Improving your vocabulary is the single most effective way to improve your IELTS score.
But where to start?
What kind of vocabulary do you need to learn for IELTS?
The best way to learn vocabulary is through discovering it in the right contexts (like Reading and Listening texts).
In this lesson, you’ll learn
- Which words you need to learn
- Where to find them
- How to learn them
- How to use them in IELTS
- How to review them
1. Focus on the main IELTS vocabulary topics
There are specific topics that come up again and again in IELTS.
In order to save time, it’s important that you recognise which words are important.
In my 28-day Vocabulary Booster Course, I group the common IELTS topics into 4 main areas:
- The Natural Environment – nature, wildlife, farming, pollution, recycling, water and tourism
- The Man-Made Environment – Buildings, Cities, Housing, Development, Civilisations, Crime and Transport
- Life and Society – Time, Leisure, Finance, Gender, Family, Health, Happiness and Personality
- Learning – Education, Languages, the Arts, Technology, Research, Inventions and The Future
Organise your notebook so that you have pages for each topic.
Every time you do a reading or listening related to the topic, add the most relevant words.
This is a good way of memorising and recycling words that frequently come up in IELTS, so it improves. your PASSIVE knowledge and you will understand more.
2. Exploit IELTS Reading and Listening texts
Every time you do a practice test, go back through it and analyse it in detail for vocabulary.
Choose 8-10 key words and then do some research.
Check and write down:
- the definitions
- the pronunciation
- the form (noun, verb etc)
- the grammar (countable, irregular etc)
Doing this regularly will help you retain new words by recycling them in different contexts.
Example IELTS Vocabulary topic: ARCHITECTURE
- to construct (vb) = to build
- construction = a building (nC), building (nU)
- to demolish (vb) = to destroy
- demolition (n) = destruction
- to renovate (vb) = to restore
- renovation (n) = restoration
- close-knit community
- affordable housing
3. Write new vocabulary in full sentences
Try to write the sentences as you might use them in the test.
Here are some that I pulled out of various parts of the test:
- to construct (vb) = to build; construction (n) = a building
[Task 1 Writing] ‘The construction of private housing has tripled in urban areas and nearly doubled in rural areas.’
- to demolish/demolition = to destroy, pull down a building
[Task 1 Writing] “The house was demolished to make way for the shopping centre.”
- to renovate/ renovation – restore (something old, especially a building) to a good state of repair.
[Listening test] “The disused factory has been renovated and turned into a theatre.”
- citizens/inhabitants/residents = the people who live in a place
- a residential area = an area which is occupied by private houses
[Speaking Test] ‘There are strict laws against building factories near residential areas.’
- a close-knit community — whether a village or a city neighbourhood — is a place where people know their neighbours and look after them.
[Task 2 Writing] ‘One of the benefits of living in a rural area is the close-knit community’.
- affordable housing – housing units that are affordable by that section of society whose income is below the median household income.
[Task 2 Writing] ‘The lack of affordable housing is a major drawback of living in a city.’
4. Use reliable wordlists
I don’t normally recommend learning words from lists, but they can be a useful starting point.
It can be difficult to know which words to write down when you’re studying by yourself, so using a reliable list as a guide might help.
I have seen a lot of terrible “IELTS Vocabulary Lists” online, so I don’t recommend that you learn from lists that you randomly find on websites.
However, there are some researched and well-known lists that you can use as a starting point, for example the Academic Word List.
In my Vocab Course I group the IELTS practice under the topics so it’s easier to review:
- Reading – How the pyramids were built (Academic), The Iron Bridge (General Training)
- Listening – The Underground House, Designing a Concert Hall, Changes to Barford Town
- Speaking – Part 1: Describe the place where you live Part 2: Describe a building you find interesting Part 3: What are the advantages of living in a big city?
- Academic Writing Task 1: Describe changes to a town or building
- General Training Writing Task 1: Write a letter to a historic place you visited
- Writing Task 2: In what ways is migration to large cities affecting society?
5. Activate and review new words regularly
You need a system in place to ensure that your passive knowledge of new words (from your Reading and Listening) becomes active (so that you can use them accurately in Speaking and Writing)..
Apps like ‘Quizlet’ offer easy ways to review new words.
Here is one example from Day 9 of my Vocabulary Course (Buildings).
But also make sure that you read and listen to different text so that you see the new words regularly in different contexts so that you get a better understanding of how they are used.
My 28-Day IELTS Vocabulary Booster Course has helped hundreds of my students get over their 6.5 plateau.
It gives you ideas, lists, practice, quizzes, videos and tests, Speaking and Writing practice and models for EVERY IELTS topic.
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