Tips to Increase Your IELTS Vocabulary Score

Are you getting ready to take the IELTS exam? Are you worried about remembering vocabulary? Here are some strategies and tips to help increase your IELTS vocabulary score! MEL co-founder Büşra Bayram and I wish you all the best on your test!

Busra Bayram

Learn prefixes and suffixes

Consider ‘co.’ Most, not all, but most words beginning with the co- prefix pertain to an object or verb involving two or more persons somehow. Here are several examples:

Coerce (to convince someone else)
Conspire (to plot with someone else)
Couple (two persons; a pair)
Coexist (to live with another)
Cooperate (to get along with someone else)

Learning to spot key prefixes and suffixes will automatically give you an edge in learning bulk amounts of vocabulary.

Synonyms and antonyms

While you’re learning new words, take the time to learn words with the same and the opposite meanings, too. A thesaurus is tool of choice for this, and nearly all word processing software comes with a built-in thesaurus. I’m typing this using Microsoft Word Starter; I will look up the word ‘tool’ using the thesaurus now…hang on!

Wow, the results are in: ‘instrument,’ ‘implement,’ ‘device,’ ‘means,’ ‘utensil,’ ‘apparatus,’ ‘contrivance,’ and ‘gizmo.’

These seem to be in order of relevance, so let’s select the first word, ‘instrument,’ and see some synonyms for that, because it will offer even more options: ‘gadget,’ ‘appliance,’ ‘mechanism,’ ‘contraption.’

‘Tool’ isn’t a word with many antonyms, however.

Mnemonic tricks

Long before technological gadgets served to augment our memories, we just had to remember everything. How? One method—mnemonics, the trick used by the world’s Memory Champions. Here’s the basics, by way of story: I couldn’t remember the Turkish words ‘left’ and ‘right,’ I always got them confused. One night, in the back of a taxi, my friend needed to tell the driver to turn left. He put his hand over his heart, and said, ‘sogul’ in Turkish, which is pronounced like ‘soul.’ His trick? He told me, “I just remember the phrase ‘heart and soul. Your heart’s on the left. ‘Sogul’ is left.”

Okay, here’s another one. I also mixed up fork and spoon in Turkish. Spoon is ‘kasik,’ which is pronounced like ‘cash-ick.’ So I thought of the image of a spoonful of cash, and that bizarre image has stuck.

Group words into clusters

A longer version of this concept is to form mnemonic links via song. For example, I took the song ‘Up At the Picadillio,’ from Barney (a very catchy and rhythmic kid’s song) and replaced the lyrics with the Turkish words for the months of the year. Now I never forget those words, either!

Flash cards

Language teachers and learning platforms are well aware of the power of flash cards. For cards (even online ‘cards’), the most effective method is to take all the cards you know and set them in one pile, then focus on the cards you don’t know by heart. Review them over and over, and when you feel you’ve learned one, set it aside in a new pile.

This keeps you focused on an ever-shrinking set of cards. Eventually you should have a pile of cards you are sure you know, cards you are pretty certain you know, and cards you didn’t learn yet. Once you’ve moved all your ‘cards you didn’t learn yet’ over to the ‘cards you are pretty certain you know,’ review them one more time. Keep the newly-learned pile separate from the ones you are ‘sure you know.’ It’s a waste of time to review words that are embedded. But look at the ‘cards you are pretty certain you know’ pile the next day, then the next week, and as you grow more confident in how well you know them, you can shift them to the ‘sure’ pile.

Recordings

As easy as it sounds! Record yourself, using your phone voice recorder app, laptop, whatever you prefer. Say the new vocab words, talk about them, use them in a sentence. In this way, you are engaging two methods of learning simultaneously—you are producing the words through speaking them, and you are listening to the words as you speak them. Once they are recorded, you can listen to them when you like, and, if no one is around to stare at you, go ahead and repeat them aloud!

Matt Cates

Matt Cates is the co-founder and creative director of Mad English Lab.