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How to Improve Your IELTS Vocabulary

A proper understanding of vocabulary is one of the most important factors in the IELTS test.

Vocabulary comprises 25% of your mark in the IELTS Speaking and Writing tests and is also important in the IELTS Listening & Reading tests.

However, most IELTS students don’t learn the vocabulary in the correct way. Many download long lists of words and then learn them without seeing them used in context. This is not a good way to improve your IELTS vocabulary.  The reason is that words often have more than one meaning, so that learning them out of context can lead to confusion and a completely different meaning to the one that you meant.

You need to learn how to use the words correctly within a sentence and paragraph, so that what you say and write is understandable.  Many students try to learn lots of words, thinking that this will impress the examiner.  However, they end up not making sense and confusing the examiner instead. Therefore, to gain a high score for vocabulary, IELTS students have to use words correctly for each situation.

So, instead of learning lots of strange words, focus on understanding how to use the words in context, plus synonyms, antonyms and collocations related to these words

Here is a 4-step plan to help you to improve your IELTS Vocabulary:

  1. Read & Listen

To learn words in context choose a TV show, podcast, radio show,  video or book that interests you. While you read, make a note of words that you don’t know & how they are improving her IELTS vocabularyused. Try to get their meanings from the context and then check whether you’re right by looking them up.

If you read magazines focus on ones about topics that are likely to come up in the exam.  The ten most common topics are:

  1. The natural world, the environment and energy.
  2. Cities, infrastructure and transportation.
  3. Society, families and children.
  4. Countryside and agriculture.
  5. Business, careers and work.
  6. Governance and bureaucracy.
  7. Education and schooling.
  8. Health and sport.
  9. Culture and art.
  10. Global issues.
  1. Write down New Words

Look up new words in a good dictionary and Thesaurus. Keep them handy to where you’re sitting.  There are also some very good online dictionaries.  The Oxford Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary are good  for British English.

Jot down the new words together with their meaning, synonyms, collocations and examples. You can also draw pictures of the word to help you to remember it.

  1. Use Repetition to Help You Remember

It takes between ten and twenty repetitions to really remember a word and make it a part of your vocabulary. Therefore, review the new words regularly, using a spaced repetition, learning technique.

This can be made easier by using a spaced repetition app like Anki.

  1. Practice,

Use your new words regularly to ensure that they stay in your long-term memory.

You should be able to remember up to 15 new words in a day, so that you can learn around 70 new words in a week and at least 250 words in a month.


Apply this 4 step plan to learning new words and you will improve your IELTS vocabulary.  For further information about IELTS exam preparation visit our website.

Paul Andreas

Paul Andreas is a Certified Speaking Coach and qualified TEFL Teacher Online English Lessons delivered by Skype for IELTS exam preparation and conversational English. Get a free trial lesson.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. NICK

    I think if your English vocabulary is rich, your writing skills will improve. English is a powerful language with countless words, so it’s never enough; you must learn new words that will help boost your speaking and writing competencies. I used to watch podcasts and speech videos and try repeating what they say and write the new words I learned, and it helped a lot.

  2. Nella T.

    I started learning new vocabulary by watching tv shows, listening to music, and memorizing the lyrics; after that, I moved to read books. The thing that helped me learn new words is writing them in a notebook and then look for definitions and synonyms; I learned vocabulary for the IELTS test faster using this method. An English learning app will help too.

  3. Louis M

    To have a rich English vocabulary, I used to advise IELTS students to look for a new word and search for its synonyms and antonyms and focus on the spelling because the IELTS test is not based only on vocabulary, but on speaking as well as writing and listening. I recommend visiting the thesaurus website for learning new words; it is such a valuable site. I like your website as well. Thank you for your help.

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