‘I get nervous when I don’t get nervous. If I’m nervous, I know I’m going to have a good show.’ – Beyoncé Knowles
The pounding heartbeat, the knots in your stomach, feeling breathless or panicky – whilst unpleasant, these are all perfectly normal symptoms for anyone about to perform on stage or give a lecture in front of other people. We call them ‘nerves’ and they are perfectly normal before an exam, too.
Out of all 4 papers of the IELTS exam, it seems that many candidates fear the Speaking test the most. It is a kind of ‘performance’ in front of someone they’ve never met before AND they will be assessed on it!
It’s enough to make you feel sick just at the thought! By now, you may be worrying that your nervousness will affect your success, which in turn can make you even more nervous! But there are plenty of things you can do in advance and on the day to break that cycle, calm your nerves beforehand and keep your cool in the exam.
Why do people think the Speaking test will be scary?
• because it puts the test-taker on the spot – there’s less time to think about your response and this is stressful
• you’re in a one-on-one scenario with a stranger (who might seem a little scary)
• it can feel like a performance and some students get ‘stage-fright’ or feel very shy
• you might worry that nerves will overcome you and you will have a mental blank
• you might worry that you won’t understand the examiner’s questions
What can you do to prepare mentally before the test?
1. Know how you’ll be assessed
The examiner will be looking out for a number of things:
How you communicate your opinions and other information about everyday topics through answers to a range of questions
How you speak at length on a topic
How you organise your thoughts and express these in a coherent way
How you analyse, discuss and speculate about commonly-discussed issues
2. Know how you’ll be marked
You’ll be marked on the following:
Fluency and coherence – how comprehensible you are to the examiner
Lexical resource – your use of appropriate, developed vocabulary
Grammatical range and accuracy – your use of proper grammar
Pronunciation – how you say words
3. Read out loud every day to help improve your confidence and fluent pronunciation. You can do this in front of a mirror.
4. Prepare some ideas in advance for Part 1 where the questions are about you – home, work, study, etc – but don’t learn pre-prepared answers by heart as you may not be asked these specific questions on the day
5. Get a buddy and practise speaking English for at least 30 mins every day, particularly asking and answering questions
6. Practise extending your answers by adding details – think about the questions who, what, where, when, how and why. This will help you say more without straying too much from the topic
7. Speak to strangers regularly
8. Talk about new topics
At the end of the day, if you feel well prepared, you will have more confidence.
How can you prepare on the day of the test?
• Make sure that you have slept well the night before
• Spend the hours before the test listening to and speaking English to get you in the right frame of mind
• Dress for success – wearing smart clothes will positively affect your psyche and help you feel more confident and in control
• Be positive – greet the examiner with a smile, make eye contact, be polite (it is good to try to make a positive impression from the very beginning of the test)
• Make sure you arrive well before the start of the test so that you avoid being stressed and flustered and have time to freshen up before you enter the exam room
• Make sure you are not hungry as this will affect your ability to concentrate
• Avoid caffeine as this will hype you up
• Take deep breaths if you are nervous
Remember, every candidate is nervous and the examiner has seen this in every exam he/she has assessed so don’t worry about this!
Tip from an expert: Bryan Dowie, Road to IELTS
‘Treat the Speaking test as a conversation. Be polite in your speech and be engaging. No one is asking you to be perfect, but communicate your ideas thoroughly – do not just say “yes” or “no”, say why you think what you do. It is important to elaborate.’