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The most important skill when learning English, or any language, is having a wide range of vocabulary for recognition and production. 

Having the ability to produce a wide range of vocabulary accurately and appropriately will enable you to score well in the Speaking and Writing tests. Additionally, the ability to recognize a wide range of vocabulary will have a positive impact on your Listening and Reading scores.

The 18 TOPICS presented in the book are the most common ones used in the IELTS Speaking and Writing tests.

The book is suitable for all IELTS students who want to build their vocabulary resource and especially those whose target is a minimum band score of 7.0. 

18 UNITS OF TOPIC VOCABULARY that are the most common ones used in the IELTS Speaking and Writing tests. Each unit is divided into 4 sections.

  • The topic word lists have high level nouns and adjectives and a pronunciation guide according to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA),

  • The verb + noun collocations range from basic to advanced.

  • The lists of idioms can be used, especially, in the IELTS Speaking test and General Training Writing Task 1 - informal letters.

  • Practice activities that review the topic vocabulary.

IELTS Vocabulary

Check out the video on the travel & tourism topic from the IELTS Speaking Test.

IELTS Vocabulary Grading: Speaking​

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

IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors PDF

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

  • Resource flexibly used to discuss a variety of topics 

This assesses your general vocabulary resource or range. Do you have a wide enough range to talk about a variety of topics? This will depend on how you build your general vocabulary resource.

  • Some ability to use less common and idiomatic items

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 phrases such as “once in a blue moon”. However, idiomatic expressions are just one aspect of the speaking band descriptors and shouldn’t be prioritized over the others. Trying 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.

  • An awareness of style and collocation

The IELTS Speaking Test is 100% informal style which means that features such as slang, idioms and "street language" is appropriate. However, it's advisable not to swear!

Collocation is words or groups of words that go together.

Using collocation accurately will have a positive effect on your band score. When keeping vocabulary records, always include collocations. 

  • Uses paraphrase effectively

Paraphrasing is the ability to express similar ideas in a different way which means you are not repeating yourself.  

Candidates 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 paraphrases for these words and phrases then practice using them. 

Check out the video on how to use idioms

IELTS Vocabulary Grading: Writing

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

IELTS Writing Band Descriptors PDF

Note: The Lexical Resource criterion for IELTS Writing task 1 and 2 are the same.

  • ​The resource is sufficient 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.


  • ​There is some ability to use less common and/or idiomatic items.

“Less common 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. 

"Idiomatic items" refers to the use of idiomatic phrasal verbs and idioms. However, these should be used in moderation for IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2. 

  • An awareness of style and collocation is evident, though inappropriacies occur.

In General Training Writing Task 1 the style depends on whether the letter is formal or informal.

For Academic Writing Tasks 1 and 2, the style is a formal report and essay.


Collocation is words or groups of words that go together.

Using collocation accurately will have a positive effect on your band score. When keeping vocabulary records, always include collocations. 

  • There are only a few errors in spelling and/or word formation, and they do not detract

Lexical Resource is the criterion that tests spelling. Your spelling does not need to be perfect. As the band descriptor says, spelling errors do not detract.​

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 important.

For detailed explanation of the role of vocabulary recognition, see the Reading and Listening pages.

IELTS Vocabulary Building

Check out the video on IELTS vocabulary building

Source new words and phrases

Trying to improve your general English vocabulary by doing only IELTS practice tests can be 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 to 15 new words/phrases per day because this is a realistic number. 

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

Example: SUCCESS

Definition: Achieving the results you hoped for or wanted

Translation: Make sure you are using a reliable English to your own language 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

Example sentence: Preparation and practice are essential for success.


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.

Total-IELTS Courses & Services

We offer a wide range of courses and services to help you prepare for the IELTS exam, Academic & General Training. Our experienced teachers will guide you through the process provide you with the tools you need to succeed. 

IELTS Speaking Feedback Service
IELTS Writing Correction Service

Click the Meet The Team button to view our teachers' profiles.

Total-IELTS Ebooks: Click on the pics to go to our Ebook page

IELTS General Training
IELTS Writing
IELTS Academic Writing Task 1
IELTS Academic Writing Sample Answers
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