IELTS I've got this logo

Using body language to reduce stress levels and improve IELTS performance


Test Takers


How to study

Date Published

01 February 2023

  • This article was first published on (this website is now closed)

Have you ever heard the expression 'fake it till you make it'? In today's blog I'm going to explore how by 'faking' relaxation and confidence in your body language during the Speaking test, you can impact both your stress levels and your performance.

Research in a field called ‘embedded cognition’ has shown that our brain and our bodies are connected in a two-way relationship. Most people know that how we feel can impact our body language, which is why we hang our head when we’re sad or fidget when we’re nervous.

However, embedded cognition has found that body language also impacts the function of our brain and that we can trick our brains into a different mood by faking the body language associated with that mood. Doing this successfully in a high-stress situation like an exam takes a little preparation, so here is my step-by-step guide to faking it:

1. Look at your current body language

First, spend some time watching yourself in situations where you’re confident and relaxed. At dinner with your family, perhaps, or chatting online with a friend. How do you sit? What position is natural for your feet? What do you usually do with your hands? How do you hold your shoulders and your head? How long do you usually hold eye contact? Where do you look when you break eye contact naturally? Do you smile? It is really important to find out what your body language is like when you’re confident and relaxed because you’re not trying to fake being someone else during the exam, you’re trying to fake a confident, relaxed you.

Having said that, if you’re often told that you need to speak up, try sitting up taller. People who sit more upright tend to speak more clearly and seem more confident than people who slouch. This is because when we hunch, we don’t get enough air to project our words clearly to our listeners.

2. Tell your brain "I'm confident and relaxed"

Once you have established which physical clues tell your brain “I’m confident and relaxed”, spend some time practising getting into a relaxed and confident position on command. Place a chair at a table and, if you can, a mirror on top. Alternatively, open a one-person chat meeting or your camera so you can see yourself. Sit down and adjust your body to your ‘confident’ pose, starting at the feet and working your way up.

3. Put on an outfit that makes you feel confident

On the day of the exam, put on an outfit that makes you feel confident. It doesn’t matter if this is formal or informal as long as it makes you comfortable. Play your favourite music, eat your favourite breakfast, call your favourite person. Do anything that makes you feel positive, relaxed and empowered. If you can, walk some part of the way to the exam. Walk in a way that says: “I’m on a mission. I’m a VIP on my way to success”. That may sound a bit cheesy, but there’s nothing like moving with purpose to tell your brain: “I’m feeling confident.”

4. Adjust your body to your usual ‘confidence’ position

When you enter the exam room and sit down, make sure that you take a minute to adjust your body to your usual ‘confidence’ position. Start at the feet and work your way up. If you don’t usually smile, even when you’re happy and relaxed, let your face assume your own expression of relaxed confidence, even if you might not feel like it at that moment. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself throughout the exam to breathe: shallow breathing leads to robotic intonation and can make it difficult to understand what you’re saying. It may also lead to you breaking your sentences in unnatural places simply because you have to take a breath.

5. Recognise the examiner as a human being

Also take a moment to recognise the examiner as a human being. This will allow you to communicate with them more naturally, rather than ‘talking at them’ since your volume and pace will be more natural and thus much clearer.

Remember that they are there to do a job, just as you are and that they hold no real power over you as a person, no matter how intimidating the situation may seem to you. If you adopt a body language that says you are a friendly equal to the examiner, it reduces your stress levels, enhances your ability to understand questions and frees up your brain to think faster and come up with better answers. You are also a lot less likely to ‘freeze’ during the exam, because your body is telling your brain: We’ve got this! I’m not worried. Do your thing.”

Top tip!

Before the test, wriggle your toes for a few seconds. There are a lot of nerve endings in your feed and wriggling your toes will cheer you up, help you relax and stimulate your brain.

You will probably still be a little nervous before the exam: that is the adrenaline being released into your body. Embrace it! It’s a sign that your body and your brain are ready for the task!