Tips on how to help students cope with stress during exams

Despite good intentions, advising students to relax and be confident before an exam can be as useful as telling someone experiencing injustice to calm down. These natural responses to help the situation are often counter productive, and a casual glance online for ideas on coping with exam stress all largely emphasise the importance of deep breathing and positive thinking. However, although such techniques work for some students, not everyone benefits from them, so this blog is going to explore other more practical suggestions to consider (for those whose minds simply cannot switch off the anxiety, however deeply they try to breathe).

Prepare as much as possible!

If every step is taken to understand what to expect on exam day, students can be confident in the knowledge there will be no unpleasant surprises in the test centre. A great deal of anxiety derives from imagining the worst because the mind habitually wanders when insufficient research has led to having no clue what to actually expect. The official IELTS website offers plenty of resources explaining the process students will go through on the day of their exam, and even provides a virtual simulation of the test itself, which should give some reassurance to those feeling nervous.

Speak to previous candidates.

Seeking advice from others who have recently taken the exam will also go someway towards putting minds at rest, as this provides the opportunity to ask any questions about specific concerns. There is no exhaustive list that covers every cause of exam anxiety, so the chance to talk with someone who has been in the same situation should help to relieve some of the panic.

Look at past papers.

These are undoubtedly one of the best types of preparation practice as the IELTS format is very structured, and once candidates have done enough similar practice exercises, they will have covered all the most common questions they can expect to face on the day. Consequently, answering these questions in the correct way will become second nature.

Remain stimulated!

Of course revision is important, but you should encourage your students to make sure the amount is not excessive – spending the entire day inside the house without seeing other people or doing the occasional nice thing will eventually hinder their revision efforts. The brain can only take so much – everyone has been in the situation where they have read the same paragraph three times without understanding it at all. Students should take a moment to make themselves some decent food or go out for a quick walk, then go back to revising afterwards so they will see it from a fresher perspective. There is a reason why so many companies these days have ping pong tables in their break out areas, because short bursts of physical exercise help freshen the mind.

Lastly, tell your students that it is natural to feel nervous, but if they have prepared, and know they are capable of passing the exam, they will manage to do so. The examiners don’t want to fail candidates – they want to pass them, and they will be looking for ways to do so.

Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at

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