First, you must learn vocabulary for IELTS. Next, you must learn how to use your lexical resource.
To best use your lexical resource, you must understand how IELTS exam writers and examiners assess your vocabulary.
IELTS Academic Reading and Listening
Recognising synonyms comes top of the IELTS superpower list.
You can learn skills that will help guide you to the answer, even when you don’t know the vocabulary.
For example, looking at the root of a word and looking at the surrounding grammar can help you.
Our video course on IELTS Reading explains more.
Important tip: use the same form of the word as in the listening or reading.
If the reading has ‘cars’ but you write ‘car’, the marker will mark your answer incorrect.
In the same way, if your spell ‘perfume’ as ‘parfum’, you will not get the mark.
How to use Vocabulary for IELTS Speaking
Both Academic and General candidates take the same IELTS Speaking test. As a result, you can use academic or general English.
The IELTS descriptors judge your vocabulary according to the following criteria in the Speaking module.
I have put in bold the key areas that change as we progress up the band scores…
• has a wide enough vocabulary to discuss topics at length and make meaning clear in spite of inappropriacies
• generally paraphrases successfully
• uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics
• uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices
• uses paraphrase effectively
• uses a wide vocabulary resource readily and flexibly to convey precise meaning
• uses less common and idiomatic vocabulary skilfully, with occasional inaccuracies
• uses paraphrase effectively as required
• uses vocabulary with full flexibility and precision in all topics
• uses idiomatic language naturally and accurately
The Biggest Vocabulary Mistake Test Candidates Make for IELTS Speaking
On the day of the test, you should just speak. Don’t pause to try to find a better word. On test day, you should use the vocabulary you own – not the vocabulary you learnt yesterday.
Why? The ability to paraphrase counts as one of the most significant differences between a 6.0 and a 7.0. Pausing for too long gives the impression you lack vocabulary.
You will also lose marks for Fluency and Coherence (due to your hesitation). In addition, your Pronunciation score will drop, since hesitation affects your intonation.
How To Use Vocabulary for IELTS Writing
The descriptors judge you with the same criteria for Task 1 and Task 2.
Below I have pasted what the descriptors say about Lexical Resource for writing. I have highlighted the key areas that differentiate the band scores.
• uses adequate range of vocabulary for the task
• attempts to use less common vocabulary but with some inaccuracy
• makes some errors in spelling and/or word formation, but they do not impede communication
• sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision
• less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation
• may produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling …
• uses a wide range of vocabulary fluently and flexibly to convey precise meanings
• skilfully uses less common lexical items but there may be occasional inaccuracies in word choice and collocation
• produces rare errors in spelling and/or word formation
• uses a wide range of vocabulary with very natural and sophisticated control of lexical features; rare minor errors occur only as ‘slips.’
The Biggest Mistake Test Candidates Make
IELTS General Task 1 Writing
Even native speakers seem to struggle with General Task 1.
In everyday life, we don’t use our full range of vocabulary when writing letters. Many just don’t want to sound pretentious – especially native speakers who already have a high level of vocabulary.
However, we must use a wide range of vocabulary ‘with less common lexical items’ to get a high band score.
Another reason for using lower level vocabulary is that we feel everyone will understand.
However, the descriptors judge us in the same way for vocabulary in Task 1 as for Task 2. As a result, we should aim to use the same level of idiomatic language.
We give more advice on how to achieve this level in General Task 1 and other tips in our online video course.
IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
Many find Academic Task 1 the most challenging and yet ignore it because Task 2 gains more marks. However, don’t forget that IELTS rounds down the scores for the Writing test.
For this reason, you must score well in both tasks. We show how IELTS calculates your marks on our video course.
The problem with Academic Task 1 is that you should only describe what the statistics show. This limitation restricts the range of vocabulary you can use.
You can boost your score in Task 2 by targeting vocabulary which fine-tunes the level of changes taking place within the presented data.
For example, you could include collocations such as rapid decline; a significant minority; a tiny fraction … and so on.
Converting statistics into fractions, ratios and percentages can also help to add variety.
Again, we go into more detail about these tactics in our IELTS video course.
General And Academic IELTS Writing Task 2
Many topics reoccur regularly in the test, and you should focus vocabulary learning in these areas.
In Task 2 avoid using a word too many times. An examiner may judge the repetition of words as evidence that you lack vocabulary.
One way to avoid repetition is to highlight keywords in the question and think of synonyms before you start writing.
Using this technique will help to avoid repetition and show a good range of lexical resource.