10/01/2016 Nicoletta

IELTS Survival Pack 2

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How to turn Anxiety into a higher IELTS band

In order to prevent anxiety from throwing you off, you should know where on the test you are likely to start to feel anxious. What parts of the test trigger your anxiety and why?

For example, on the Reading test there are two situations that could provoke anxiety.

What should you do in these situations?

Situation #1: You don’t understand every word you read.

  • You are not expected to know every word. Don’t let one word distract you and throw you into anxiety. Keep moving forward.

Situation #2: You don’t have enough time to complete the full Reading Test. 

  • Go back to the strategies that you should have learned during your IELTS preparation. You must have a solid strategy to complete the reading on time. This strategy will be a solid foundation and will give you a resource to turn to when you get anxious.


Recognize and acknowledge when you are feeling something. In this case, notice when anxiety occurs in your body. Are your palms starting to sweat? Is your stomach nauseous? Is your heart beating fast? Don’t ignore this when you notice it. It’s the natural way that your body reacts to a big test where the stakes for you are high.

Accept the fact that you are feeling anxious so that you can start to move past it. Take a few deep breaths. Feel your feet on the ground. Spend a few seconds moving into the present. Then move forward. After-all, would you let a headache rage on? Probably not, you would take an aspirin right? So, don’t ignore anxiety but don’t fear it either. Use it!!


This may sound odd but on some parts of the test you can actually use your anxiety to show your language resources such as vocabulary, flexibility, and fluency. You can also show that you know how to use your sense of humor in English.

Let’s be more specific

On the Speaking test, what should you do if your mind goes blank? Instead of freezing, getting quiet, saying “um” and “uh” or letting your anxiety ruin your test, try articulating what is happening to the examiner. Use an idiom or a native phrase to do it. Use rhythm and feeling in your voice to increase your pronunciation score also.

You can say:

  • “I’m sorry. My mind just went blank.” (great native idiom)
  • “Give me a second. It’s on the tip of my tongue.” (this means you almost have the answer)
  • “I am blanking on this topic right now. Let me see…” (now tell a personal story if you can)

If you use native language like this with some feeling in your voice, you might be able to use the moment of anxiety to move your vocabulary and/or pronunciation scores from a 6 to a 7. Believe it!! This is what counts, not an enormous range of complex words that native speakers do not use.

To get a 7 on vocabulary in the Speaking test you need to have phrases that natives actually use. To get a 7 on pronunciation you should avoid sounding like a robot. You should sound like a real human being with life in your voice. Your voice should show some emotion. A moment of anxiety is a great opportunity to do all of these things and increase your speaking score.


Ultimately, knowing where your weaknesses lie, allows you to be prepared for the areas which are likely to cause stress and anxiety. Just think about it – when we are asked something, we often take a few moments to think about what we need to say. What does your body do in the meantime or what does your face look like? Do you just sit there poker-faced and turn white?

No, I didn’t think so.  We look around, touch our chins, crinkle our noses, raise an eyebrow, add a few natural hesitations (umm, let me see…), scratch our heads – and then the magic happens! It is in this moment that the examiner will see evidence of a person who is able to naturally communicate in English.

Watch this non-native speaker do the IELTS speaking exam. She scored a Band 7. However, had she not employed the use of fillers, natural hesitations and native expressions (hmm, that’s a tough question… ) to give her time to think, she would have gotten a 6 at best!

If you would like more assistance with preparing for your IELTS test then contact us. You can join one of our IELTS Preparation courses or have private online lessons. We are here to answer your questions!
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About the Author

Nicoletta Nicoletta is the co-founder of English One. She holds a Dip. TESOL (licentiate) from Trinity College, London. She is a passionate teacher and teacher trainer with well over a decade of EFL experience.

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