Top Tips for IELTS

A 5 step procedure to avoid mistakes with IELTS vocabulary

This lesson is about how to choose the right vocabulary in an IELTS essay. You will find 5 tips on how to avoid mistakes in the essay writing process.I also try and show you a way to combine these 5 tips into one step-by -step procedure. Master that and you are on your way. That does not mean your vocabulary will be perfect, it just means you will make fewer mistakes. What you also need to do is improve your vocabulary knowledge, so I point you in the direction of 4 places on the internet that can help you do just that.

Understand the problem with an example from a high level student

This is a paragraph written by a high level student. The language is overall very good and potentially excellent but there are still some problems that could have been avoided. I hope that using my tips you can avoid similar problems – or some of them. My challenge to you if you are also a high level candidate is to see if you can find the mistakes – none of them are bad.

Today we live in a very changeable, global and unpredictable economic environment and that impacts the way people develop their careers along their lives. It is generally accepted that careers are directly related to the demands of economy  and society, as well as the personal circumstances of individuals. Therefore, it should be expected that essential modifications happening in those factors directly impact the decisions taken when planning the evolution of our professional lives.

Tip 1 – listen to your language ear

Can you as a learner see your own mistakes? Maybe not. Somehow you need to find a way to do this though. It may be simpler than you think. Here is an idea that often works: listen to your language ear. What this means is you ask yourself the question:

  • Does this sound right to me? or
  • Am I certain this is right?

You don’t have know why something is wrong but very often you can just feel it is wrong. That’s enough. This works for lots of my students. If you can do this, you are half way there. I have a very simple suggestion if you can’t answer “yes” to the questions above,

  • you don’t write the word down or
  • you cross it out.
Hey presto. No mistake. In my example, my student knew something wasn’t quite right with “the evolution of our professional lives”. Now she can simply avoid the mistake and use another phrase – her English is good enough.

Tip 2 – know the risk/reward ratio

You may want to take some risks though with your vocabulary and try and use some advanced words – particularly if you are aiming at 7.0 and over. You do get rewarded if you use more advanced vocabulary and show you have range. The problem is the more advanced vocabulary you use, the more likely you are to make mistakes. It is quite possible to recognise  a word’s meaning and not be able to use it properly. In the example, my student wrote “modifications”. She was unlucky. We just wouldn’t use  it that way in English, rather we say “changes”. she took a risk and was wrong.

What you need to do is balance the risk of making mistakes against the reward of getting it right. I would suggest that it is often better to be “safe” and not try and use complex words – not to take too many risks. English can be quite a simple language and the best native English writers use relatively simple language themselves. Try “change” and not “modification” and you are more likely to be right. This means that the procedure is now:

  1. if you are fairly certain that the phrase is wrong, you don’t use it  (listen to your language ear)
  2. if you think it could be right, you have to decide whether the risk is worth the reward. If the risk looks good, you use it. if not you try something else. (the risk/reward ratio)

Tip 3 – just repeat a word

The next step is to find a way of saying your wrong phrase in another way if the risk doesn’t look good. One obvious way to do this is simply to repeat a word you have already used. I can tell you that sometimes this is quite acceptable and even necessary. Here’s how:

  • we don’t really have another word for “career” in English so of course you can use it again
  • you can repeat words from the question, you can’t repeat whole phrases from it
So the procedure is now:
  1. if you are fairly certain that the phrase is wrong, you don’t use it  (listen to your language ear)
  2. if you think it could be right, you have to decide whether the risk is worth the reward. If the risk looks good, you use it. if not you try something else. (the risk/reward ratio)
  3. one possibility is to repeat a word you know is correct

Tip 4 – don’t think words, think phrases

If you don’t want to repeat a word, there is another solution. It may be that there is no one word that we can use instead of “career’ but there may be a whole phrase – or group of words – we can use. You want an example? Try this:

“Planning the evolution of our what we are going to do in our professional lives”

It is much much better to use the phrase “what we are going to do” instead of “evolution”. The phrase uses simple words but is in fact quite idiomatic, whereas “evolution” is simply wrong here. You may be surprised at how your English improves once you start to try and think of phrases/groups of words and not individual words by themselves. The procedure is now:

    • if you are fairly certain that the phrase is wrong, you don’t use it (listen to your language ear)
    • if you think it could be right, you have to decide whether the risk is worth the reward. If the risk looks good, you use it.(the risk/reward ratio)
    • if the risk doesn’t look good, think about repeating the word or
    • try and think of a phrase instead

Tip 5 – write about things you know how to write about

This one is slightly different. All I’m going to say is that many candidates make the mistake of trying to be clever in IELTS and use their very best arguments. The way this works is:

  1. a problem with clever arguments is that they are often complex arguments
  2. complex arguments are often hard to describe
  3. the result is more language errors
You see the point? Remember that this is a language test. The examiners are testing your English, not your IQ.If you remember that, you may be surprised once more at how your essays improve. The message here is to not try and write about things that you cannot put clearly. Find another argument/reason/example.
This means the final procedure is:
  1. if you are fairly certain that the phrase is wrong, you don’t use it (listen to your language ear)
  2. if you think it could be right, you have to decide whether the risk is worth the reward. If the risk looks good, you use it.(the risk/reward ratio)
  3. if the risk doesn’t look good, think about repeating the word or
  4. try and think of a phrase instead
  5. if none of that works, write about something else

4 places to learn more vocabulary

The best way to avoid making mistakes is of course to learn some more language. Here are 4 nice places you can look online for vocabulary. They all offer something a bit different. Variety is good.

Gapfillers:

sign up for free and you get an idiom a day. It may not seem much but idioms are best taken in small doses. If you haven’t signed up, this week you have missed so far:

  • jump the gun
  • go overboard
  • call the shots

BBC words in the news

You can listen to a text, read it or even do both at the same time. Then they show you the really important words in it. They have a massive archive of material.

Flo Joe

This one gives you daily exercises with the difference that it teaches you about the grammar of those words.

Laufer and Nation

This site is for those who like to test themselves. That too can be a way of learning. They have lots of tests that show you your level.

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2 Responses to A 5 step procedure to avoid mistakes with IELTS vocabulary

  1. Anonymous July 16, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Good Morrning!

    thanks for sending some suggestion to me for improve English language, improve vocabulary
    i hope in future it will be helpfull to me

    thanks
    Sarwat

  2. nageswarao October 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    thanks for valuable suggestions to me for improving my english skills

    thanks
    nageswar

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