Grammar is like an engine, and vocabulary is the fuel for your engine. If you can use past perfect progressive and passive voice like a pro, you have a powerful engine. But if you don’t have enough vocabulary “fuel,” your powerful engine of grammar skills still won’t take you anywhere! This article covers what vocabulary you should study for the IELTS as well as how to study it.
What Vocabulary to Study
First, something that can’t be stressed enough—the vocabulary you study should depend on the type of IELTS test you are taking. Why? Because the IELTS General Training test and the IELTS Academic test have different reading and writing sections. These sections will have different types of vocabulary. If you’re studying for the IETLS General Training test, you should be studying general high frequency words. If you’re studying for the IETLS Academic test, you should be studying academic high frequency words.
What are high frequency words? Simply put, high frequency words are the words that people use the most. General high frequency words are words that are most commonly used in English as a whole. Academic high frequency academic words are most commonly used words in academic settings—for example, in scholarly articles or in interactions between professors and students.
How do you know what words are “high frequency” words? Luckily, you don’t have to figure it out yourself! Linguists have spent much time developing high frequency words lists based on careful research. If you are studying for the IETLS General Training test, you might try studying the New General Service List. If you are studying for the IETLS Academic test, you’ll find the New Academic Word List more helpful.
You might wonder why you just shouldn’t study any words that you don’t know. After all, it’s always good to study new words, right? While that may be true, to study for the IELTS, some words will be much more useful than others. You likely have limited time before you will take the test. These vocabulary lists will help you study the words that you’re most likely to see, hear, read, and want to say on the IELTS—maximizing your time spent studying vocabulary.
How to Study Vocabulary
Study vocabulary every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes, some study every day will be better than several hours once a week. Most people need a lot of repetition of new words. You will get the repetition you need only by reviewing vocabulary daily.
To use repetition to your best advantage, practice “spaced repetition.” To do this, study the same words several times, but always increase the time between study sessions with those words. For example, say you study seven words one day. The next day, study those same seven words again. After that, study those words again in two days, then in four days, then in a week, in two weeks, in a month, etc. During the days that you don’t study those seven words, introduce new words that you will also repeat with spaced repetition. This will mean that you have different groups of words following different study schedules. Make a system for yourself so that you can keep track of what group of words you should study each day and when you should study each group again.
You can practice spaced repetition with vocabulary using paper lists or paper flashcards, but you can also use technology to help you. For example, Anki is a program that allows you to create or download electronic flashcards. This program can automatically regulate spaced repetition so that you don’t have to keep track of what words you need to study each day.
Don’t let vocabulary hold you back from getting your ideal score on the IELTS. Commit to studying vocabulary every day, and look for opportunities to use the vocabulary you learn when speaking and writing in English. To improve your spoken vocabulary, you can ask English-speaking friends to tell you when you use a word incorrectly. However, because English speakers don’t always feel comfortable pointing out mistakes, you may want to consider working with an English teacher who has been trained to help you fix vocabulary errors.