The Vocabulary You Need
Clearly, you need a lot of vocabulary if you want to do well in the IELTS exam. You need it for all sections of the test. It’s essential to prioritise what kind of vocabulary to spend your precious time learning. Most textbooks focus their vocabulary on particular topics which come up frequently in the exam, such as the environment, the media, medicine, technology, education, etc. This is, of course, very useful. However, this should definitely be combined with studying something else: the Academic Word List for IELTS (AWL).
What Is The Academic Word List for IELTS?
What is it, and why is it so useful? It’s based on analysis of a vast database of academic English. It’s a list of 570 words which frequently appear in academic English across a wide range of academic subjects. Therefore, it’s no surprise that if, for example, you take any IELTS reading text and compare it against the Academic Word List, you find these words appear in almost every sentence. Experts believe that if you learn the 570 words on the list, plus a 2,000-word basic vocabulary, you can understand at least 86% of any academic text, and therefore any IELTS text. The other 14% are so specialised you won’t be expected to know them. (2000 words is typical for B1/intermediate).
570 may seem like a lot, but you probably know quite a few of the words already. The list is divided into 10 sublists, according to frequency.
So the words in sublist 1 are the most common academic words, those on sublist 2, slightly less common, and so on, until the words on sublist 10 are the least common. Here are a few from sublist 1 that you might already know: analysis, area, benefit, create, data, indicate, major. As you can see, these words could be used to talk about absolutely any topic. Actually, you’ll learn more than 570 words because each word on the list is what is called a headword. This means it’s just one word from a word family. For example, the word ‘create’ is on the list, but the rest of its word family (creation, creator, creative, etc.) are not. You’ll need to find those out for yourself. (What you need to know about a word is a topic for another post.)
So here is the list:
Here are a few websites which you might find useful to learn and practise the list:
If you prefer to use a book, unfortunately, after searching far and wide, I haven’t been able to find any perfect books that are useable for self-study. The best I could find is this one. It does the job, but it’s not very exciting, and it’s a bit expensive:
So, my best advice for IELTS students is to start working on the Academic Word List right now. In studying a language, there’s just so much to learn. And when you face the challenge of the IELTS exam, it can feel difficult to know where’s best to start. Easy!
Start with the Academic Word List! Trust me; you’ll be glad you did. Previous students have told me that it really had a very significant beneficial impact – that the day they started learning the Academic Word List was a turning point in their studies. It will be for you too.