Top Tips for IELTS

Band score 8.0 – range of vocabulary

This is the next in my series of lessons in how to achieve a high band score in IELTS essays. This time the focus is on vocabulary. There is no magic bullet here – vocabulary learning takes time. That’s the bad news. What I do do though is to talk you through some of the more common problems with vocabulary in essays and give you some tips on avoiding them. You’ll also find a bonus essay to download.

A sample essay – weak vocabulary

Read through this sample essay. It is well structured and addresses the question, but it is weak on vocab. Can you see what the problems are?

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

The biggest reason for objecting to extreme sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. Many dangerous sports are also not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

I think that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children.

Seeing the problems – repetition

One of the most common problems is you can get “stuck” on certain words. This frequently happens with words in the question itself. To some extent this is unavoidable and you will see my improved version retains quite a lot of repetition – there is simply less of it.

See the repetition corrected

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important. One of the signs of this people want the government to ban dangerous sports. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

The biggest reason for objecting to dangerous sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly hurt. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. Many dangerous sports are also not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

I think that that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children who cannot make their own decisions.

My personal view is that while the government and other authorities do need to regulate dangerous sports, it would be preferable not to impose a ban on them entirely. I would suggest that  safeguards need to be established so that any risk is minimised. What these safeguards are will vary from sport to sport, but safety has to be paramount, especially where minors are involved. 

Tip – think of vocabulary before you start writing

The idea is quite simple. If you think of the words you want to use before you write, then you can use them. On the other hand, if you start writing too quickly, then it becomes much harder to try and vary your vocab.

Tip – repetition should be on everyone’s editing checklist

One of my top tips is that everyone should have a mental checklist of the type of errors they look for when they check their work – “I’m going to look for any mistake” doesn’t really work. The point here is that even the best writers can subconsciously get stuck on words and keep on repeating them if they are not careful.

Tip – if you can’t find another word, repeat it in a different form

Sometimes there is only one correct word. In this case, the best advice is not to find another word that may well be wrong, but to change the word slightly. This can mean using the noun form and not the verb form (ban becomes impose a ban on) or to qualify it with another word so ban becomes ban entirely.

Seeing the problems – avoid language that is too simple

In general, I am a fan of the simple. There are times, however, when you want to upgrade your English, in particular

  • avoiding words like “big” that are not normally used in more formal written English
  • avoiding words like “do” unless they are part of a set phrase – there is almost always a better variation
  • finding variations for words such as “very” to show your range
  • thinking about collocations (phrases)

See the simple language improved

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important. One of the signs of this people want the government to ban dangerous sports. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

The biggest reason for objecting to dangerous sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly hurt. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. A further point is that many dangerous sports are not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

I think that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children who cannot make their own decisions.

My personal view is that while the government and other authorities do need to regulate dangerous sports, it would be preferable not to impose a ban on them entirely. I would suggest that  safeguards need to be established so that any risk is minimised. What these safeguards are will vary from sport to sport, but safety has to be paramount, especially where minors are involved. 

Tip – when you learn vocabulary, learn phrases and not just words

Part of solution to this problem is to learn phrases. For example, you are much more likely to be able to use “participate”, if you have first learnt the phrase “participate in a sport”.

Finding solutions – think examples for precise language

This is one of my favourite suggestions. The idea is that if you learn to use examples well, you get to use language that is precise and sometimes relatively simple. Take a look at this revised versions of the examples. the revisions may seem quite small, but I get to use precise language – a good thing.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

Finding solutions – be academic and use qualifying language

Part of the academic writing skill is learning to qualify what you say so that it is not too general. Take a look at these two examples of qualifying phrases I add in to the improved version. Again, the changes may seem small but taken together they can have a significant effect on your writing.

 We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.
The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

Finding solutions – focus your vocabulary learning on academic vocabulary

This is in many ways the big one. Learning vocabulary takes time. One excellent way to do it is simply to read and listen as much as possible. You will absorb more new words that way than by sitting down and studying any word list. However, there is a however. To get a high band score, you want to learn the “right” words to use in essays. This is where the academic word list comes to your help.

