Does My Vocabulary Matter in the IELTS Writing Test?

IELTS Writing Test - Lexical Resource

Achieving a Band 7 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 help you plan and write your essays.

Bigger isn’t always better

The writing test is designed to test your ability to communicate in English. It is not designed to measure your ability to memorise rare or unwieldy words. There is no reward specifically for “word length”. 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.

A band 7 doesn’t have to be flawless in your IELTS writing test

Spelling matters. If you know your spelling is weak, it is important that you take action to improve it. However, because the test is designed to test your ability to communicate above all else, there is some leeway given for occasional spelling errors. You will even be rewarded for taking risks and using a highly effective word with a minor mistake in spelling. Even 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.

Improving vocabulary cannot happen overnight

Building your vocabulary to make your writing richer and more varied is a process that takes time and effort. Beware of misinformation; there is no list of words that you can memorise to guarantee you a high band score. You need to be able to address every possible topic with vocabulary appropriate to that topic.

Identifying which area of your writing is holding you back is key to improving your chances of achieving success.