Top Tips for IELTS

Study tips for IELTS essays – read then write – collocations and synonyms

This is the first in a series of posts to help candidates who are stuck with their IELTS essay writing – particularly those who keep on getting the same score. The general idea is to give you some slightly different ideas for improving your essay writing by looking beyond the world of IELTS. A good IELTS essay is really just one more form of good writing and sometimes it can pay think about the qualities of good writing generally rather than becoming obsessed by the IELTS essay.

Don’t always focus on IELTS – focus on your general writing and language skills too

The idea here is that reading can help with your writing. Reading by itself is good but it will be much more effective if  you should get into the habit of writing after you read. More than that, it can really help if you focus your writing – think about what you want to learn. One way you can do this is by thinking about collocations – a really important part of language. Below you will find

  • a brief explanation of how it can work
  • an example of how it works
  • a quick online exercise
  • a suggestion for an at home exercise for you to do yourself
Reading can help your writing
Try and focus your learning: give yourself a particular goal


 Better vocabulary – synonyms, collocations and phrases

You need words to write and the best place to find those words is in reading texts. The type of words that you look for when you read will depend on you and the text. Very often though, the best words to look for are the common words – they’re the words you are most likely to use yourself! You may well “know” these words, but do you know how to use them? Do you know what word should come next? Do you know how to vary these words?

Synonyms are words that have a similar meaning
Collocations are word combinations

An example

To see this in action, take a look at the passage about art and see all the different words the writer uses to talk about the pleasure of art.

See the vocabulary

Who does not love pictures? And what a pleasure it is to open a magazine or book filled with fine illustrations. St. Augustine, who wrote in the fourth century after Christ, said that “pictures are the books of the simple or unlearned;” this is just as true now as then, and we should regard pictures as one of the most agreeable means of education. Thus one of the uses of pictures is that they give us a clear idea of what we have not seen; a second use is that they excite our imaginations, and often help us to forget disagreeable circumstances and unpleasant surroundings. The cultivation of the imagination is very important, because in this way we can add much to our individual happiness. Through this power, if we are in a dark, narrow street, in a house which is not to our liking, or in the midst of any unpleasant happenings, we are able to fix our thoughts upon a photograph or picture that may be there, and by studying it we are able to imagine ourselves far, far away, in some spot where nature makes everything pleasant and soothes us into forgetfulness of all that can disturb our happiness. Many an invalid—many an unfortunate one is thus made content by pictures during hours that would otherwise be wretched. This is the result of cultivating the perceptive and imaginative faculties, and when once this is done, we have a source of pleasure within ourselves and not dependent on others which can never be taken from us.


The writer uses three main words to describe the joy of art, but she uses different forms of these words and she uses them in combination with other words

  • pleasure (what a pleasure/unpleasant surroundings/makes everything pleasant/a source of pleasure)
  • happiness (our individual happiness/disturb our happiness)
  • agreeable (the most agreeable/ disagreeable circumstances)

Note also how art makes us content and makes everything pleasant and the phrase to our liking.

Vocabulary suggestions

Don’t just look for words you don’t know. They may not be very useful words.
Make notes of phrases and not just individual words
Think about making notes of connected words and phrases (eg words connected to Happiness)

A simple read then write exercise to improve your vocab

One exercise you can do by yourself is to try and rewrite the passage from the key vocabulary you have noted. The aim is not to try and copy it word for word, but rather to use those words/phrases in your own version. I suggest this procedure:

  • choose a brief passage (paragraphs normally work best)
  • think about the type of words you want to learn – look
  • make brief notes – the idea here is not to reproduce the text exactly but to work on your vocab so it doesn’t matter too much if you leave out some ideas – it needn’t be a complete summary
  • try not to look at the passage as you are writing – if you do, you may just copy the text and that isn’t the idea
  • make sure to go back and check your version against the original
  • don’t worry too much about writing perfect paragraphs – this should be a quick and simple exercise – your focus is on using the vocab
  • REPEAT – this is the sort of exercise that should become part of your learning routine – that doesn’t mean you should do it every time – that would be boring and boring isn’t good

Test yourself on my version

This is not easy as I do not show you the words to fill the gaps. If you get stuck, try the Hint button.

How to like it, save it and share it


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

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Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

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Listening guide

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5 Responses to Study tips for IELTS essays – read then write – collocations and synonyms

  1. kajal February 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Thank you dear Dominic. Your daily lessons are really useful.

  2. jenifer February 19, 2013 at 1:41 am #

    Thank you dear Dominic. Your daily lessons are really useful.

  3. Maryam Fayez February 24, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    I do appreciate your emails….. They are all fantastic. Everyday I learn, and it’s so joyful.

  4. Mariam February 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    thanks Dominc, every day i check my e-mail i find a useful information. I appreciate your help.

  5. Mangalika Rathnayake March 4, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Hi Dominicc,

    I really appreciate your daily leesons. They are very useful for me.


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