Academic vocabulary and IELTS

Certain words in English are simply more “academic” than others. This does not necessarily mean they are “difficult” words, it just means native speakers tend to use them more when they are writing more formally. They are in other words exactly the sort of words you want in IELTS. Take these examples from the improved essay:

  • retain
  • principal
  • assume
  • participate in
These are all excellent words to “learn” as they can be used in all sorts of different contexts. All I would add is that you also need to learn how to use them and that is where my daily word exercises come in.

Exercise on the AWL words in the essay

To see my point, have a go at this exercise based on improved essay:

AWL words in dangerous sports

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27 Responses to Band score 8.0 – range of vocabulary

  1. zeeb January 5, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    Wow!!! This is really an eye-opening post. It really illustrates what make an essay a Band 8 essay. I learn a lot from this single post. Really thank you for this.

  2. zeeb January 5, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Nice lesson..

    varying DANGER
    because of this danger- given this level of danger
    dangerous sport – extreme sport
    who are in danger – who are at risk
    little danger – minimise risk

    phrases
    kill people- life threatening
    badly hurt – seriously injured
    be hurt – not escape unharmed
    it is possible – there is also a chance
    not very risky – low probability of injury
    the government cannot say – not the place for a govt to dictate
    young children – minors

    examples
    jump out of plane – freefall from a plane at 30,000 ft
    a F1 car crashes – a bouncing tyre or debric will fly

  3. sunita January 5, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    thanks for this unbeatable lesson i am pleased to learn

  4. Roger January 12, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Hi Dominc

    It is the first time I leave a comment on your useful site. First of all thank you for dedicating time on teaching candidate. The question Id like to ask you is I was wondering which grammar I should use to my essay looks like an essay close to Band score 7+ .Because all the time I just can use and write simple sentences and if I try to use sophisticated sentences it is very likely I make a mistakes. Please help me what can I do. If possible Id like to send you my essay to just have a simple look on it.

    Many thanks

    • Dominic Cole January 12, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      Just found this. Take a look at the post I have made today on range of grammar. It’s about just this really. It’s about not being afraid to use simple structures when you need to and being able to use some more complex ones when you have a more complex thought.

  5. shilpa vishal vij February 13, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    Hi Dominic
    First of all thank you for making such a wonderful site to teach us. I am taking my IELTS exam very soon and your tips and suggestions,variety of vocabs,grammar and how to use them had really helped me alot. hope that this time i will definitely achieve a high band than before… Thank you :-)

  6. Anonymous April 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Wow Dominic thanx v much n I benifited a lot from helier… Keep it up

  7. ign August 20, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured.

    why not the spectators

    please explain regarding the atricle used before participants

  8. ncp December 6, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    I’m extremely greatful for this wonderful lesson. I’ve learnt a lot from this post. Thanks to your website, I can be more confident in writing skill. Thank you!

  9. Abbylam December 20, 2012 at 2:15 am #

    I appreciate for all your posts. It’s very helpful .<3<3<3<3<3<3<3

  10. Wasnah March 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    My test is tmw and i wish i knew about this website befor ! I feel I wasted my time working in the wrong direiction ! You put me on the right path .I hope it’s not too late to catch up /:

    • Dominic Cole March 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

      Be optimistic – it’s never quite too late! If it’s the day before the exam , this is the time to prepare your strategy for each paper. If you go into the room with a clear idea of what you want to do and how to do it – you may do it. Best of luck tomorrow – let me know how it goes.

  11. Adeel April 10, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    I am grateful that you put essays with different contrast and structures.Helped me to understand my mistakes .But ,one thing is confusing me is that in academic template, I have noticed the use of word “that” is quite often. Is it right to use it again and again while writing an essay .Because i use the word “that ” quite often .

    • Dominic Cole April 11, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      It’s a structural word and there is no real problem in repeating it

      • Anonymous May 13, 2013 at 5:51 am #

        hello,
        will u plz tell me from where i can get essay vocabulary?Also,i want to read 8 band score essay samples.From where i can get it?i need ur help.
        Thanks.

      • Anonymous February 11, 2014 at 5:52 am #

        Dear Dominic

        Just wanted to say an endless thank you for your invaluable commitment to help those in need. Just pure heart and great personalities!

        I’m wondering if you are giving any private tutorials.
        I’m willing to work towards 8. This is my ultimate goal.

        Once again – Thank you!

