and has prepared for the test with a well-qualified teacher? What if you know that you are capable of reaching a 7.0 or 7.5 or 8.0 in the test, but are unable to actually do it on test day?
Well, now I do understand why you have lost your IELTS confidence, so let’s think about how you can get it back!
Let’s start by talking about how you can get your emotions back on track. My first piece of advice would be take responsibility for the failure. I know that this can be hard, but the only way that you are going to be able to move upwards and onwards is to accept that mistakes were made. Why?
Because if you accept that you made a mistake, you can then start to work on fixing it. Denying your role in the score you received i.e. by blaming the examiner or IDP or even your teacher (if they are a good one), is just going to slow down your future progress.
I am not saying that you should sit and blame yourself for not reaching your target score. In fact, quite the opposite. Students how recover from a set-back are those who realise that people “fail forward”. In other words, if you are trying to improve your life, then it is inevitable that you will fail at certain points. Usually, this happens when are about to make the most personal growth.
All I am asking you to do is sit and accept that the exam did not go as you had hoped, and forgive yourself for this. Forgiveness is a key component for success. It is what cleans the negative emotional the previous test away and gives you the space and energy to start again. You did your best. It wasn’t enough for you to reach your target score this time, but it was a step in the right direction, and for that you should feel proud.
Finally, try to put into words how you are feeling. What exactly did you feel when you opened your last set of exam results? Guilt? Shame? Anger? Tiredness? Surprise? Being able to verbalise your feelings will help take them from inside your body to outside. Then, you can walk away and leave them there.
Even better share how you are feeling with people that you trust who will support you. Do you have a friend or family member who you can talk to about your experience? Having a support network will help you to gain perspective on what has happened and make you feel less also.
Hopefully, your teacher will be able to step in here and help too. A good teacher will know you as a student and will share your disappointment, but should also know how to help get you back on your feet to try again. Plus, they will be key in helping you analyse your errors and fixing them moving forward.
How you can prepare to build back your lost IELTS confidence track
Once you have accepted your previous test results and started to see that they are just a temporary set-back, it is important that you start to prepare again in the right way. In other words, you want to make sure that you do everything you can do that you pass again on your next attempt.
Analyse your previous performance
Step one, here, is analysing what exactly went wrong in the previous exams. The more deeply you can do this, the better the chance that you will pass on your next attempt. If your writing score was lower than expected, for example, try to work out exactly what went wrong by asking yourself questions like these:
- did I struggle with time management? If so, what exactly ate up the time?
- did I struggle to find ideas?
- did I find it hard to extend my ideas?
- did I have enough topic-specific lexis for that particular essay question?
- did I struggle in Task 1? For example, were you given a tricky informal letter or a difficult chart?
The more questions you can ask, the better. Plus, remember that you can not apply for a Breakdown of Results to find out exactly what score you got for each of the band descriptors in Writing Task 1, Writing Task 2, and the Speaking test. This information can help to guide your practice as you can focus solely on the areas where you need to improve.
Practice under test conditions
I have found that many students receive a lower score in the real test than they do in practice because they suffer from exam nerves. The only way to overcome this is to put yourself under pressure when you practice.
The best way to do this is to replicate exam conditions as much as you can.
Not only will this give you confidence when you sit the test again (as you will be used to performing under the same conditions) but you may find that you uncover new problem areas (which is great as then you will be able to fix them!)
For example, I have recently been working with a student who needs a very high score in writing (7.5). Before a recent exam, the student had been sending me work that was easily that score, or even higher, but when they sat the real test, they came back with a 6.5. I was baffled. What could have gone wrong?
To find out, I decided to send them a set of questions 60 minutes before our lesson rather than the night more. The result? I finally got to see what the student could produce under exam conditions, and it was VERY different to what they had been sending me. There were spelling errors and basic problems with subject / verb agreement that I had never seen before.
The student was upset with the errors, but I was delighted because I finally knew what we had to work on to help them improve! After 2 weeks of practicing like this, the work that the student is producing 60 minutes is almost as good as what they were sending me before their previous test.
Remember that there is definitely an element of luck in the IELTS exam.
I want to end by talking about something that is rarely discussed
the luck that is involved in an IELTS exam.
No matter how much time you spend preparing, there is still a chance that you will simply be “unlucky” on your test day, and get a difficult test item. It might be a horrible essay question on a topic you have never considered before, or a reading test with twenty T/F/NG questions, or a speaking cue-card about an experience you have never had.
The simple fact is that with so many moving parts, the IELTS exam is one that does require a certain amount of “luck” alongside hardworking and practice.
If you can accept that there is an element of luck and things that are outside your control in IELTS, that is going to make it far easier for you to “recover” when things don’t go to plan. After all, all anybody can ever do is their best, and as long as you are honest about your mistakes, work hard to correct them, and keep in trying, you will achieve your goal one day (and I am sure it will be sooner than you think!)