Tips and points to consider for learning new vocabulary in IELTS.
I often get asked about the best way to learn new words that can be used in IELTS essays or the speaking section. I have not given any word lists on my website because I believe that vocabulary building is your responsibility, it is something that you will have to work on over a period of time.
One of the worst things you could ever do when studying IELTS is to just memorise lists of words and then randomly put those words into your writing, the same goes for speaking.
If someone asked me for my advice about the IELTS essay tasks, I would say keep it simple and concise. I correct a lot of IELTS essays, but the one thing that stands out is that so many IELTS students are trying too hard to use ‘complex sentences’ and completely miss the point and end up using ‘complicated sentences’. Some students may also memorise lists of words and then just put those into the essay without actually knowing fully what the word means.
This is a question I have been asked a few times and there is some confusion even among IELTS teachers about this. The quick answer is that it is fine to use personal pronouns in IELTS essays. There is nothing in the marking criteria that says you should not use them either. As long as they are kept to a minimum that is ok.
Some of the most important vocabulary needed for IELTS writing are collocations. These are essential when expanding your vocabulary. Basically, collocations are 2 or 3 words that commonly go together and sound just right to a native speaker. For some tips on building your vocabulary take a look at this blog post here. If you do not know how to use collocations then they will sound or look ‘wrong’ to a native speaker .
For example if you go shopping, ‘use money’ sounds strange. The correct word is to ‘spend money‘ or if someone speaks in a loud way I can’t say he has a ‘big voice‘ I need to say he has a ‘loud voice’ or maybe he has a ‘big mouth‘ to describe him as arrogant , not a ‘large mouth‘. When I want to relax in the evening I wouldn’t ‘look at a movie‘ I would ‘watch a movie‘….
One of the most important skills for getting a good score in the IELTS writing exam, is the way cohesive devices or linking devices are used. In the marking criteria for task 2 essays and Writing task 1 reports, Coherence and Cohesion accounts for 25% of your marks, therefore it is important to have an essay that flows naturally and is easy for the reader to understand. A key component of this is cohesive devices, however, use them correctly and sparingly.
It is important to use some complex sentences in IELTS writing task 2 otherwise you are unlikely to get a band 6.5 or above. Remember that grammar accounts for 25% of your marks in the writing tasks, however there is some confusion about the best way to write these kinds of sentences.
Learn about the most important skill in IELTS reading.
In the IELTS reading exam you can’t look up words in a dictionary, and you don’t have the time to understand every word. Another point is that you shouldn’t read the whole text as you just won’t have the time.
Understanding where to find the answers and spotting how words are paraphrased is a crucial skill. The reading section is also is where guessing meaning from context becomes an important skill to develop.
In this lesson we will look at:
1. What exactly is guessing meaning from context? 2. Example of how this skill works. 3. Why is this skill so important. 4. Useful techniques for guessing meaning. 5. You can try, exercise on guessing meaning.
1. What exactly is guessing meaning from context?
If you don’t understand a word, you will need to look at the information around that word. This means looking at the sentences before the difficult word and the sentences after it. Another method is to look at the paragraph before and after to get a better idea of what the meaning could be. The context is the surrounding information in the text or the theme of the text.
Native speakers also have trouble understanding certain words from the reading text in IELTS, however, it is possible to make an accurate guess. The title of the text will also give you a good idea of what the word could mean.
Key point: You do not have to understand every word in the IELTS reading texts and you shouldn’t read the whole text.
2. Example of guessing meaning from context.
Blue= context Red = unkown word
The emergency engineers worked on the project for almost two days without a break. By the end of it all, the team were completely drained, after that everyone went home and slept for most of the day.
Can you guess what ‘drained‘ means here…(you probably already know anyway)
If you were working for two days without a break how would you feel? very tired I think.. also the clue: ” …everyone went home and slept for most of the day..” This shows that “drained ” means very tired.
3. Why is guessing meaning from context so important?
This is important because you can’t use a dictionary or a phone to look up a new word in the exam, you would not have time to do that anyway. Another reason why it’s important is because you will feel more relaxed about doing the reading section, rather than feeling anxious when you find a new word.
If you are stressed when you come across a new word in the IELTS reading test, then you will panic and have problems completing all the questions in the reading tasks.
4. Useful techniques for guessing meaning
1. Words that signal answers in the text:
for instance, such as , a type of , like, for example , that is.. usually this is followed by a definition or a hint where you can use logic to accurately guess meaning.
In the above example you can get a good idea of the meaning. The word ‘diurnal’ means that animals usually come out in the daytime. We didn’t need a dictionary to guess that one.
Again in the example above you can see a clear definition for the word ‘circadian rhythm’, using the phrase “this is…” and then a definition.
In this example above, the word ‘rouses’ is the unknown word, but there is a time and a hint in the following sentence.. I can guess correctly that ‘rouses’ means gets up or wakes up.. the word eye-blearing is not necessary to understand, its just extra information here.
2. Using opposites and synonyms
Some words in the text show opposites such as: in contrast to, however, although, on the other hand , unlike, despite.. Often this means there is an antonym or opposite phrase which helps to define unknown words.
In the example above the key phrase “in contrast to” shows that the 2 unknown words are opposite, when looking at the whole sentence you can get a very good understanding of the meaning.
In this example above you can see how synonyms work.. ‘infuriated’is a synonym of ‘very angry’.
Here is a very good Youtube video explanation of getting meaning from context with more examples.
Mini Grammar lesson: How to use instead / instead of / rather than.
When writing essays in IELTS task 2 (It also comes in handy for the speaking test) , we often need to use “instead” or “rather than” to show preference, changing trends, opinions or facts. Here are some sentences based on the topic of technology and internet use.
Something that occasionally comes up in IELTS academic Writing task 1 are graphs with predictions and future trends. In this case you need to use the future tense with some specific academic phrases for graphs with a future trend. Lets have a look at the grammar needed for this kind of graph here. Note that the data in this task is dynamic, that means it changes over time.
Static and Dynamic graphs
Static data means that the chart or graph displays one period of time. Dynamic data shows two or more periods of time. It also shows how trends change over a period of time.
British or American English in IELTS, which is better?
Some people are confused about either using British or American English in the IELTS test. The answer is that both types are fine to use, the IELTS listening test has various accents from English speaking countries around the world.
If you prefer to use American English spelling or vocabulary then stick to that when doing the exam, don’t suddenly switch to using British English spelling or vocabulary and vice versa.