Essential IELTS Synonyms for Success

Essential IELTS Synonyms for Success

How to increase synonyms for IELTS

We’re told to have lots of synonyms in our language use, not only for the purpose of taking an IELTS test, but generally to express yourself with ease and variety- whether a native speaker or not.

When pairing this idea with the IELTS specifically, is there such a thing as too many synonyms? Yes.

This scenario presented itself a short while back. A student preparing for their IELTS handed me a booklet of vocabulary, there must have been at least 300+. My student had wanted me to pick out words that she thought she would need. The problem was that, where do we begin? How many should we stop at? How do you quantify which words are more important than others? How can you choose between words when meaning is so close?

The task became difficult as inevitably, it started to be that we were collecting too many words. I suggested to my student that she only choose words that were A. as close to the original meaning of the word, and B. not overly complex.

Rather than making it a numbers game with ‘learn 20, 30, 40 (etc) words’, it depends more on the accuracy of language, not the amount.

If we go with the first approach of learning a batch of new words, we aren’t being targeted in our approach. The aim is to learn words in their context and make sure that it makes sense in our writing.

Simplicity is key.


A good rule of thumb to use is to ask yourself; would I use this word in conversation? If not, it is likely that the word isn’t appropriate, or that it isn’t close enough to the word you are trying to use. For example, if I want to use an alternative to students, I know I wouldn’t use the word disciple in conversation because its meaning is too far from the original word.

If you wouldn’t say it, would you then write it?

Common IELTS synonyms


Develop your vocabulary here with vocabulary flash cards. This deck was created by myself, in a collaboration with the revision app; AnkiPro.

Applying appropriate synonyms with IELTS questions


Some people think it is better for children to grow up in the city, while others think that life in the countryside is more preferable. What are the disadvantages and advantages?

Appropriate synonyms:

Some people think it is better for minors to grow up in an urban area, whereas others think that living in a rural area has more advantages.

Inappropriate synonyms:

Some citizens believe it is far greater for kids to grow up in a cosmopolitan area, whilst others think that residing in an area of farmland is far better.


The first example is much clearer and responds better to the question. The second is overly-complicated and the language doesn't reflect the statement with the same clarity.‌ ‌


Some people think that when a person travels into a different culture they should adapt to the local customs and practices. To what extent do you agree?

Appropriate synonyms:

It is thought that when someone travels to a contrasting culture, they should mould to the local traditions and practices.

Inappropriate synonyms:

Some people think that when a person voyages to another culture, they should copy the local behaviours and rituals.


The second example has used 'voyages' which feels too formal for the statement. The use of 'copy' is mismatched and doesn't accurately reflect the idea of adapting to something, and 'rituals' has the wrong religious, ceremonial connotations. They have used inaccurate synonyms to paraphrase some of the language in the statement.


Some people think that schools should invest more money in technology, such as more computers, while others think more money should be spent on teachers. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Appropriate synonyms:

Some people believe that schools should put more money into technology, such as a greater increase in computers. On the other hand, some people think more funds should be invested in the teaching staff.

Inappropriate synonyms:

Some people argue that institutions should put extra money into tech, such as computers. Whereas, some people think excess money should be directed towards teachers.


The first example is clear with some alternation but withholding the same meaning. The second example uses 'institutions' which doesn't have enough of a similarity to 'school'. Technology has been abbreviated to 'tech', which is too informal.


Having a good university degree guarantees people a good job. To what extent do you agree?

Appropriate synonyms:

Having a quality university degree assures people the security of a job.

Inappropriate synonyms:

Owning an adequate higher education degree promises people a solid job.


The second example begins with 'owning' which is inaccurate to use when trying to equate it to the verb 'to have'. It also uses 'adequate' which differs from good, as it suggests it is passable and fine, but not necessarily good and is therefore a different measure. The closing part of the sentence uses 'solid job' which feels informal and vague.


The government should ban smoking in all public places, even though this would restrict some other people's freedoms. Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer.

Appropriate synonyms:

Those in governmental positions should prohibit smoking in public spaces, despite this impeding on other people's liberties.

Inappropriate synonyms:

Those in charge should stop people smoking in outdoor spaces, even if this would result in offending people's privileges.


The first example makes some change to the opening noun, with governmental positions which retains the same idea and also uses phrasal language. It also shows confidence in language with appropriate synonyms. The second example starts with 'those in charge' which is too vague and doesn't address the idea of a government. The use of 'offending' isn't the best replacement word compared to 'restricted' seen in the question.

Final thoughts:

  • Vocabulary is important for your IELTS exam, but it is better to learn a smaller set of close meaning words and focus on these
  • Sounding overly-academic won't gain you extra marks
  • Changing the word order can also be a useful method when paraphrasing
  • Incorporating phrases or collocations can also be useful if you do not have another word to replace vocabulary with