Lexical resource is the score based on your vocabulary ability, and I’m sure you’ll agree that improving this score is very challenging.
However, for most candidates, their vocabulary ability is the main reason that they can’t achieve their required IELTS Writing score.
By the end of this lesson, you’ll understand how your Lexical Resource score is determined, how to achieve the best score in your test and how to effectively improve your vocabulary ability.
- Lexical Resource – Overview
- Lexical Resource – How Examiners Decide Your Band Score
- Tips for IELTS Test Day
- The One Biggest Mistake by IELTS Candidates
- Strategy to Improve Lexical Resource
Lexical Resource – Overview
The other three bands are Task Achievement, Coherence & Cohesion and Grammatical Range & Accuracy.
To determine your Lexical Resource band score, the examiner will mainly look at the range and accuracy of the vocabulary in your Writing Task 2 essay.
However, there are more factors involved so let’s look at these next.
Lexical Resource – How Examiners Decide Your Band Score
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This is the most important aspect of your Lexical Resource score.
If the examiner can’t understand parts of your essay, your score is going to suffer.
Even if the vocabulary in the rest of your essay is excellent, your band score won’t be any higher than 5 if parts of your essay aren’t clear.
This is why taking risks with the words you use is a bad idea, and it’s essential that your primary goal is to communicate clearly.
The examiner will be paying attention to the frequency of spelling mistakes.
The more spelling mistakes you make, the lower your Lexical Resource band score will be.
If spelling mistakes are so severe that the examiner can’t understand parts of your essay, this is a serious issue that will result in a band 5 or lower for Lexical Resource.
If you make a lot of spelling mistakes, you will need to fix this before the test.
The easiest way to find your spelling mistakes is to check your writing with a spellchecker, record your mistakes in a notebook and then learn the correct spelling by reviewing your notebook regularly.
Accurate tone (formal/informal)
Your Task 2 essay needs to be formal which means that any time you use informal vocabulary, you’re reducing your Lexical Resource score. The more often you do this, the lower the score will become.
The following sentence has an example of inaccurate tone;
None of the kids in my family enjoy eating fruit.
The word ‘kids’ is informal, so it isn’t suitable for a Writing Task 2 essay.
None of the children in my family enjoy eating fruit.
A collocation is a common combination of words.
For example, common collocations with the word IELTS are; IELTS test, IELTS results, and IELTS examiner.
To get a Lexical Resource score higher than band 6, it’s essential that most of the collocations in your answer are accurate.
To help you better understand, let’s look at the inaccurate collocations in these three sentences.
1. I cycle my bicycle to work every morning.
2. I pedal my bicycle to work every morning.
3. I ride my bicycle to work every morning.
1. I cycle my bicycle to work every morning.
The word ‘cycle’ means ‘ride a bicycle’, so the collocation used is inaccurate.
I cycle to work every morning.
2. I pedal my bicycle to work every morning.
The word ‘pedal’ is often used in connection with bicycles, so this seems like a good topic-specific word to use. However, it has been used inaccurately and would negatively affect the Lexical Resource score.
When I cycle to work every morning, I pedal as quickly as I can.
3. I ride my bicycle to work every morning.
The collocation ‘ride my bicycle’ is 100% accurate. At first, when most students look a the three example sentences above, they feel that this sentence would get the lowest score for Lexical Resource because the language is too simple. However, because it’s accurate, this is the best of the three sentences.
A range of topic-specific vocabulary
If you’re looking for a band 7 or higher, you will need to use topic-specific vocabulary.
Topic-specific words are words that are only used to talk about one topic.
For example, if you were writing about bicycles, some topic-specific words are; pedal, saddle, cycle, crossbar, spokes, etc. These are words that wouldn’t be useful when discussing other topics.
Topic-specific words show the examiner that your lexical resource is beyond discussing basic ideas.
This is why you must have a range of vocabulary to discuss a wide variety of topics.
Tips for IELTS Test Day
Obviously, you will only get a high score for Lexical Resource if you have the ability.
