Top 10 tips for learning IELTS vocabulary
Tip 1: Don’t try to learn too many new words at once
Making long lists of words is often not a very successful technique. Words and definitions can become mixed and confused. Focus on only 10 new words at one time, practicing and using them as much as possible. When you are confident you know them, find another 10 words and repeat the process.
Tip 2: Keep a vocabulary list
Make a short list of words that you want to learn, and keep that list with you wherever you go. A pocket-sized notebook, or the ‘notes’ function on a mobile phone, is a good way to start. You can also pin short lists of words around the house – above your bed, next to your computer, even in the back of the bathroom door! Keep your list well organised, with a clear structure. For example:
|keyboard||Noun||I think it is easier to use a keyboard than write by hand.|
You can also add a translation of the word in your own language, but be careful. Although this can be useful at a lower level of English, the more advanced your English becomes, the more you will find that words are not exact matches between languages, and you can miss subtle differences.
Tip 3: Use the words in a sentence
Research has proven that putting a word in context in a sentence is much more effective than trying to learn a word on its own. Create sentences that are true about you and your life. For example, if you were trying to learn the word ‘garden’, then think about where you live – do you have a garden? Does anyone you know have a garden that you like? Your example sentence should be about something personal to you.
Tip 4: Use a dictionary
Although this is an obvious tip, you can make a dictionary more effective for you by getting into the habit of looking up new words. We recommend using a paper dictionary, as you can then put a clear mark beside the word in a bright coloured pen and look through the dictionary from time to time refreshing your memory. If you find you have forgotten the word, put it back on your list and write another sentence to help you.
Tip 5: Test yourself
Free vocabulary tests are widely available on the internet and on this website. You should also ask a friend to help you (if you followed Tip 4, you can hand them your dictionary and ask them to find a word you have marked and ask you for the meaning – or they can give you the meaning and you tell them the word).
Tip 6: Use the new word
When you learn a new word, it is common to find that you suddenly start hearing or seeing the word a lot more, and it becomes easier to remember. However, there are also times when you learn a new word and then don’t see it or use for a long time, and this will cause is to forget. One way to help you remember the word is to repeat it 5 or 6 times in a row, repeating this pattern every day for three or four days – this will help seal the new word in your long term memory.
Tip 7: Use word families
If you learn a new word – for example, happy – then find all the words in the same family (happily, happiness). That way you can quickly expand your vocabulary.
Tip 8: Read widely
This is definitely the best way to learn new words. It is also good practice to check what the word may mean in context.
Tip 9: Use a variety of ways to remember new words.
You don’t have to write new words to remember them. Some words are better drawn as pictures or acted out like a play, and flash cards, with the word on one side and a definition on the other, can also be very handy. Don’t feel you need to use the same techniques over and over again.
Tip 10: Find your vocabulary level
It can be helpful to find out your level of vocabulary, so you have some idea of what level you are. English vocabulary can be split into different levels, so take a look at the vocabulary section of this site as well as following our Word of the day.