IELTS myths: Should you follow a ‘band nine’ vocabulary list?

This article looks at a common myth that you should be using a band nine vocabulary list when studying for the IELTS exam. Let’s take a look at why this isn’t true and how you should be studying vocabulary.


The first thing to remember about word lists is that they are only useful if the language is actually relevant to whatever you are trying to talk or write about in the exam. IELTS exams cover a range of topics. Learning ‘band nine words’ is only a good idea if you can be sure they’ll come up in the exam.

The second issue with these word lists is that vocabulary is only 25% of your grade in the speaking and writing tests. That means that a word list can’t get you to a certain band. Even if a word list could guarantee you a nine for lexical resource, it wouldn’t mean you would get a good score unless the other elements of your essay were also strong.

Finally and most importantly, learning a lot of words doesn’t mean you are going to use them appropriately. When grading IELTS essays, it’s very common to see advanced vocabulary used in an unusual way. Getting a good lexical resource score is more about using precise language than using certain words.

For example, ‘dramatically’ is a word that means ‘greatly’ or ‘related to drama’. However, when we use this word to mean ‘greatly’, this is usually when we’re talking about changes in the amount of something. We could say ‘the temperature dropped dramatically’ or ‘the stock market rose dramatically’. It’s a great IELTS word when used in this way. However, if someone says ‘it rained dramatically last night’, this sounds quite out of place because that’s not how ‘dramatically’ is usually used.

What you should do instead of using word lists

We’ve learned how not to study IELTS vocabulary, but what should we be doing instead? The first thing you should know is that you should be studying words in chunks rather than individually. This means that you should try and remember words together rather than on their own. For example, if you can remember ‘rose dramatically’, you’re much more likely to use it appropriately than just remembering ‘dramatically’ on its own.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you should be consuming as much English as possible. Listen to podcasts, watching TV, seeing movies or reading in English are all great ways to get a better feel for which words go together and which words don’t.

Related posts