Sometimes, however, an IELTS candidate will have the ability, but a few mistakes on test day can mean that they don’t get the score they deserve.
In this part of the lesson, we will go through some important tips to ensure that you get the highest possible band score for Lexical Resource in IELTS Writing Task 2.
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Tip #1 – Consider Your Lexical Resource While Planning
When planning your Task 2 answer, you must generate ideas that are specific and relevant.
However, you might think of a suitable idea but you don’t have the necessary vocabulary to discuss it. When this happens, you should remove the idea from your plan immediately and replace it with one that you can discuss.
Tip #2 – Don’t take risks with Lexical Resource
On test day, the time to improve your vocabulary is over.
It’s time to focus on communicating your ideas as clearly as possible.
Many IELTS candidates ignore this and take risks with their word choice. This always results in mistakes with accuracy, poor communication and a reduction in the IELTS Writing score.
Of course, you will make some mistakes in your writing, and this is okay. Your essay doesn’t need to be perfect for a high score.
The point here is to avoid making unnecessary mistakes.
How do you know if you’re taking risks?
The way you feel about your word choice is the best indication.
- If you feel unsure if a word is correct or not, don’t use it.
- If you’re praying that the word is correct, don’t use it.
- If you’re using a word because you think it will get you a high score, don’t use it.
- If you’re using a word because you think it ‘sounds good’, don’t use it. Words only ‘sound good’ when they are above our level. Once we can use them accurately, they don’t seem impressive to us anymore.
Tip #3 – Don’t obsess about synonyms
Sometimes, a candidate will use a word in their essay several times and feel that it’s not okay to use it again.
By all means, if you know a synonym, then you should use it.
However, if you don’t know a synonym, don’t stress about it! Just use the same word again.
If you ever have to decide between repeating a word or using a synonym you’re unsure of, you should use the same word again.
Tip #4 – Don’t use pre-learned language
This is something that happens quite often in the IELTS test.
A candidate will think that they can trick the examiner into giving them a high score by writing full paragraphs or full sentences that they memorised before their IELTS test.
This is a useless strategy as examiners can recognise this type of language immediately.
It won’t bring down your score, but it will reduce the opportunities you have to increase your score.
A common example of memorised language is the following sentence;
‘This essay will discuss the positives and negatives of this situation and come to a reasoned conclusion.’
This sentence was clearly learned before the test, shows no understanding of the question, shows no ability to write in English and will do nothing to improve your IELTS score.
In short, wait until you see the question before you decide what vocabulary you will use.
The One Biggest Mistake by IELTS Candidates
By far, the biggest mistake that IELTS students make is believing their lexical resource is better than it really is.
This is the biggest mistake because they ignore the one thing that will allow them to achieve the IELTS scores that they need.
No matter how much these students study, they will not get their IELTS scores until they improve their Lexical Resource score.
This is a difficult situation to find yourself in. However, the solution is straightforward.
Accept reality, start improving your vocabulary, and ensure that you definitely will achieve your desired IELTS scores.
Why do some students misunderstand their Lexical Resource level?
There are several common scenarios why students feel they’re at a higher level than they really are.
The student has studied in a pre-advanced English class and thinks that this makes them a pre-advanced student.
Knowledge dictates a student’s level, not the classes they attended.
The student can communicate perfectly in English.
In the real world, nobody cares about vocabulary mistakes as long as the communication is clear.
This student is confusing their ability to communicate effectively with their ability to get a high score for Lexical Resource.
This student is overconfident.
It’s good to be confident, but dangerous to be overconfident.
They have better English than anyone else they know.
They are comparing their English ability with that of their friends and family members.
If your level is higher than those around you, this doesn’t indicate that you can score band 7 or 8 in Lexical Resource.
They are avoiding reality.
They know that their lexical resource isn’t good enough, but they also know how much work it will take to improve.
