An extended vocabulary is not only impressive, but it’s also a sign of intelligence and useful in many areas of speaking, reading, and writing. While there isn’t a specific vocabulary section on the IELTS test, expanding your English vocabulary and being able to use a large amount of English words is most helpful in the speaking and reading sections, but sure to bolster your performance in all sections of the test. Below you’ll find a few tips to help you improve your vocabulary and use it to score higher on the IELTS exam.
Strike A Balance Between Passive & Active Learning
Setting aside some time each day to actively learn new terms is the best way to add a large amount of words to your lexicon in a short length of time, but don’t discount the power of passive learning. The best way to learn new words and actually retain them is by using them passively, primarily through reading and listening, with a touch of writing and speaking here and there. With passive learning, you not only learn more words, but you’ll also gain a better, more authentic feel for how they work. The key is to strike a balance between active and passive vocabulary building that keeps you interested, engaged, and challenged.
Learn Academic Words
While vocabulary is one of the easiest and simplest areas of English to develop, it’s a waste of time to focus on learning words that provide little use for the IELTS exam. The IELTS is an academic exam that’s formal in nature, so it’s best to learn academic words that are most often used in academic writing. The University of Nottingham Academic World List (AWL) is a great resource with hundreds of academic terms. You may even be surprised to discover that many of the words aren’t as pedantic as one would assume, and they’re simply some of the most common terms that academics use in their writing.
Think Groups and Phrases
In any language, speakers don’t just use single terms, they use groups of words and phrases in what some language teachers refer to as chunks. Furthermore, words are most often used in speaking and writing in fairly standard groupings or collocations. So as you’re building your vocabulary, focus on learning synonyms and common word combinations of the terms on the AWL. Learning synonyms will be extremely helpful for the reading section of the IELTS exam because the questions often contain synonyms or paraphrases of the words found in the text.
Take a look at what you’ll need to achieve an IELTS band 7 for lexis (vocabulary):
“uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation“
You’ll not only need to write and speak with less commonly used terms, but you should also know the common collocation or grouping of those terms. The topics you’ll speak and write about for the IELTS exam are somewhat everyday topics, such as family and health. Every time you learn a new word relating to these topics, take some time to discover which phrases are most commonly used in combination with that new word. Learning words like this in chunks is much more effective and useful than learning and trying to process and retain single terms.