        • Dominic Cole February 14, 2014 at 12:54 am #

          I’ve just spent an age offline – long story – but I am now getting back into work again. I will be giving tutorials soon enough but my immediate priority is to clean up the site. Can i suggest you contact one of the tutors on the site. There should be many more coming soon.

  12. larisi.com September 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Great and helpful info…

  13. Buubee February 27, 2014 at 3:40 am #

    I just really want to thanks for your excellent guidance. I can definitely say that you are such a great teacher.

    Thank you so much.
    Bangkok, Thailand.

  14. Umut March 9, 2014 at 1:05 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    I’m taking the IELTS next week and I’ll probably have lots of difficulties getting the band 7 as I couldn’t have worked a lot on it. I may have spent 6 months in England a couple of years ago but that won’t help me that much get a great score. My biggest fear is to get to write on a sheet of paper about anything because I always think that it’s gonna be worthless as I don’t have a teacher to correct my mistakes.
    What would be your wise advices Dom ?

    I’ll be very grateful to you if you can relieve me a bit.

    Greetings from France

    • Dominic Cole March 9, 2014 at 5:27 am #

      The golden rule in IELTS is always answer the question. What you should do between now and the exam is to make sure you are familiar with the test format and know how each paper is graded – particularly the writing and the speaking. When you go into the exam make sure you have a plan for each paper.

      Best of luck and let me know how it goes.

      • Anonymous March 27, 2014 at 1:53 am #

        Can u plz grade this essay??

        Nowadays, the world is completely different to the world many decades ago. On one extreme the rich countries keep getting richer whilst the poor are getting poorer. This change has significantly affected the health of the people. The rich affected by excess of unhealthy substances e.g fats, cholestrol in food and on the other hand the poor by the lack of food.

        The more developed and rich countries have changed their eating habits to more luxurious, tasty but extremely unhealthy fastfoods consisting of pizza, burgers, chips, pasta, fried things. This has resulted in excess of fat and cholestrol in the diet leading to an increase in weight of the individuals.

        The increase in weight and keeping mind the limited activities of the new generation due to the technology and home-based environment e.g video games, computers, internet etc leads to conditions like obesity, hypertension, diabetes and many more.

        To cope with this, programs should be developed showing the problem of bad eating habits regarding fastfood and emphasise on regular exercise and physical acivity. Also mentioning the important foods like fruits and vegetables needed for a healthy living. Awareness can be brought up easily through tv advertisements, internet, newspapers, magazines etc

        In a nutshell, people should be well aware of the risks of excess weight, unhealthy foods and lack of exercise.

        • Dominic Cole March 27, 2014 at 7:00 am #

          Sorry no. If you put it in the right section of the forum, then someone may look at it for you.

  15. Amr April 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    This is essay which I have written recently, and my teacher awarded it 6.5 but I don’t know why. .

    In some countries children have very strict rules of behavior. In others they are allowed to do almost anything they want. To what extent should children have to follow the rules?
    Many people argue that children should be raised strictly and do not have the right to do whatever they want. Others believe that they must not have constraints imposed on the way they behave and freedom is essential for everyone’s well-being. This essay will discuss both points of view.
    In fact, these, who advocate strict upbringing, are mainly the religious people. They claim that children are not old enough to distinguish between what is correct and what is wrong. Therefore, if they were allowed to act at their own discretion, they will end up in many troubles. For example, Islamic Sharia Law insists that parents have to be over-protective as much as possible, so as not their children make mistakes such as running wild, which will probably lead them to prison. In addition. The Islamic law calls for children to have respect for both the elderly people and the young ones. Hence, conservatives class the boys’ conduct, who do not uphold the aforementioned values, impolite.
    However, bringing up children without restrictions will have beneficial effects on their behavior. Without the typical code of conduct, which follow the religious teachings, boys and girls will have a better chance to develop their personalities and experience the world themselves. In classroom, for instance, learners will not actively engage during the educational process if they are always obsessed about formalities and how to behave well, preventing them from having the full benefits of the class. Furthermore, experts believe that unless children make mistakes, their behavior will not be reformed, so children need to have their own experiences and parents should be tolerant of their mistakes.
    To sum up, there are many pros and cons to both views. However, regarding the child’s interest, many restrictions should be avoided.

  16. Lin November 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    Hi, Dominic. This link http://www.dcielts.com/AWL/essays/dangerous-sports.htm is out of order

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