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Vocabulary: Ten Strategies for Winning on Test Day

Published on January 15, 2018

“What’s that in English?” - Is this question common for you? You clearly know the word in your language, but not in English. And thus we present one of the most challenging part of learning a language, which is learning vocabulary. Because IELTS is a language test, it follows that vocabulary is a critical part of how you’re scored. Both the writing and speaking tests score you on lexical resource, which means vocabulary. It is worth 25%. Likewise, on the reading and listening exams, not knowing enough vocab can make the tests very difficult. So what is the best way to prep your vocabulary for the exams? Check out the following ten ways.

1. Using your own words

A key skill required on the IELTS speaking and writing tests is paraphrasing. This is using different words to explain the same thing. Paraphrasing makes things clearer. Furthermore, it helps us talk or write about things we don’t know the word for. For example, imagine you want to mention windshield on your car, but you don’t know this particular word. You might paraphrase by saying the car’s front window

2. Wide-ranging and accurate

If you are looking for an IELTS 7, 8, and 9, you should be able to use sophisticated language to explain, justify, and exemplify the topic. What does this mean? When speaking about a particular topic, you want to accurately use key words. For example, if a question on the speaking exam is about Winter Weather, you should try to accurately use language about that topic. So, you might use winter terms like blizzard, frost, black ice, and frigid climate.

3. Word keys

Word keys, a.k.a. glossaries, are the keyword boxes tests, most commonly the reading test. They’re there to help and could be an important part to help you understand the text. So, don’t forget to check and use them. Note: there is a glossary at the end of this blog.

4. Idiomatic language

Idioms are expressions that have a special meaning different than the words that are in it. For example , it’s raining cats and dogs. Figurative language is part of everyday English. IELTS expected you to catch the meaning, if you want a higher score. So when you are working at your IELTS, highlight the idioms.

5. Reviewing

To reach an IELTS 7 level of English takes 1000s of hours of learning time. During those 1000s of hours, you have learned 1000s of words. One of the most important things to remember when learning English, is that you have to review. So, go back and read your old notes and try and use some of those words you learned a long time ago. Use it or lose it!

6. Using words from the test booklet

Don’t do it. Copying vocab from the test book when doing your writing exam will lessen your chance of scoring high on the test. Many test-takers use words from the test book because it is easy. Paraphrase and use synonyms instead. Find your voice! You won’t regret it.

7. Spell it right!

Unluckily, the IELTS is not friendly to poor spellers. For the reading, listening, and writing exams, spelling is a must. You will lose marks if you spell incorrectly. However, don’t worry too much about the difference between British, American, and Canadian spellings. You probably won’t lose marks for that. So, put your spell checker down and focus on spelling when you study.

8. Formal language

To score higher than 6, you need to show understanding of the difference between informal and formal language. This is especially true on Task 1 of the writing exams. For the letter writing on the General exam, formal language must be used when you are writing to people like your manager, or the director of a school. If the letter is to a friend or family member, you’ll be expected to use a more informal way of writing. During the speaking test, just be natural. Imagine you’re talking with a friend. So, in this case, either formal or informal is ok.

9. Collocative language

Native speakers speak using common groups of words. These groups are what we call collocations. They are words that often go together. For example, bus + stop = bus stop, bus + driver = bus driver, and bus + station = bus station are all collocations. These words often spoken together. However, if we try these ones bus + food = bus food, and bus + captain = bus captain, it sounds really strange. We never say bus captain! So, when you prepare for and take the IELTS, remember to speak like a native speaker and use collocations.

10. Synonyms

Words with the same or close to the same meaning are called synonyms. For instance, pretty, good- looking, and attractive are synonyms for beautiful. The reading and listening tests regularly use synonyms in the questions that match with words in the text. For example, in the reading you will see the word automobile but in the test question, the word vehicle will be used. In the speaking and writing tests, you’ll need to use synonyms rather than being repetitive, if you want the higher scores.





an informal shorter term meaning vocabulary


also know as; another way to say something

figurative language

language found in literature such as poems, and stories that has a colorful or artistic meaning.

a must

advice about something you really should do