Developing Vocabulary for IELTS

OK. So you know that vocabulary is important for IELTS. But really, did you know it is THE most important factor in increasing your band score? So what do I mean by vocabulary? Good vocabulary does not mean big words. In fact, quite the opposite. Having a good vocabulary means using:

  • Collocations e.g. bar of soap, utterly stupid etc.
  • Common phrasal verbs e.g. ask around, break down etc.
  • Fixed and semi-fixed expressions eg. little did I know, all of a sudden
  • Less commonly used words and phrases e.g. interpersonal skills, broaden my horizons, human existence

So how does one go about developing a good vocabulary that can enable you to get a better band score? Here’s what I tell my students:

1. Read, read, read – Reading is one of the best ways of developing a good vocabulary. This is because – unlike listening – reading allows you to set the pace.

You can slow down, pause, look up a word in the dictionary, look up it’s synonyms in a thesaurus, look up it’s usage in an online concordance, personalize and write down new vocabulary in a notebook. All of these steps are crucial in ‘making a word / phrase your own’.

What should you read?

2. Listen, listen, listen – Reading is not the only way to improve your vocabulary. Listening allows you to hear how words are used in speech – and remember, speaking is a more important form of communication than writing. Listening is also very important to learn how to pronounce new words.

Most students, however, say listening is boring. My answer is – listening without a purpose is boring. If you have a purpose, if you want to find out something – listening is meaningful. Remember that in the IELTS exam, you will be listening to answer a set of questions. Practise listening the same way – to answer question, to find out something, and you’ll find listening is not a boring activity at all.

What should you listen to?


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