What if you could find motivation to study English every day?
It is very important for English learners to study and practice English everyday, but I want to give everyone preparing for a test some great advice today.
Specifically, I want to adapt a way of thinking that makes amazing things possible, like winning gold medals.
I will then show how you can apply it to IELTS preparation (or whatever test you plan to take).
The Right Way to Think About Tests
In theory, tests should show us where a student is in relation to the information they should have learned and what they actually seem to know. I agree this is a necessary aspect of learning if thought of correctly. People usually don’t think about tests correctly, though.
Students and teachers end up focusing so much on how to pass the test that it becomes the only thing that matters. Once the test tells us we’re okay, we quickly begin to forget everything as we move to the next item on the checklist.
What I’m suggesting is a different way to think about tests, where tests are simply a part of a routine–a habit of continual study and learning.
“Don’t think of a test as the end goal. Think of it as a stepping stone on the way to learning.” - Tweet This
I think once you start thinking of tests in this way, the advice below will help you reach your goals much faster.
What is Habit Training?
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg sharesresearch on and gives real life examples of habits and how we can train them to help us do great things.
I won’t go into everything here, but let me introduce some main ideas and then give you some tips for applying them to your IELTS preparation, or whatever test you would need to take.
First, there is the idea of the Habit Loop. This consists of three things: cue (a trigger), routine (the action), and reward (the positive effect of the routine).
Most of our lives revolve around habits. Scientists say it’s how we manage to do so much without our brains constantly working in overdrive. This being said, habits really are very difficult to change, but the Habit Loop can be edited in a way that it results in the positive outcome we desire.
One other main idea is what are known as keystone habits. These are major habits that usually cause other habits in our life to change too.
The keystone habit that you should focus on as an English learner is studying.
IELTS Preparation as an Example of a Keystone Habit
1. Create a schedule of small victories
One characteristic of a Keystone habit is that it will create small wins that lead up to a larger goal.
Your immediate larger goal is to get a higher band on the IELTS. So by thinking of ways to break your preparation up into small victories, you’re increasing your chances of making your studies an automatic routine you do everyday (the definition of a habit).
For example, you might work with a teacher to create a list of everything you need to study. Write down Speaking, Listening, Writing, and Reading, and then fill each category with topics. Then, identify what equals success for each of those topics. When you are successful, stop and celebrate in a special way.
2. Build up other habits or rituals around your studies
The ‘cue phase’ of the Habit Loop is really important. We can change the ‘routine phase’, but it’s difficult to create new cues.
To make more habits around your study time makes it a time that you protect even more–it will be more valuable to you. So think about cues that lead up to your study time.
If you study for the IELTS first thing in the morning, your alarm clock is probably your first cue. Instead of going straight into studying, you might do some stretches to a song you really like. This will wake you up and prepare your mind for better studying (the reward).
You could also end your study time with some mental image training. Maybe your cue is a hungry stomach. This tells you it’s time to stop studying and eat breakfast. But before breakfast, stop and close your eyes. Imagine being in the test area, what the environment is like, what distractions there might be, anything you can think of. But in this image, you are always doing great on the test. You’re not nervous, and everything is easy to answer.
3. Regardless of your score, you are a winner
Mastering a keystone habit is powerful because it changes how we see ourself.
Remember, the IELTS is a test. It is not the end goal. It gives you an idea of where you are in your English ability (based on the test makers’ opinions).
Your IELTS preparation and the test day are really part of one bigger goal. That is your goal to speak English fluently so you can make new friends, understand more information, or travel and work anywhere in the world.
If you go in on test day and can’t remember something, remember your image training. Relax, and just answer like nothing was wrong. Persevere to the end. When you finish, reward yourself, and the next morning, your alarm clock rings and your habit of studying continues. The test was just part of your routine to learn English.
The habit is the true success. If you don’t get a 7.1 band like you wanted, that’s fine. There will be more test dates, more time for preparation.
You now have a solid habit of studying. Because of that, you will succeed with the IELTS, any other test, and the perseverance you have gained will give you a necessary skill to do anything in life you want to.