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IELTS: Increasing Your Vocabulary

Watch the video on IELTS vocabulary building.















Increasing your general English vocabulary doesn’t happen overnight. It takes many years of study, research and practice. The most important aspect of improving vocabulary is to have a strategy that works for you. 

Source new words and phrases

Trying to improve your general English vocabulary by doing only IELTS practice tests can be a ineffective since they have limited topics. 

There are numerous sources you can use to expand your vocabulary. For example, TED talks, podcasts, YouTube, websites, novels, newspapers etc. Try to vary your sources and topics. 

How many words should I learn per day? There are many aspects to “learning” vocabulary and research has proved that 10 to 15 words per day is realistic. I would recommend 10 new words/phrases per day because this is a realistic number. 10 new words/phrases per day over a month would be 300 words!

Active listening and reading

This technique is very effective for increasing your vocabulary and has the added bonus of listening or reading for enjoyment.  

While listening, watching or reading content in English, take note of new vocabulary items, research and record them. 

Recording vocabulary

Keeping accurate and user-friendly vocabulary records is crucial to expanding your vocabulary. It’s not effective to try and memorize new words or phrases that you encounter. There are too many words for that.  

Use the traditional paper and pencil notebook or record electronically. If you choose to learn topic related vocabulary lists, use the following method of recording. 

When recording new words/phrases, here’s the essential information you should record in order to truly know the meaning of a word.

Example: SUCCESS

Definition: Achieving the results you hoped for or wanted

When looking up the definition of a word, use a reliable dictionary. I would recommend the Cambridge online dictionary.

Translation: Make sure you are using a reliable English to your own language dictionary. Even if you are almost sure you know the translation, double check it in the dictionary.

Part of speech: noun

Forms of word: successful (adjective), unsuccessful (adjective), successfully (adverb), succeed (verb)

Collocation: be a roaring success - to have / achieve success

Pronunciation: /səkˈses/ UK, /səkˈses/ US

Synonym: achievement, gain

Antonym (opposite): failure, loss

Try the online resource for sourcing synonyms and antonyms (opposite)

CEFR level: B1

Example sentence: Preparation and practice are essential for success.


As you can see, there’s a lot of information you can record about a word. If you feel that some of these are more important than others, then use those. 

For IELTS vocabulary development, I would recommend recording the minimum of... definition, translation, pronunciation, synonym and antonym and example sentence.

Review the vocabulary

Reviewing your recorded vocabulary is another essential step especially if you are adding new words every day. Your records will expand and it’s easy to forget what you recorded before.

Every day, review the words you already recorded by giving the definition, translation, the synonyms and antonyms and especially, write an example sentence that uses the word in context. 

Practice using new words and phrases

Use the new words you have learned in your speaking and writing practice. This will reinforce their meaning and go a long way to to expanding your vocabulary. Try to be patient and remember that increasing your vocabulary doesn’t happen overnight.

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