Four Ways Band Nine Students Improve Their Vocabulary

Most students waste lots of time when they’re studying vocabulary for the IELTS exam. In fact, it’s easy for learners to spend a lot of time on activities that are easy but don't help them make progress. We've made articles in the past about how not to study IELTS vocabulary, but what should you do…

Do what you’d normally do, but in English.

Want to improve your English without spending any more time? It’s more possible than you might think. What you want to do is take activities you normally do in your mother tongue and just do them in English instead. Students I’ve worked with in the past have tried:

  • Watching English language TV shows.
  • Switching over to English-speaking servers for online computer games.
  • Watching sports in English.
  • Listening to podcasts.

One advantage of this approach is that it doesn’t take you any extra time. For example, if you watch basketball every weekend, by just watching it in English you can learn vocabulary without having to spend any extra time. The other big advantage is that you will be learning vocabulary which is related to your interests. In the example of a student learning English through basketball, they will be learning all sorts of basketball-specific vocabulary. When their examiner asks them about their favourite sport or a sports star they admire, they’ll be able to show off that knowledge. After all, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be asked about a sport you don’t enjoy.

Take notes of new vocabulary

Another thing you can do to improve your vocabulary is to look up and make a note of new vocabulary you come across or use. This is another way of learning vocabulary which is focused on what you are interested in and so you’ll learn vocabulary which is useful for you.

Studies into memory show that you remember language best when you learn them in a ‘multi-modal’ way. This means you use language in different ways. For example, if you read a new word then write it down and speak it as well, you’re far more likely to remember it than if you just read it. By making a note of new vocabulary, you can help with this process. If you want to improve your knowledge of how the word is used, it is better to write down the vocabulary in a sentence. I’d also recommend to re-read what words you’ve written down frequently and try and use them in your speaking and writing as much as possible.

Use IELTS samples

There’s a saying that ‘success leaves clues’. In other words, if you want to learn the type of vocabulary that is used by successful students in the IELTS exam, you should read band nine essays and listen to band nine speaking samples. There are a wealth of sources for sample answers in both speaking and writing and practice tests you can check out including some from Practical IELTS.  Just reading one or two essays a week and spending some time listening to speaking samples can make a big difference, especially if you follow the other tip in this article to make a note of new vocabulary.

The advantage of this compared to a word list is that you won’t be just learning the words, you will be learning what they look like in context and how to use them in a sentence. This is the sort of learning you’ll need to do if you want to score a band seven, band eight or even a band nine for lexical resource.

Work with someone else

Working with someone else doesn’t just have benefits for your motivation and accountability that come with learning with a friend, it’s also a great way to improve your vocabulary. If you want to work with a friend, it doesn’t matter if that friend’s English level is lower than yours. It’s likely that you’ll know different words and both have something to learn from each other. If you end up teaching your friend, this can be a great way of deepening your knowledge. You can just practice talking to each other in English. Be sure to ask if your friend uses a word you don’t know the meaning of.

Of course, if you’re really serious about improving your IELTS score, getting help from a teacher is the way to go. We offer IELTS tutoring, but there are lots of options out there. The most important thing is to find someone who knows the IELTS exam well and who is happy to give you specific feedback to help you improve. When I work with students on their vocabulary, there are often quite a few mistakes they don’t realise they are making. However, with a little feedback, they’re able to make rapid improvement.

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