Strategy to Improve Lexical Resource
This part of the lesson is very detailed as it contains everything you need to know about the process of improving your vocabulary as effectively and efficiently as possible.
We will look at;
- Which topics to read about
- Finding new words
- Selecting words for your vocabulary notebook
- Choosing what information to record
- Review, Review, Review
- Improving by one band in Lexical Resource
- How often to study vocabulary
- Staying motivated
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Which topics to read about
It’s important that you read about a variety of topics.
If you only read about things that interest you, you won’t improve your range.
If you only read a newspaper’s front page, you’ll mostly read about politics and celebrities.
To make sure that you have the vocabulary range for any Writing Task 2 question, you need to be prepared for the most common topics and more.
This is not a definitive list of topics you need to read about, but it is an excellent starting point;
Topic #1 – Social issues
For example, public health, housing, overpopulation, discrimination, crime and poverty.
Topic #2 – Environmental issues
For example, pollution, climate change and deforestation.
Topic #3 – Shopping
For example, current trends, shopping online, benefits and drawbacks for customers/owners and preferences.
Topic #4 – Parenthood
For example, what decisions are best for children.
Topic #5 – Technology and the media
For example, the effects they have on society and individuals.
Topic #6 – Transportation
For example, public transportation, private transportation and transportation infrastructures.
Topic #7 – Education
For example, primary, secondary and tertiary education, advantages and disadvantages of various subjects and the various choices that need to be made within an education system.
Topic #8 – Jobs and careers
For example, qualifications, finding a job, work-life balance, pay and job-related stress.
Topic #9 – Personal preferences
For example, accommodation, lifestyle, free time activities and clothing.
Finding new words
This is probably the easiest part of improving your Lexical Resource.
All you need to do is read texts, select words you don’t know and add them to your vocabulary notebook.
For IELTS Writing Task 2, you must focus on texts with the type of language you’ll need to use in your essay.
For this reason, I would recommend that you read newspapers.
Depending on your level, you might not be ready to read ordinary newspapers yet.
If you read something too difficult, there will be too much that you don’t understand, and this will slow down your progress.
On the other hand, if you read texts that are too easy for you, you won’t find any new words, and you’ll make no progress.
That is why it’s important that you can understand about 80 to 90% of what you’re reading.
To help you find the right text, I recommend that you start with the websites News in Levels, Breaking News English and Dream Reader. These three sites have short news articles, and you can choose the language difficulty of each article.
Once those websites become too easy, move on to E-News. The articles on this site are longer, but you can still choose the level of each one.
After E-News, start using newspapers that aren’t written for language learners. When choosing a newspaper to read, I would recommend one that is published in an English-speaking country.
Note about word lists.
You may be wondering about word lists.
I don’t recommend that you use these unless you’re willing to do a lot of research on each word before adding it to your vocabulary notebook.
Honestly, it’s just better to learn a word from a text as you’ll have a lot more information about how the word is used.
Selecting words for your vocabulary notebook
You should not add every new word you see to your vocabulary notebook.
Learning to use a new word accurately takes time and effort.
It’s important to use your time wisely by only learning words that you’re likely to read, hear or use again.
Include words that are familiar to you
The best words to add to your vocabulary notebook are the ones that are familiar to you.
As you’re reading, you’ll see a word that you don’t understand, but you’ll recognise it as a word you’ve seen a few times before.
These are the perfect words to learn.
This is because you know that they are used regularly in the English language and that they are suitable additions to your current lexical resource.
New meanings of a word you already know.
Students often say, “I know all the words, but I can’t understand the sentence.”
Trust me; if you can’t understand the sentence, you don’t know all the words.
This usually happens because some words in English have multiple meanings.
Let’s take the word ‘close’ as an example. As a verb, close has the opposite meaning of ‘open’. As an adjective, it has the opposite meaning of ‘far’.
Imagine if a student knows the meaning of ‘close’ as a verb but doesn’t know the meaning of ‘close’ as an adjective.
That student would not understand the sentence, ‘She was sitting close to me.’
