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Tips for exam day

Eating your way to IELTS success

Whatever your level of English, whatever band you need, and however well prepared you think you are, there are things you can do on IELTS day which will increase your chances of success.

Have breakfast

You’ve heard it before – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is especially true before an exam. There are many studies which have found that people who skip breakfast find it harder to concentrate than those who start off the day with healthy meal. If you have breakfast, you will be able to recall things more easily, improve your ability to solve problems, and feel more mentally alert. These are all good things for an exam.

The problem is that, when you’re nervous, the last thing you feel like doing is eating. This is because of your body’s stress response. In pre-historic times, when we felt stressed it was usually because we were in danger. The fight-flight response was most appropriate. And it’s easier to fight or run away on an empty stomach. You’re not going to be doing either of these on IELTS day (hopefully). So, start the day by feeding your brain.

Keep it healthy

Have I persuaded you to have breakfast? Well, here’s the bad news. A cappuccino and a sugar donut, or a chocolate bar and an energy drink may sound like great ways to start the day, but they are not going to help you in an exam. Unfortunately, the ‘hit’ from caffeine and sugar is short-lived.

Caffeine does improve your concentration, but only in the short term and you will be left with less energy than you started. The problem is that caffeine works by stimulating your nervous system. Your blood pressure and heart rate go up and you feel more ‘on edge’ or stressed. That’s going to work against you. The only caution here is that if you’re a caffeine addict, then going without your morning coffee(s) can give you headaches and make you feel nauseous (and, yes, I am speaking from experience).

Donuts, chocolate bars and muffins will give you sugar rush, but we call it a ‘sugar rush’ because it’s over quickly. And after you’ve crashed down from a sugar high, you will find it very hard to concentrate. You will feel as if your energy has all drained out of you. The IELTS is a long exam. You need to keep your blood sugar relatively stable for the whole of the exam. The key to doing this is eating healthily.

So, what should you eat? Well, studies have found that protein helps people concentrate. For your special IELTS breakfast, combine protein-rich food like eggs, milk, nuts, yoghurt, tuna, chicken, turkey or beef, together with slowly digested carbohydrates such as whole grain cereals or bread which will slowly release sugar into your system.

Drink enough water

Have you ever been in an exam and found yourself staring blankly at the paper, unable to take in any information? It’s very likely that part of the reason for this was dehydration. You need to drink enough water. If you feel thirsty, it’s too late. That means that you’ve already become dehydrated.

You are not supposed to drink anything during the IELTS. However, some centres will let you. This seems to be especially true in hotter countries. It’s a good idea to check first. If you can drink during the exam, then take small sips at regular intervals. If you can’t drink during the exam, then you need to drink in advance.

The obvious disadvantage to drinking a lot of water is that you run the risk of having to rush out to the bathroom all the time. You need to time things well so that you drink enough liquid to be mentally alert, but you don’t need to leave the room.

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