How to focus on IELTS when your mind is somewhere else

It’s an unsettling time and even the happiest and most positive people among us can’t help but feel down occasionally – especially after reading the news.

Those of you who spent some time on know that I often recommend reading the news online or reading newspaper articles to improve your English.

I’m afraid I have to change that advice now. In fact, I take it back!

1. Stop constantly reading the news.

Now your top priority is to keep calm and stay positive. To do that you need to limit your exposure to the news. I believe you already have the words “Coronavirus” and “COVID-19” in your vocabulary, and at the moment there isn’t much content out there about other things. Most people who panic do so because they see and hear others panic – stay away from that mood, stay withdrawn, unplug your mind from the news. You can’t control the virus, but you CAN control how you feel and react to the situation. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. I’m sure you are already protecting your physical health – so it’s time that you start taking better care of your mental health.

So, from today, promise yourself to read the news no more than once a day – allow your thoughts to spend time away from the hysteria, to recover. That includes news in your first language, too!

2. Instead of consuming, create.

Reading the news is so easy, because it’s on your phone, it’s on your laptop, it’s just so accessible. When you read the news, you passively consume content that upsets you. We need to change that, to make you active and doing things that are GOOD for you. So, whatever device you are using, put IELTS materials there, and make it your ‘go-to activity’ on that device.

  • Instead of reading the news, read an IELTS Reading passage and answer its questions.
  • Instead of Googling stories about Coronavirus online, research ideas for an IELTS essay and then write that essay.
  • Instead of watching a news video online, do a Listening test – that’s at least half an hour spent not thinking about the virus.

Now THAT is what I call advancing your IELTS preparation and wellbeing at the same time!

IELTS content is great for taking your mind off everyday life, because its range of topics is very wide. You get to learn interesting facts from the world of physics, chemistry, psychology, marketing, law and more that you wouldn’t discover otherwise.

3. Take a break from reality.

Some people escape stress by reading a book, others like to watch a movie, whichever works for you – do it, just make sure the book or the movie is in English. Reading a book in English will help you learn new sentence structures, linking words, vocabulary, spelling, increase your reading speed, all at the same time as transporting you into another reality. Watching a movie can improve your Listening skills, Pronunciation, Speaking in general, you can learn some new idioms and expressions, and of course it’s a really fun way to spend an hour!

4. Remember your goal.

To keep your sanity and motivation, keep your eyes on the prize – the reason WHY you are taking IELTS. Because even if you don’t feel this way now, as soon as the situation is contained in your country (and hopefully in the world too), that goal will become even more important to you. Look at Hong Kong, for example – the IELTS exams were suspended there at first, but resumed as soon as the virus was contained. Other countries will follow the same pattern, and you want to be ready.

Remember that you are strong, and you will overcome this hardship. Then start proving it to yourself by preparing to ace your IELTS test!

5. Visualise your success.

You probably heard this one before, that visualising things helps you achieve them. But what does it actually mean ‘to visualise’? Surprisingly, not many people know. It means imagining things in detail, in a POSITIVE way. If you want to take IELTS and pass, don’t imagine going to the test centre, sitting down to do the Listening test and missing half the answers. Don’t imagine yourself failing. Imagine how you calmly sit down, put your headphones on, concentrate and tune out all the distractions, and how one by one you hear the answers and write them down in their spaces. You are focused and confident, you know what you’re doing. This is visualising and it prepares you for success.

Stay healthy and spread positivity around you.

IELTS and COVID-19: global update, info and advice

Nearly everyone in the world is affected by Novel Coronavirus in some way, and we know that many IELTS test takers have questions related to this situation. At the time of writing this IELTS exams are being held normally in most countries, with minimal changes if any.

There are some precautions that IELTS test centres are taking, in particular they are asking people not to attend their test if they have been in contact with anyone suspected to be exposed to COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus), or if they have cough, fever or shortness of breath. People who can’t attend their test because of COVID-19 concerns are asked to call their IELTS test centre to discuss their options of rescheduling for a later date or refunds.

As the majority of IELTS exams are going ahead, if you feel like protecting yourself by wearing a face mask to your exam, you can! The IELTS test centre staff may ask you to remove it for a short time while you are being identified / photographed, but other than that you’re allowed to wear a face mask the entire time of your exam.

In the countries where IELTS testing was temporarily put on hold for the next 2 weeks, the good news is that as soon as the testing is restarted, there will be more dates available and larger venues will be used, to accommodate more test takers. For example, in China the paper-based IELTS capacity will be doubled, and computer-delivered IELTS will be offered 3 times a day, 7 days a week.

All in all, the overall message from IELTS organisation seems to be – if your IELTS plans are affected by the Coronavirus, speak to your test centre and they will do their best to help you.

Is now the time to stop preparing for IELTS? Definitely NOT.

4 Reasons to ramp up your IELTS preparation in the face of Coronavirus:

1. If IELTS testing in your country is running normally, you should take your test while you can. We cannot control decisions made on government level, so let’s make the most of this period of normalcy.

2. If your workplace asked you to work from home, it means you save time commuting! Using that extra half an hour a day to write an essay, do a Listening or a Reading test or practice in answering Speaking questions will give you some noticeable progress. If the event you wanted to go to was cancelled, again – here’s some more time to work on your IELTS skills.

3. Even if testing is temporarily on hold in your country, that time is NOT lost if you use it to prepare for IELTS. Plus it gives you something to do and takes your mind off other things, helping you occupy yourself during the period you have to stay indoors. IELTS preparation is a very immersive activity that makes time fly!

4. Putting your IELTS preparation on hold because of Coronavirus uncertainty is a mistake, because when you stop, you don’t just stop – you actually go backwards as time passes, your level drops and it becomes harder to get it back. Scientists all over the world are working to get COVID-19 under control soon, and when that happens, you want to be READY, not behind!

Take good care of yourself and your family, and think positive thoughts.



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