Does Vocabulary Matter in the IELTS Writing Test?

IELTS grammar

Does My Vocabulary Matter in the IELTS Writing Test? One of the most common questions people ask about the writing test is: Does my vocabulary matter? The short answer is, of course, yes. The lexical resource column is one of the four columns in the rubric, which means that 25% of your band score is determined by how well you use words.

However, there are some important things to bear in mind when thinking about vocabulary. Here is a list of three tips to make your writing rich and varied.

Number 1: Bigger isn’t always better

The writing test measures your ability to communicate in English. It is not a memory test or a test of “long words”. If you get a high band score on IELTS, it means you can communicate comfortably in written English. Look at the two newspaper headlines below and consider which one is more natural:

Government raises taxes with the intention of covering infrastructure costs

Government raises taxes in a bid to cover infrastructure costs

The first headline looks more complex because it’s longer and uses the word “intention”. The second one uses the three-letter word “bid”. You might think that the first headline is a better one, but the second one is in fact far more likely to appear in print. This is because the use of the word “bid” in this context shows a more advanced grasp of English. This is really what we mean when we say that vocabulary matters in the IELTS writing test.

Overdoing vocabulary in the IELTS writing test

Many people worry too much about “sounding sophisticated”. In the process, they run the risk of sounding wooden, or even incorrect. Consider the following clumsy statement:

According to my own opinion, the provision of healthcare without payment encumbers the taxpayer unjustly.

This writer has prioritized variety over accuracy and naturalness. Firstly, “according to” is best followed by a person (according to John) or an impersonal set of rules (according to the law). It does not go naturally with “opinion”. Next, “the provision of healthcare” is unnecessary and wooden. “Providing healthcare” is good enough. It’s important that you find a balance between sophistication and readability. This comes only through practice. For most people, it’s been a long time since they had to write essays. If you’re rusty in this regard, it’s worth putting in some practice to make your vocabulary as effective as possible.

Number 2: Slang Vocabulary in the IELTS Writing Test

Every community uses words that are unique to that community. This is true of all languages and it’s especially true of English because people use it in so many places around the world. Remember, IELTS is about your ability to communicate. When it comes to communication, vocabulary matters. If you use a word that your reader can not understand, are you communicating effectively? Consider your own field of work or expertise. It’s likely that there is a long list of jargon or terms that an outsider won’t understand. When you discuss your work with a friend or loved one, you will probably avoid using those words. This is the same principle. You should avoid using terms that are unique to your town or country. Instead, choose a word that a foreigner would understand.

A Band 7 for IELTS Writing Doesn’t Have to be Flawless

Thankfully, the examiner rubric allows some leeway for mistakes. Nobody is a perfect writer all the time and mistakes happen. You can achieve a decent band score even with some errors.

Common Errors IELTS Writing

As we’ve seen, vocabulary matters for the IELTS writing test. This means that individual words are important, but so are combinations of words. Some words “go together” more naturally than others. If you mismatch words and write about “ill consequences” or “big rains”, your writing will be less effective.

Spelling also matters. If you know your spelling is weak, it is important that you take action to improve it. But remember, the point of the test is to show that you can communicate in English. You can still achieve a good band score with some word choice or spelling errors here and there. Taking risks can pay off, such as using a highly effective word with a minor mistake in spelling. If a small number of your word choices are not quite on the mark, the person marking your writing will weigh this against the overall communicative effect of your writing. If you are consistently missing a band 7 score, but you know that your spelling is generally accurate, it is unlikely that this is what’s holding you back.

When Spelling Really Matters on the IELTS Writing Test

IELTS tests your ability to use English to communicate. If you want to communicate in writing, it’s important that you write words in the conventional form. Spelling will become a problem if you make frequent and noticeable errors. These are the kinds of errors that matter in the IELTS writing test. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do you know how accurate your spelling is? 
  • Do you rely on spell-checking devices? 
  • Is spelling something that makes you anxious or self-conscious? 
  • Do you know about the ten most commonly misspelt words in English? Click here to check.

It’s vital that you think about this before you attempt the exam. It is possible to sabotage an otherwise well-written test with poor spelling, especially if your mistakes are repetitive.

It’s also very common for people to spell much better in one genre than in another. For example, the same writer might spell poorly when writing about an unfamiliar topic but spell better when writing about a topic closer to his or her field of expertise. This happens because if you deal with a certain set of words regularly, it is likely that you have mastered their spelling. This is natural. 

Preparing Vocabulary for the IELTS writing test

Unfortunately, you can’t predict what kind of topic you’re going to get, so it’s a useful exercise to get used to writing about things you don’t usually give much thought to.

The good news is that you can improve your spelling, with the correct guidance and enough time. Our writing course gives focused, effective practice in essential spelling and punctuation, based on a careful study of the most common mistakes people make.

Improving vocabulary cannot happen overnight Building your vocabulary will make your writing richer and more varied. This will improve your band score. The process of improving your vocabulary takes time and effort. 

There are no quick-fixes for Vocabulary in the IELTS Writing Test

Beware of misinformation; there is no generic list of words that you can memorise to guarantee you a high band score. You need to be flexible enough to deal with any topic. The sooner you start this process, the sooner you will come to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Identifying which area of your writing is holding you back is key to improving your chances of success.

If writing is one of your weaknesses, we highly recommend the Highway IELTS Writing Development Course to help you prepare fully for your IELTS test.

Highway IELTS has developed tools that save you time by identifying your particular needs first. That is the only sound basis on which to make recommendations and chart the way forward. Attend our Discover IELTS Workshop in Durban or Johannesburg or check out some of our self-study development courses designed to help you achieve your goals.

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