However, they would be able to say that they understand every word.
In this case, the student needs to research the other meaning of ‘close’ and add that to their vocabulary notebook.
Ignore specialist words and phrases.
Specialist words are only used by people with a deep knowledge of a topic.
Internet experts, for instance, will use phrases like Transfer Control Protocol, packet switching and Domain Name Server.
You are wasting your time learning words like these because you will never use them in the IELTS test.
This is because Writing Task 2 questions do not require you to have specialist knowledge in any topic, and you will never be asked to describe something specific such as how the internet works.
Instead, you’d be asked to comment on the effects that the internet has on the world or society in a more general way.
A more likely question would be;
With the availability of information on the internet, libraries are no longer as necessary as they once were. Some believe that libraries should be permanently closed as they are a waste of tax payer’s money.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
As you can see, Task 2 questions will not require you to have specialist vocabulary, so there’s no need for you to learn any.
Choosing what information to record
Once you’ve added a new word or phrase to your vocabulary notebook, the next step is to do some research so that you can learn how to use it properly.
Firstly, look at the text where you found it and guess the meaning from the context.
This is an essential skill that you’ll need for your IELTS Reading test, so don’t just jump to your dictionary immediately.
Once you’ve guessed the meaning, you need to decide which information to include.
This step is very important because if you don’t do this properly, there is a high chance that you will use the new word/phrase incorrectly in your writing and speaking.
Remember, we use a vocabulary notebook because we expect to forget the new word, the meaning of the new word and how to use the new word.
If humans had a perfect memory, we wouldn’t need a notebook at all.
When recording vocabulary, assume you’ll remember nothing about the word and include enough information so that you don’t have to research the word again.
Include any information that will help you use this word accurately in the future and include anything that will help you to learn and remember.
Examples of what you can include are; the meaning, the word class, collocations, diagrams, drawings, different colour writing, pronunciation, example sentences, and anything else you feel is relevant.
Vocabulary Notebook Don’ts
Don’t use a thesaurus.
If you search for the word ‘shop’ in the Cambridge Thesaurus, the synonyms shown are; buy, get, purchase, pick something up, snap something up, buy up, stock up (on), go shopping, import, invest in, treat.
Let’s look at ‘buy’ and ‘purchase’ to see why this is problematic.
Firstly, buy and purchase describe the act of giving money in return for a product, whereas the word ‘shop’ has the additional meaning of searching for the product before buying it.
Also, the word ‘shop’ needs to be used with a preposition. You can see the difference in these three sentences,
I want to buy a bottle of water.
I want to purchase a bottle of water.
I want to shop for a bottle of water.
Finally, there’s an even bigger problem.
When I searched for the word ‘shop’ in the thesaurus, I wanted synonyms for the building we call a shop.
So, even besides the issues I mentioned above, the biggest issue is that none of these words is suitable for me.
In short, the only time a thesaurus is useful is if you know all the words already.
It is not a good tool for learning vocabulary.
Don’t use your first language.
When you first started studying English, using your first language in your vocabulary notebook was fine because you’re recording basic words like colours and furniture, which all have direct translations.
As your lexical resource improves, you will encounter more and more phrases that don’t have a direct translation.
This is the first reason that you shouldn’t use your first language.
The second reason is that you need to get to a level where you can think in English without the support of your first language.
If you’re constantly translating back and forth in your mind, this will prevent you from separating the two languages.
Once you can think in English without the support of your second language, you will be able to read and write more quickly, understand more of what you listen to, and your speaking will be more fluent.
Vocabulary Notebook Dos
Make sure you know how to use a dictionary.
Use whatever dictionary you like best but make sure it has all the information you need.
My personal favourite is the online Cambridge Dictionary.
As you can see in the search results for the word kid, I have a lot of useful information for my vocabulary notebook.
I have added colour boxes to the image to help describe what each item is.
The red box
Here you can see the word class.
This is useful information to record in your notebook.
