The easy way to great vocabulary

The easy way to great vocabulary

In any of your IELTS essay topics, you'll need to have a good range of vocabulary up your sleeve.

Adding to this, knowing some idioms and collocations is also advantageous. It will further show your experience in English usage, and help to reach the higher bands.

*Idioms are not to be used in your writing exam. You may use more informal language in your speaking test, and an idiom could be part of this. It is also worth mentioning that idioms and slang are not the same. An idiom can actually demonstrate high level English skills, because to know an idiom is to know the language well. Slang, on the other hand, is not appropriate to use in any of your IELTS tests.

Something that I've even noticed about myself is how I absorb new language. As an English teacher, my students often ask me what a word means or a synonym for another word. The vast majority of the time, I can readily give an answer. But there are the odd times that I don't have the answer.

What's the best way to actually learn new vocabulary?

It's easy to say, learn five new words a day; write a new word a day on post-it notes and stick them around your home; highlight them in a book you're reading; buy a vocabulary flip book; write them into sentences.

But will that really mean you're learning new words?

What helps us learn new words is to use them. When a student wants to use a new word, I ask them to then put it into a sentence and on hearing it, to see if it fits and fulfils their purpose. The sticking point is in adding them to your everyday talk. And it's something I am adopting for myself in the new year too- applying new vocabulary in my daily conversations.

How can I apply vocabulary into my planning?

Incorporating high-level vocabulary into your essay means planning for it. So when you begin by planning for five minutes, write down the words you want to use.

Let's use this essay question on the environment as our example:

Polluted air, water and soil has become critical in recent years. What are the main causes of pollution? How can we tackle this individually and collectively?

  1. Identify the words you will create synonyms for
  2. Create three synonyms for each selected word
  3. Increase the difficulty of the word, so that you have one 'wow' word per synonym. This means using a word that is not as commonly used, but be sure that it still has the right connotations so it fits in with your overall point you are making.

Whilst you want to use impressive vocabulary, their connotations are really important. An impressive word won't mean anything if it's connotations aren't in line with your point. Although they may be a synonym of each other, the words themselves can at times, retain a different feeling and suggest another kind of meaning.

Tip: Try using the word in different sentences, does the sentence still hold the same meaning? This is where you can detect what its connotation is, and how else the word might be better suited.

Putting the plan to action

Make a list

  1. Polluted, critical, recent, tackle, individually, collectively
  2. Polluted- tainted, infected, contaminated. Critical- important, pivotal, demanding. Recent- latter-day, contemporary, modern. Tackle- intervening, take on, engage with. Individually- by oneself, singly, independently. Collectively- en masse, conjointly, together.

Polluted air, water and soil has become critical in recent years. What are the main causes of pollution? How can we tackle this individually and collectively?

Visual planning

If you are more of a visual learner you could try the following diagrams, rather than listing words.

The Venn diagram method

The Mind-map method


  • Try speaking your learnt words- I have written words down in my phone countless times thinking I will use them but it isn't the most proactive way of learning new words- speak your new words
  • Experiment with visuals as part of learning new words such as the venn diagram, mind-map or another visual you enjoy using
  • Practice learning new words that can apply to all of the ielts essay topics. Some will be generic where you could apply them to any question, but others will be more topic specific.

Keep practicing and experimenting with your learning as you build your confidence!