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Never assume you’ve failed in the IELTS test

We have discussed in the past how important it is to be psychologically prepared for the IELTS test and I’d like to go back to that discussion. It happens to many people during their exams that something unexpected happens and they panic. Some test takers assume they have failed (without even knowing it for sure) and naturally that affects their performance.

Here are a couple of a real life examples (the names are not real, but the stories are).

Alan wrote me a letter and asked: “I was in the middle of my Speaking exam, answering the Cue card and after I have talked for what felt to me like 2 minutes, I stopped. I was sitting there in silence until the examiner gave me a sign to continue because obviously he wanted me to keep going. Do you think that will significantly affect my score?”


I thought that this incident shouldn’t affect the score because Alan picked up right after the examiner asked him to continue. To verify my guess Alan and I agreed that when he gets his score, he’ll let me know. Alan got 8 in the Speaking test (no, he is not a native speaker)! If he had panicked and messed up the rest of his test, there is no way his score would have been anywhere near Band 8.

Sandra sent me an email and asked: “I have written an off-topic essay. I misunderstood the topic and wrote about something related, but different. Have I failed, how much marks will I lose?”.

I do know that writing off-topic is penalized, but have no idea how many marks exactly are deducted. Sandra and I decided to conduct a little experiment, I asked how much does she think the essay would get assuming it was on topic, she said 6.5 – 7 and agreed to let me know her score when it arrives. Her Writing score was Band 6, which probably means that the assessor deducted between 0.5 and 1 Band for the off-topic penalty.

What I’m trying to say here is this: it’s not over until it’s over. There are parts of the IELTS assessment that are confidential and in many cases we may think that something will ruin our score when in fact it may affect it a little or not at all.

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