The orange box
In this box, you’ll see all the information about pronunciation.
You can click on the button to hear a recording, or you can make a note of the phonemic spelling if you’re familiar with these symbols.
The yellow box
In this one, you’ll see the CEFR level of the word.
This really isn’t that useful as you are going to learn this word regardless of the level.
Also, you shouldn’t allow the level of a word to encourage you to use it. Just focus on clear communication, not the level of the word.
The green box
In this part of the image, you will see the letter ‘C’.
This means that the word is countable.
Most nouns are countable, so I’m not really interested in this information.
However, if the letter was ‘U’, that would mean that the word is uncountable. I definitely want to record that information in my notebook to ensure that I know how to use the word with grammatical accuracy.
The blue box
This states that the word is informal.
This is a very important piece of information as I need to remember that I can’t use this word in my Task 2 answer.
I will still record it, though, as I need informal vocabulary for the IELTS Speaking test and Writing Task 1 if I’m doing the General Training IELTS test.
I just need to make sure to record that it’s informal so that I don’t use it in the wrong context.
The purple box
This box contains an example sentence that uses the word.
The example sentence is beneficial as it gives us another opportunity to see how the word is used, its collocations and where it belongs in a sentence.
Research shows, however, that you are more likely to remember a word if you create your own example sentence.
So, instead of recording the example sentence shown in the dictionary, I’m going to write ‘Most of the kids in my neighbourhood are very respectful.’
This sentence is true and related to my real life, so it will be easier to learn and remember.
Finally, we need to remember that a word can have multiple meanings, so we might need to look further down the page to find the one you need.
In the image shown, if we were looking for the meaning of ‘kid’ in the context of animals, we would need to look further down the page to see that it means a young goat.
Record groups of words
At your level of English, you need to record groups of words, not individual words.
This is important as you may be looking at a compound noun or a phrasal verb which has two or more words that are always used together.
Also, recording groups of words will help you learn collocations.
Furthermore, this will enable you to improve your use of pronouns.
I realise that pronouns are a part of your Grammatical Range & Accuracy band score, but there are no useful rules that govern the usage of pronouns.
Each one has to be learned individually, so recording pronouns in your vocabulary notebook is the best approach.
By recording which pronoun is used as part of the new item in your vocabulary notebook, you’ll learn them together and be sure of using them correctly later on.
For example, we looked at the word ‘shop’ earlier.
If you just record the word ‘shop’ and the definition, you probably won’t remember that it needs to be used with a preposition.
But, if you record the group of words ‘to shop for something’, then you’ll definitely use it accurately in future.
Review, Review, Review
This is by far the most important step to improve lexical resource, yet the one that gets the least attention.
There’s something very satisfying about adding new words to a vocabulary notebook.
It can feel like an accomplishment.
A lot of students only focus on this part of the process because of how rewarding it feels.
However, finding, researching and adding new words is only the beginning of the process.
Reviewing your vocabulary notebook is the most essential step of all.
To help you understand the importance of reviewing vocabulary, let’s look at this image of the forgetting curve from Wikipedia.
It shows that, for the average person, they will have forgotten a new word after 6 days. This is the red line.
However, after reviewing the vocabulary, the memory of that word jumps back up to 100%, and the rate at which we forget is not as steep this time.
After the second review, a person is far more likely to remember the word and even more likely after the third review and so on.
As well as reviewing the vocabulary in our notebook, we can also consolidate new vocabulary by reading in English and listening to English.
Each time we see or hear one of these new words, the memory of that word becomes stronger.
After that, you should do whatever works best for you.
Some people are very visual and need to see the word; some people like to walk around as they study. Others like to use the words in writing to help them remember, and some need to repeat the word out loud several times to help them remember.
There is no right or wrong way as long as it works for you.
Improving by 1 band in Lexical Resource
No one can say how long it will take you to improve your Lexical Resource score by one band.
It depends on your current level, how much time you study every day, if you study effectively, how good your memory is and many other factors.
