“Oh that (insert exam name) is so terrible! It’s such a difficult exam! They make it so that it’s impossible to get a score higher than (insert score)!”

Is this how you think about English exams? Do you struggle to get the score that you need to be successful? Have you taken the same exam multiple times only to be stuck at the same score, no matter how much you study?

”Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself” —Bo Diddley

Yes, the exam is difficult. No one will argue about that. You are most certainly right.

But that’s not a reason for you not to achieve success. Do not think for one moment that the exam itself is the reason for the score you got.

The reason you get that score is simple:

Your performance = your score.

But what affects your performance?

Your relationship with the exam

Think of the exam like a living thing. You have a connection with it: what you believe about the language and the way you behave towards that exam reflects how you will perform.

”You get what you give” —Unknown

So what does this mean in terms of exam performance? Let’s do a thought experiment.

Take a piece of paper and write down the following sentence:

The (exam name) is like a ____________. (Use a metaphor to describe the exam)

You should continue reading only after you have decided on a metaphor.

What kind of metaphor did you come up with? Was it a positive or a negative one?

Consider the difference:

  • The IELTS exam is like an obstacle.
  • The IELTS exam is like a tool.

Clearly, you can see that one metaphor looks at the exam as useful and enabling, while the other looks at is as difficult and limiting.

Can’t I just study like crazy?

Now you’re probably thinking, “What difference does it make Tyler? So what if I think that the exam is like a barricade? I’ve still got to study the same topics anyway!”

Well, you can think of the exam as a chimera, a barricade, or even Mount Everest. But no matter what you think of it as, you shouldn’t believe that you have to fight the exam to succeed. It shouldn’t be a path of struggle.

Think about the subjects you studied at school. Which ones did you hate? Which ones did you love?

Now, which ones did you do better in?

You don’t necessarily have to love the exam, but you just shouldn’t resist it. It’s easier to cooperate with it. See it as something that will help you towards a brighter future.

Stern, a little aggressive, but steady

So yes, maybe you do have to study like crazy. But you should do it in a careful and measured way.

Think of your approach to the exam like running a marathon. A firm and steady momentum is needed. Perhaps even a little bit of aggression. But most certainly not a frantic attack.

If you run the first few kilometers of a marathon as fast as you can, you’ll spend the rest of it walking.

steady, measured movement forward is the best way to run a marathon. And it is also the best way to be successful in a 3 hour mental marathon. Conserve your energy.

First steps towards mastery

Now we need to ask ourselves one important question: What is mastery?

For some, mastery is a 9.0 on IELTS. For others, it is a 7.0.

Mastery depends on your own perspective. It is based on what you need at that moment. Once you define your purpose for learning, you need to set clear goals so you can understand the path that you are on.

After you’ve set your goals, you have to diagnose yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Take a full practice test. Make sure that you do it like you would do a real exam: no interruptions, no interference, no support. Turn off your phone, tell your mom you’re busy, feed your dog, and then lock your bedroom door. Just you alone in your room with a pen and a paper for 3 hours.

Then you can understand how far you have to go, and what support you might need to get you there. If you are scoring a 5.0 when you need a 7.0, you might consider taking a full preparation course. But if you are scoring a 6.5, you probably only need a few private lessons for some skill training and guidance.

If you are training to run a 42 kilometer marathon, you need to understand how far you can run right now.

If you are training for a 3 hour test, you need to understand how well you can score right now.

Did you learn something? Help your friends to learn too!

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