Good Vocabulary Habits for Passing the IELTS Exam

The amount of vocabulary you need to take the IELTS exam can seem like an impossible mountain to climb, but if you follow these guidelines you’ll prepare yourself well and be sure to get the grades you need.

1. Become a word collector

All good English teachers will insist that you speak only English in classes and you should do your best to take this outside of the classroom. It’s always tempting to read and speak your native language but try and resist. 

It really doesn’t matter whether you read newspapers, magazines or books but it does matter that you read them in English. You may not understand every single word but see that as an opportunity to collect new words. The BBC have a great website for English learners which includes a ‘Word of the Day’ and a section on ‘Words in the News’ where you can listen to and read current news reports.

Do you always carry a notebook? If not why not start. You don’t have to stop reading to look up a word but you can quickly write it down and look it up later. Once you’ve got the definition look at it in context. Again try to use an English to English dictionary alongside your translation dictionary. Translations can sometimes be inaccurate. If you prefer to use technology use your mobile or tablet to record new words and study them when you get home.

2. Use a dictionary

There’s more than definitions in dictionaries. You can also see which word form the word fits into, its pronunciation and how to use it. The phonemic chart might look like an ancient language to you but using an interactive chart will help you with the sounds.

3. Organise your vocabulary

There are many ways you can organise your collection of new words for the IELTS exam, and most people have their own method of doing it. Many will just write down the word, the translation and the definition. Why not take it to another level and also:

  • Use the word in a sentence to put it into context
  • Write down the word form.  Is it a verb?  Is it a noun?  Is it both?
  • What are the antonyms?  What are the synonyms?  Why not buy a Thesaurus?
  • What are the collocations?
  • Is it a verb?  Are there any phrasal verbs using it?
  • Everybody has different ways of learning.  Visual learners will find Mind Maps or Vocab Trees helpful. Again the BBC can help you with some templates and ideas.

4. Divide your IELTS vocabulary into topics

The IELTS Speaking Test will ask you to speak about a topic for two minutes. The topics are varied and you won’t know which one you will be tested on. The best way to prepare for this is to PRACTISE, PRACTISE, and PRACTISE. This website focuses on the most likely topic range and gives you IELTS-style practice tests. Any new vocab you learn while practising will also help you in other parts of the exam.

Get into these habits and you will find that your collection of vocabulary will increase rapidly. Good luck!

Written by Gill Balfour, Editor and Counsellor Liaison. 

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