IELTS Vocabulary Grading

In this page, I will look at how your vocabulary is graded in the Speaking and Writing tests, according to the IELTS public band descriptors and the importance of vocabulary for the Reading and Listening tests. 

Lexical resource accounts for 25% of your overall band score in the Speaking and Writing tests.

Speaking

According to the IELTS public band descriptors, a band 7.0 in Lexical resource is...

Band 7: 

  • Uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics 

  • Uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices 

  • Uses paraphrase effectively

Let’s look at each one.

  • Uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics 

 

This assesses your general range of vocabulary. Do you have a wide enough range to talk about a variety of topics? This is another argument in favor of not learning lists of topic related vocabulary. 

  • Uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary 

First of all, idiomatic language should only be used in the Speaking test and the informal letter of General Training writing task 1. The Academic writing task 1 is a formal report and task 2 for both GT and Academic is a formal essay. 

I’ve met students who believe that using idioms is the key to gaining a high score in speaking. They tend to focus on idiomatic expressions such as “once in a blue moon” which means... very rarely. 

However, idiomatic expressions are just one aspect of the speaking band descriptors and shouldn’t be prioritized over the others. Try to use as many idiomatic expressions as possible in the speaking test can sound unnatural and forced.

Students often neglect idiomatic phrasal verbs that also can have a positive effect on your speaking band score. Compare...

A: I learned Japanese by spending my free time with local friends and practicing with them. They really enjoyed it.

B: I picked up Japanese by hanging out with local friends and practicing with them. They really dug it.

Sentence B uses idiomatic phrasal verbs which sound more natural. 

When learning idiomatic vocabulary, focus on expressions and phrasal verbs.

The negative effect of idiomatic vocabulary is when they are used inaccurately. When using idioms, know the exact meaning and context and don’t overuse them.

  • shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices 

 

Style is informal and formal which I have mentioned above and collocation is words or groups of words that go together.

 

For example...

to make a mistake                 not                   to do a mistake

Using collocation accurately will have a positive effect on your band score. Try the following online resources for expanding your range of collocations.

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/browse/collocations/british/a/

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/collocations/

  • Uses paraphrase effectively

For a more detailed discussion of the importance of synonyms and paraphrase, click on the link...

IELTS Vocabulary: Synonyms & Paraphrase

Writing

According to the IELTS public band descriptors, a band 7.0 in Lexical resource is...

Band 7: 

  • Uses a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision

  • Uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation

  • May produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling and/or word formation

Let’s look at each one.

  • Uses a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision.

 

This assesses your general range and accurate use of vocabulary. Note that it says “sufficient” range which means your vocabulary is good enough to answer the writing task. “Precision” refers to how accurately you use vocabulary.

  • Uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation

 

“Less common lexical items” is the use of high-level vocabulary. All good dictionaries will have the CEFR level of the words and phrases. The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) is an international standard for describing language ability. For more information check the link.

https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-tests/cefr/

So when you look up the definition of a word, there will be information on which level the word is according to the CEFR. I would recommend the Cambridge online dictionary. 

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/

  • May produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling and/or word formation.

 

This refers to how accurately you use vocabulary, specifically in choice of word, spelling and formation. Note that to score a band 7.0 you can still make “occasional errors”. So, your accurate use of vocabulary doesn’t need to be perfect.

Reading & Listening

There are no performance criteria or band descriptors for assessing your vocabulary in the Reading and Listening. However, your ability to recognize words/phrases and particularly the use of synonyms and paraphrase is crucial.