Jane Birkenhead, March 22 2024

It's OK to Ask for Help

“It’s ok to ask for help.” This is a message that's often shared during Mental Health Awareness Week, but I think it's something that anyone studying for an exam should be reminded of all year round. Let’s focus specifically on what it means for TOEFL and IELTS exam preparation.

Exam preparation has changed enormously in the last few years. When I first started teaching TOEFL students (about 9 years ago), I taught a lot of students who were completely new to the exam. Now, just about all of my students have taken the exam many times before they come to lessons with me.

There’s a huge amount of online resources to guide you through each stage of the TOEFL and IELTS exams. You can find free advice, strategies, practice questions, templates, tips and so much more after just a quick Google search. A lot of these resources are great and helpful but I’ve noticed a shift in my students’ perspective of them recently. There’s almost a belief that because all these resources exist, then that’s all that’s required to be successful and to achieve target scores.

When I first started teaching, students were frustrated about their progress, or the requirements of the exam, or both. Nowadays, students are still frustrated about these things but there’s something else present too. It’s a feeling of embarrassment that, despite all these free online riches, they still haven’t been able to get their scores.

TOEFL and IELTS are both fully comprehensive English proficiency exams. In order to prepare for them, you need to absorb an enormous amount of material. If you’ve been speaking English for a long time, it’s likely that you’ve acquired that knowledge over many years and some of it may be unused and forgotten until you start to prepare for exams. Then there are exam strategies to consider for each exam too. It’s very natural to feel over-whelmed and to wonder what to do with all this material.

There is absolutely nothing to feel embarrassed about if you haven’t been able to get your target scores even though you’ve consumed hours of YouTube videos, read all the comments in various groups, memorized templates and practiced all the past questions. You may have worked incredibly hard but it’s likely that your focus has been misdirected.

An experienced, professional teacher can help you sort out what you know, what you need to know and what you need to practice to get better. They will give you feedback to help you and guide you. They will ensure that every single minute of your study time is used effectively and they will work with you towards your success.

So, if you’re feeling lost, confused and even embarrassed, then it really is ok to ask for help.

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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