Over the last 14 days, I have been wracking my brain trying to think of a topic for this week’s blog post. Here in the Southern Hemisphere (I live in New Zealand), it’s not only the end of the year and the Christmas period, it is also the end of the academic year. Everyone is about to break up from school or leave work for the summer holidays. It’s boiling hot and everyone is tired but at the same time, everyone is feeling festive and there are lots of celebrations, parties and days in the sunshine.
My motivation and my creative ideas have all but stopped for the year and there are too many distractions to concentrate on writing. It got me thinking: if I feel like this, what about all the students preparing for exams? How do they cope at this time of year? Most of the English-speaking world is wrapped up in ‘the festive season’, and even if you yourself are not celebrating, it is likely you will be feeling tired and reflective as 2017 draws to an end. How do you keep motivated and stay on track with your studies with all these distractions?
Well, maybe the answer is to take a break. Yes, that’s right – stop studying for a bit. I know, it may seem like strange advice from an IELTS tutor but take it from me, a short break to refresh your mind can make all the difference. At the beginning of this week, my family and I went away to spend 4 nights at a lake in the mountains. My husband had recognised my end-of-year ‘burn out’ and decided a break would do me good. I disagreed. I had far too much to do. He told me I always said that. He promised me there was wi-fi in the mountains and asked what difference it would make if I wrote my blog from home or from a lakeside cabin. I reluctantly agreed to go. After a long journey, we arrived there to find that actually, there was no wi-fi. In fact, we were an hour away from any cell phone reception.
I felt a sense of panic. I had begun the journey with what’s known as ‘writer’s block’ (when you haven’t got any ideas to write about) and now, to top it off, I didn’t have any internet connection to research ideas or to publish anything I did manage to write! “Relax!” said my husband, “there’s nothing you can do about it now anyway. Just switch off for a few days.”
So I followed his advice. I did nothing. For two whole days. Well, when I say ‘I did nothing’, I actually did two mountain walks, explored some caves, tried line-fishing from the shore, swam in the lake and played card games with my children. And guess what? On the evening of Day 2, my creative juices started flowing. For the first time in 14 days, I had an idea of what to write about for this blog post. I started drafting it as the kids lay fast asleep in bed that night, and by the following morning, not only had I pretty much finished this article, I had also written the first story for a series of children’s books that I had been planning in my head for four and a half years but had never known where to start! I read the complete first chapter to my sons over breakfast and they were thrilled with what I’d done.
So my advice to you, in this last month of the year, is to relax and enjoy it. Pace yourself with your studies and make sure you have a good study/life balance. Take the pressure off yourself for a little bit. Take some time away from study, and English too if necessary. Relax and spend time with your favourite people. I guarantee, you will feel better and perform better in the long-run. It’s exactly what my husband said to me last week and it turns out he was right!
And if you are one of those celebrating this season and attending parties and social events, make the most of the opportunity to get out and actually use your English. Engage in conversations with strangers and new acquaintances on the personal information topics that you are likely to get in your Speaking exam; practise all those new phrasal verbs you have been memorising; discuss your opinions about current affairs and global issues with your friends and broaden your outlook on the sort of topics you are likely to get in your Writing Part 2.