Learning new vocabulary and understanding how your Lexical resource band score is determined in the IELTS test will help you to achieve the best possible result. This vocabulary guide will show you useful tips and strategies to improve your vocabulary, and point you in the right direction of our other vocabulary guides on common IELTS writing topics.
Table of Contents
- What is Lexical Resource?
- How Your Lexical Resource Score is Decided
- Learning New Vocabulary
1. What is Lexical Resource?
Vocabulary in the IELTS writing test is referred to as your Lexical resource and it makes up 25% of your overall score in both the writing and speaking parts of the exam.
Many candidates say their biggest problem when preparing for the IELTS test is their vocabulary. Have you ever found yourself trying to learn long lists of words? Or trying to cram in as many words as you can into your memory moments before the test? We are going to share some advice on the best ways to learn and remember vocabulary effectively.
2. How Your Lexical Resource Score is Decided
The examiner will mainly focus on the range and accuracy of vocabulary you use in your speaking and writing. This means that you need to:
- Avoid repetition
- Use a mixture of common and uncommon vocabulary
- Avoid spelling mistakes
There are also other things the examiner will be looking for. These are:
- Accurate use of collocations
- Range and accurate use of topic-specific vocabulary
- Clear communication
2.1 Avoiding repetition
Using a range of vocabulary also includes avoiding words and phrases given to you in an IELTS statement, as well as repeating your own ideas.
Being able to paraphrase is a key skill to help you avoid repetition throughout your writing and speaking.
Take a look at our guide to paraphrasing for top tips and examples.
You also need to refer back or forward to people, places and things you mention in your responses. Compare these two examples:
- Children should be able to choose the subjects children want to study.
- Children should be able to choose the subjects they want to study.
In the second example, we have used the pronoun ‘they’ to replace the noun ‘children’. This is a simple example, but it is often the case that test takers do not take the time to look through their work to notice the repetition of words and phrases that could be replaced with a synonym or pronoun. Five minutes at the end of the test could make a big difference.
2.2 Using common and uncommon vocabulary
The reason we are mentioning both common and uncommon vocabulary here is that it is unnatural to use only uncommon or academic vocabulary in your speech and writing. Have a look at these examples:
- The threat of nuclear weapons maintains world peace.
- The intimidation of atomic accouterments cultivates global reconciliation.
In the second example, we have run nearly every word through a thesaurus. Note how it sounds very unnatural, even though ‘uncommon vocabulary’ has been used. You need to feel confident using this language and strike a balance between common and more unusual vocabulary.
Uncommon vocabulary, like idioms and phrasal verbs, are more appropriate in the speaking section of the exam than writing. For the writing section of the exam, we suggest you avoid phrasal verbs and idioms (although some idiomatic expressions may be appropriate for writing task 2).
2.3 Avoiding spelling mistakes
Spelling is important in the written section of the exam. The fewer spelling mistakes you make, the higher your score in Lexical resources could be.
Candidates often ask ‘how many spelling mistakes’ they can make for each band score, but the answer is not as simple as this. Basically, If you make so many spelling mistakes that it causes difficulty for the examiner to understand your writing then you will likely score a band score 5.0 in Lexical resources. If your spelling errors are very infrequent, you may be able to achieve a band score 7.0 and above.
Your spelling mistakes are something that you need to take responsibility for. A teacher can highlight your mistakes, but you need to put in the hard work to learn the correct spelling. Spelling errors are often referred to as ‘fossilised errors’ which means that, just like the fossil of a dinosaur, the mistake has been formed a long time ago and can only be changed through practice and repetition.
To improve your spelling you could consider:
- Recording your mistakes in a notebook
- Creating flashcards of common errors
- Ask a teacher, or even a family member or friend to test you on your mistakes
Remember, it is a great idea to look at common spelling mistakes made by IELTS candidates, but some errors will be unique to you… write them down, memorise, hide the word, write… repeat. Repetition is really helpful to undo fossilised errors.
2.4 Accurately using collocations
Collocation just means a frequent/common combination of words.
A typical example would be that you ‘make’ your bed (the verb ‘make’ and the noun ‘bed’ are a verb-noun collocation). However, you don’t ‘do your bed’… this is an incorrect verb-noun pairing.
Collocations are a relationship between words that need to be practiced and learned. There is no specific ‘rule’ to learn… practice makes perfect and will help you to sound more natural (as well as increase your Lexical resource score in the IELTS test.
One tip to learn collocations is to practice by topic. A common error is to try and learn long lists of collocations from memory. This will be overwhelming and often ineffective. When the exam comes and you get given a topic, you want to recall the vocabulary and collocations that are linked to the topic, not try to sift through long lists (that you will likely not remember under pressure).
2.5 Using topic-specific vocabulary
You need to prepare yourself with vocabulary that is relevant to the topic you are given. We have put together comprehensive guides on a range of common IELTS topics to help you do just this.
Take a look at the following topics:
2.6 Communicating clearly
Being able to communicate clearly in your writing (and speaking) means that the examiner can understand the meaning you are trying to convey.
One way that vocabulary causes confusion for the reader is the wrong choice of word. You could have used the wrong word which has made the meaning of your sentence unclear. Some candidates often take a risk in the test and decide to use words that they are not exactly sure of the meaning of. This could result in you using the word incorrectly and causing difficulty for the reader. Don’t use the test to try using words for the first time, it is more important to communicate clearly and accurately.
Reference is often an issue, for example, you may have referred back to a previous part of your paragraph or speech using the pronoun ‘it’, but it is not clear what ‘it’ refers to.
3. Learning New Vocabulary
3.1 Discovering new words
As soon as you have decided that you are taking your IELTS test, you should be actively looking to expand your vocabulary
We recommend that you create a book or electronic copy of all your new words and phrases.
You should also read or listen to English texts as often as you can. These texts could be:
- Newspaper articles
- Youtube videos (preferably with English subtitles to improve your reading skills)
3.2 Deciding which words to practice
Do not simply add every new word you read to your list of vocabulary. Also, be careful when using a thesaurus. It is often difficult to find exact synonyms in English, and a thesaurus will give you a long list of similar words that may not be appropriate in the context you want to use them. For example, two synonyms of‘ big’ taken from a thesaurus of are:
If we want to replace big in the sentence ‘the building is big’, it is correct to say ‘the building is enormous’ but the sentence ‘the building is boastful’ is not appropriate.
We recommend you always create an example sentence of new words in context and a definition. A Learner Dictionary is a great place to find clear definitions for learners of English.
A good example of new words to note down are words that you have seen a few times before in a text, but do not fully understand. The frequency of these words show that they are common in English.
A great way to learn new vocabulary is by topic. Group new words, phrases, collocations, and uncommon vocabulary linked to a common theme. This will make it much easier to remember under pressure.
Do not try to learn a list of technical language or specialist words and phrases. Although topics, such as science or technology, might come up during the test, you are not expected to have specific knowledge of these subjects. Remember, the IELTS exam is a test of your English language ability.
3.3 Reviewing New Words
Reviewing new vocabulary is the key to remembering it, and a step that candidates often miss.
It would be very rare to just write down new words, look at them once and be able to recall them in the exam. You need to review new words regularly to commit them to memory.
You also need to actively use a new vocabulary: set yourself a goal of using words and phrases you have learned in real life.
Here are just some ideas to review new vocabulary:
- Create flashcards
- Make a new vocabulary notebook
- Create a mind map
- Put posters around your home
- Record yourself using new vocabulary
There is no right or wrong way to review language, do what works for you.