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IELTS Vocabulary: Synonyms & Paraphrase

On this page I’ll look at the importance of recognizing and producing synonyms and paraphrase in all the IELTS tests and how your ability to do so will have a positive effect on your IELTS band score

Let’s start with a reminder of what synonyms and paraphrase are. 

Paraphrase is rewriting or rephrasing sentences using different words, phrases and grammatical structures while keeping the same meaning. 

Synonyms are words that have the same or similar meaning.

For a reliable sources of synonyms, try the following online resources.

The Importance of Synonyms and Paraphrase in IELTS

Writing Test​

You need to paraphrase the descriptions, statements and titles in Academic writing tasks 1 and 2 in your introduction. For General Training writing task 1 you need to paraphrase the situation and also the bullet points.

Why paraphrase?


Paraphrasing the task statement shows examiners that you understand the task and what you are required to write. 

Copying sentences and parts of sentences will be deducted from your word count. 

Your ability to paraphrase and use synonyms shows a wide range of vocabulary that will have a positive impact on your Lexical resource score.


How to paraphrase?

You can paraphrase by using... 

Synonyms: Words and phrases that have similar meaning. 

Changing the form of the word for example, from a verb to a noun.

Using different grammatical structures for example, changing active to passive.

For example:

IELTS Writing Task 2


IELTS Vocabulary Synonyms & Paraphrase

Speaking Test​

The ability to use paraphrase well will have a positive impact on your score in the Fluency and coherence and Lexical resource criteria. 

Fluency and Coherence


Band 7: may demonstrate language-related hesitation at times, or some repetition

It is acceptable to repeat what you’ve said some of the time but frequent repetition will have a negative effect on your speaking score. Compare...

Examiner: “How often do you listen to music?”

A: Actually, I love music and I listen to it every day. Yes... every day after work I listen to my current favorites. So, I love music.

B: Actually. I love music and listen to it every day. Yes... practically every free moment I have I play my current favorites. So, I’m really into it.   

Obviously answer B uses paraphrase and synonyms and avoids repeating the same words. 


Lexical Resource

Band 7: uses paraphrase effectively

Answer B above is an example using paraphrase effectively. 

Students are often unaware and surprised that they are repeating the same words and phrases over and over. 

So, when you listen back to your recording of a practice test, take note of the words, phrases and sentence structures that you are repeating.

Think of synonyms and paraphrase for these words and phrases then practice using them. 

Vary the use of sentence structures and this will also have a positive impact on the Grammatical range and accuracy band score.

Reading Test​

IELTS Reading tests your reading skills along with vocabulary. In fact, some sources claim that the reading test is really a vocabulary test, especially a test of your ability to recognize synonyms and paraphrase.  

Highlighting key words in the questions and trying to match them in the text is a questionable strategy. You can match numbers and names but synonyms and paraphrase of the key words you highlighted will mostly be paraphrased. 

Example: Matching Headings Question Type

IELTS Vocabulary Paraphrase

Synonyms & Paraphrase


disaster            ------                accident

prompts           ------                resulted in

aviation           ------                in the skies

Listening Test​

Even though you highlight the key words and phrases in the questions, you will not usually hear them on the recording.  IELTS uses synonyms and paraphrase for the key words and phrases in the questions.


IELTS Vocabulary Paraphrase



“Demand for the vehicles far exceeded production which led the company to make some radical changes. The first vehicles were manufactured by workers operating on a moving production line but these employees were gradually replaced by machines which were, in turn, replaced by robots.”  

The answer here is A. Note the synonyms and paraphrase…

  • original cars – first vehicles.

  • built – manufactured.

  • hand - workers / employees.

When you highlight key words and phrases, do not listen for them specifically. Think of synonyms and paraphrase for them before you listen.

Strategies & Tips

  • Your ability to recognize synonyms and paraphrase are extensively tested in the Listening and Reading. In addition, your ability to produce synonyms are tested in the Speaking and Writing tests.

  • In the Listening and Reading tests, highlight the key words in the questions because this will focus on what you need to listen and read for. Then think of synonyms and paraphrase for the key words and phrases.

  • Don’t expect to hear or read the words and phrases you have highlighted.

  • For the Writing test, don’t copy sentences or parts of them from the situation and instructions. Paraphrase using synonyms, change the form of the word and use different grammatical structures.

  • When you practice for the Speaking test, record yourself and listen for the number of times you repeat the same words and phrases. 

  • If you want to repeat a point you have just made you can introduce it with phrases such as “In other words...”  "What I mean to say is...” and then paraphrase what you have just said. 

  • When you record new vocabulary in your notebook or electronically, always include synonyms and antonyms (opposites) in your list. For a more detailed discussion of recording and increasing your vocabulary follow the link.

Increasing Your Vocabulary

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