Some of the most common questions I am asked about the IELTS is “How do I increase my vocabulary?” and “How do I remember the new words I have learned”? I have written something about this before, but I will say a little more about it again as it is indeed a legitimate concern for many test takers. My advice, as always, is to read as widely as possible and/or focus your reading on the most common themes that crop up in the test. There are several of these that an analysis of previous papers show occur most every year, Crime, Health, Globalisation, Environment, etc. Besides this then, depending on your circumstances, if you have the time then you can read anything in English that interests or inspires you in fact, some blog about a hobby or special interest, football, basketball, fashion, whatever, it’s not important. I know some people who only read for the IELTS, as in they only read IELTS prep books and past papers, this may be useful, but it can be seriously boring. I understand their mentality, and I can sympathise, but in terms of making your learning enjoyable and meaningful to you it falls a long way short of ideal.
But simply reading in itself is not sufficient, if you want to make your learning active instead of being essentially passive, then you need to keep a record of your new vocabulary. You need to keep a Lexical notebook, some journal or book where all your new vocab is recorded. However, simply writing down and memorising lists of words is not enough, I know you can find some lists of 500 academic words or whatever on the internet, and you can buy books which contain long lists, but this quite honestly is a most ineffective way for most people to learn new vocab. The fact remains that words are not used in isolation, they are used in collocation with others, as “Lexis”. This means we need to learn words that come in phrases, groups or words that combine together, fixed expressions (for the time being, under the circumstances), idioms (get out of hand, leave no stone unturned), and collocations (make a mess, pay a fine). The second thing to do is organise these phrases so you can produce new language through speaking and writing.
What does this mean in practice? Well, as I wrote, you need to keep a Lexical notebook to keep all this new information in. How you organise this is your choice, use different colour pens for different word classes for example, but you may want to have a different theme per page, Health, Education, etc, as per the common IELTS topics. You might write down the key words of the topic, followed by some synonyms (try this online thesaurus for that), then write down an antonym or two (the opposite word in meaning), the different forms of the word, adjective, noun, etc. Find an idiom, some collocations, and then find and write some example sentences by searching on the internet. This will be much more useful to you than random words noted down in isolation, stripped of their context and relevance. Of course, there is more to it than this, you need, of course, to review the language every so often, maybe once or twice a week and use it if possible by talking with someone in English. Maybe a friend or a language partner from the internet, I have written about how to find a language partner in another post.
So next time you find some new vocab while reading, write it down in your notebook, organise it, then after a day or two, review it, and use it by speaking WITHIN the IELTS topics. If you do this then your range of Lexis should increase and so should your IELTS band score!….