Everyone knows that vocabulary is really important for the IELTS test, but they don’t always understand why or how to learn it effectively. These are both really important to know, so in this article, I will explain why IELTS vocabulary is so important and what that means for your learning strategies.
Why is vocabulary so important for IELTS?
First of all, you need to remember that IELTS is fundamentally an English test. People seem to get so caught up in exam strategies that they forget this important fact.
When it comes to English, like any other language, vocabulary is the most important thing. Even if you did not know any grammar, you could still convey important ideas. If you said “water,” someone would know that you want or need water. Of course, “I need water” is more effective, but just the vocabulary alone is the most fundamental part.
In IELTS, you need a balance of vocabulary and grammar. With only one of them, you would not be able to get a high score. That means you need to know a lot of grammatical rules and a lot of vocabulary. However, it is not enough just to learn long lists of words.
What do the examiners look for in terms of vocabulary?
In the IELTS test, vocabulary serves different purposes. Ultimately, you will need it to understand the questions and the content. If you cannot understand those, you have no chance of answering them.
Beyond that, you need to use language accurately in order to get a high score. Knowing lots of words is not enough. These need to be appropriate words in the right order. Many students from East Asia get confused about the difference between “gate” and “door,” for example. To a native speaker of English, there is a big difference, and IELTS examiners would penalise you for making this sort of mistake.
Some people focus on the importance of “uncommon vocabulary,” but this does not mean what candidates think it means. You would get a terrible score if you just recited random long words from the middle of the dictionary! Instead, you should use appropriate IELTS vocabulary at all times. By “uncommon,” they mean words that are specific and perhaps not in daily use.
For example, let’s take the topic of health. It is perfectly fine to say “he feels sick,” but “he feels nauseous” is more specific. The language is not very uncommon but it is appropriate and less common than “sick.” Really, the fundamental thing is conveying a precise image.
One of the biggest problems that IELTS test takers face is getting bad advice from rubbish IELTS websites. Here, unqualified teachers tell them to use certain words for a better score, but this is impossible and illogical!
Some of these words are a bit ridiculous and they are not common in daily language. For example, the word “plethora” is not used by many native speakers, but about 20% of IELTS candidates use this. It drives examiners crazy!
If any website or teacher tells you to memorise a group of words that they claim will give you a higher score, be aware that this is untrue. These words will more than likely lower your score. Just use natural language instead.
How to learn IELTS vocabulary
First of all, there is no such thing as “IELTS vocabulary.” Because the IELTS exam is just about speaking English, there is nothing specific to it. Any native speaker would get a band 9 because they can speak English fluently.
The important thing to note here is that you need a wide range of vocabulary and that you should not use words unless you are comfortable with them. That means you should not learn a long list of obscure words and attempt to cram them into a strange context. This would only serve to lower your score.
Instead, you must learn vocabulary systematically. The best way is to learn from context. This can be a little slow, but it is very effective. This means reading and listening often, then looking up words that you hear.
The other approach is to learn lists of vocabulary for set topics. Don’t try to learn too many. Just about 6 or 8 words a day is fine. Make sure that you learn how to use these or else they are useless. This is faster but it is harder to use them accurately.
More advice about effectively learning vocabulary
If you really want to speed up your language learning skills, you need an effective method for studying. You can try programmes like Anki that use spaced repetition. There are many similar apps available for your phone or tablet nowadays. You can also use a notebook and pretty much do the same thing by yourself.
The whole point is to learn a new word and then embed it in your brain so that you can use it effectively when the time comes. The process of memorisation is important, but try to always use example sentences so that you are not just learning it isolated from context.
A great way of doing this is to learn chunks of language. That means a group of words instead of just one word. Let’s take the word “agreeable.” Once we know the meaning, we need to know how to use it in a sentence. We often say “find (something) agreeable.” We can also say “appear agreeable (to someone).” By learning these two phrases and practicing with different examples, we can learn efficiently. This will help us avoid common and serious errors.
Vocabulary is really important when it comes to learning English and succeeding in the IELTS test. You simply cannot expect a good score without a good vocabulary. However, you should not focus on traditional modes of rote memorisation. Instead, take a more dynamic approach so that you can actually use your newfound language with accuracy and confidence. This will give you the best possible chance of a high band score in your next test.