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Sleep Deprivation: Could it reduce your IELTS score?

by | Jun 5, 2016 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Guess the meanings of the highlighted words!

Most of my students are busy working on their careers and taking IELTS as an extra activity. In the last two weeks before your IELTS, you may be tempted to burn the midnight oil cramming for your test. What I have to say might seem counter-intuitive, but I will try to persuade you to prioritise sleep over study in the last two weeks before your test.

Scientists warn about the ill effects of not getting at least 7 or eight hours of sleep, yet we hear more and more about the long-term consequences such as diabetes or hypertension. However, effects such as these are not likely to ring alarm bells if you are working on your future career and emigration goals, with a view to life in a country with a better health system. Nor are they likely to come as side-effects from moonlightng on your IELTS for 2 to six months. However, there are also significant short-term consequences of sleep deprivation.


In the days before electricity people had oil lamps. If you still had your oil lamp burning at midnight, 1 AM or 2 AM, you were “burning the midnight oil”.

To counter is to go against. Intuition is a sense that something is right. So if something is counter-intuitive it seems to be the opposite of what you would normally think.

So did the fire alarm go off at school? Was it a loud bell? And did it make you scared the first few times you heard it? If something rings alarm bells for you, it means that it makes you worried. If you are anything like me when the school fire alarm rang the 25th false alarm, it stopped the “alarm bells ringing for you, and you weren’t really worried by it!


Ill in older English means bad, so “ill effects” means an effect that is bad.

Some people work 9-5, some people work nights; If you do both at the same time, you are moonlighting.

Could your lack of sleep affect your IELTS score, even if you feel 100% confident that you’ll ace it?

According to various scientific research on how sleep deprivation affects our memory, it seems it could because lack of sleep has been shown to reduce the ability to learn. Studies show that sleep deprivation affects how effectively you perform in a number of key abilities which are needed on IELTS exam day. All of us have lacked sleep and experienced these at some time or other, and you will have experienced these effects and recognise them in the case study below.

From your experience how might working hard late at night affect your performance?
For each pair of alternatives which is most likely A or B.

A student worked until 1 am every night in his last two weeks before his exam and then got up to go to do a full day’s work. On the night before the test he stayed up till 1 pm, then could not fall sleep as his mind was “buzzing like a bee”, giving himself a total of only 4 hours sleep.

Choose A) He could recognise more words because of the hard work he put in during the last two months before the exam. He felt rested, calm and his focus was 100%

OR B) He was tired and stressed. He could not concentrate because of his negative self-talk. He missed one answer and then told himself he had lost his chance. Afterwards he couldn’t focus on the next two questions and he also made a silly spelling mistake when transferring one of his answers to the answer sheet. Because of this, he scored a band lower in listening.

Choose A) He got a question he had planned for the week before the test, but it was slightly different. He was satisfied that he had tailored his answer exactly to the new question.

OR B) He got a question he had planned at 1 AM last Wednesday morning, but he couldn’t remember it properly. He tried hard to recall the special words he had remembered and the introductory phrases, but he couldn’t. It was like looking through smog.

Choose A) One of the reading passages was on a topic which he prepared last week, and he was calm and focused. When he noticed this topic had some new words he didn’t know, he remained confident that he understood 90% of the meaning.

OR B) He always finds True/False/Not Given questions okay. However, this time he made some poor decisions. He realized afterwards, that he made those choices because he was tired and not thinking straight.

Choose A) He still had the energy he needed to get through the test and the examiner smiled at him encouragingly.

OR B) He was so tired after his long exhausting day that he felt he had no energy left. He spent time in a cafe’ eating cakes and drinking coffee for a sugar and caffeine fix, but it was a poor food choice and did not give him the sustained energy he needed. In the exam, the examiner looked blankly at him, and so our student’s first thought was, “He doesn’t like me. He wants to fail me.”  After that, none of the topics he had crammed in the last three days came up in the test. He told himself he could have slept for the whole week and it would have made no difference. He felt very depressed.

Please put your answers and your own opinions in the comment section below. What key abilities were affected by not having enough sleep?

Your brain activity while asleep could make a difference of 0.5 in your IELTS Score

The reason why, the evidence and a calculation.

When we sleep, our brain spends time organising what we have learned. It has been proven that sleep is an essential process; it is necessary to get plenty of sleep so our mind can order, reorder and categorise the information in its neural network, doing this makes the deepest impressions.

This is why you often hear about the disadvantages of cramming for tests late in the night before big college exams, where the success is inconsistent, at best, or absolutely useless, at worst. Studies have been produced over many years, consistently showing higher marks on tests when students get a good night’s sleep. A study at Ghent University and KU Leuven showed students getting 1.7 points higher out of a score of 20 in their first-year university exams when they had more than seven hours sleep on the night before the exam. If this is true for IELTS, which is scored out of 40, it is the difference of 3 points and could easily be the key to going from band 5.5 to 6 or 6.5 to 7, etc.

Coming up next: 8 Tips for Overcoming IELTS-related Sleep Deprivation.

Sleep Tips to Max your IELTS Score

So, now that you have an idea of what are the costs of not getting a good 7 or eight hours of sleep, let’s look at some basic steps you can take to fix your bad habit in the two weeks prior to the IELTS exam.

  1. This first step isn’t the thing you most want to hear – don’t stay up late on the weekend.
  2. Fit time to exercise on a schedule of at minimum 20 min x three days/week.
  3. Don’t drink coffee past 2 p.m.
  4. Create a familiar routine of slowing down before bed (reading a book, shower, warm tea, etc.) Make this a pattern so you associate it with a good nights sleep. This pattern or association will be important for your night before the exam.
  5. Don’t eat late-night snacks.
  6. Make roommates/family aware of your sleep needs, don’t assume they realize it.
  7. Use lavender oils and calming soundtracks to put mind & body in sleep-mode.
  8. Switch off all your electronic devices after 9 pm.
  9. The benefits of getting a full nights rest are not going to come from replacing study time with some social media and entertainment binges before bed. Do not spend too much time at night, in the last two weeks before the test, on social media, watching late-night film or playing video games.
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or loved one to help you stay committed. It’s much harder to disappoint others than it is ourselves, sometimes.

Finally, do study hard, but remember your studies are twice as effective if you sleep well. It is a simple calculation. By getting enough sleep you can double the efficiency of the work you do in the evenings after work, so you can afford to stop studying earlier in the night.

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About Katey

Hi, and welcome to Let’s Talk IELTS! My name is Katey. I am an English Skype tutor who specialises in preparing my students for the IELTS test. I created this website in order to help all individuals looking at taking the IELTS test, to prepare, practice, and improve their point score.



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