One thing that we do know is that it takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work.
Let me put how much work it is into perspective for you.
This image from IELTS.org indicates that a B2 (upper-intermediate) student can expect a score of between 5.5 and 6.5 in IELTS.
Now, it’s difficult to say exactly, but the common consensus is that a student must learn about 2,500 words to move from B2 up to C1.
That means that if you are a B2-level student and learn 10 new words every day, it will take you 8 months to reach a C2 level.
Obviously, 8 months isn’t an accurate length of time for every student because there are many other factors to consider.
I’m just showing you these figures to help you understand how much study and hard work is involved in making such a huge improvement to your Lexical Resource score.
This amount of work might seem demotivating to some, but I believe that you won’t quit on your desired IELTS scores if you understand how much work you need to do and your expectations are realistic.
How often to study vocabulary
You should study vocabulary every day.
Even if you can already get the score you need for Lexical Resource, you should study vocabulary every day.
Improving your lexical resource will benefit you in all parts of the IELTS test, so it’s a perfect use of your time.
The exception to this is if your IELTS test is in less than 3 weeks.
In just 3 weeks, you’re not going to improve your Lexical Resource score, but this is definitely enough time to improve in other areas of the IELTS test.
The process of improving your Lexical Resource score is a lot of work, takes a lot of time, needs a lot of focus and requires a lot of dedication.
If you have the focus and dedication required, you can do it.
Let’s look at some ways to stay motivated so that you can achieve IELTS success.
#1. Study vocabulary at the same time every day.
After about two weeks of studying vocabulary at the same time every day, it will become a part of your routine, and it will require less motivation to get started each day.
#2. Study 6 days a week.
This way, if you get demotivated in the middle of the week, you know that there is a break coming, and you can push yourself to continue studying for another few days.
Also, our minds and our bodies need and deserve a break from time to time. Go and enjoy your favourite hobby or spend some time with friends and family.
#3. Have something more enjoyable to fall back on.
There will be days when you’re just not in the mood to read any more newspaper articles.
You’re only human, and if you really don’t have the motivation sometimes, that’s okay.
In this situation, though, you mustn’t break the daily habit completely.
If you break the habit once, it will be much easier to break it the next time.
Instead, read something a bit easier and more enjoyable on that day.
#4. Track and Acknowledge Your Progress.
Here’s an analogy I like to use about improving vocabulary.
Imagine you have a water hose and there is one drop of water coming out every second.
If I ask you to fill a glass, you will see the water level increasing slowly.
If I ask you to fill a swimming pool, you will feel like there is no progress at all.
Even though the exact same amount of water is coming out of the hose, our perception of what’s happening is completely different.
Bear with me! There is a point to this.
When you started studying English for the first time, it wasn’t important to monitor your progress as you could easily perceive your improvement. It was like filling the glass.
At your current English level, you’ve already learned so many words that noticing your improvement is like trying to fill the swimming pool.
You are still learning new words at the same rate, but now, your progress is much harder to detect.
This is why monitoring your progress is essential to staying motivated.
To track your progress, you can;
- Read a text that you read 6 months ago. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it seems this time.
- Look at an essay that you wrote 6 months ago. You’ll be able to correct mistakes and expand the range of vocabulary.
- Listen to a recording of yourself from 6 months ago. You’ll be able to hear and correct your own mistakes.
- Look through your vocabulary notebooks and tick off all the words you know now.
#5. Work with someone else.
Even if a friend or family member just takes your notebook and tests you on some random words, it’s a nice change from time to time.
#6. Break down your goals into manageable, achievable targets.
Don’t start with; I want to learn 2,500 words in 8 months.
Start with; I want to learn 50 new words this week.
At the end of the week, you can acknowledge if you achieved your goal or not and if you need to adjust your goal or work harder next week.
#7. Make yourself accountable.
If you tell someone else what your goals are for the week, this will make you more accountable and more motivated to achieve these goals.
To make sure this works, you will also need to report back to this person at the end of the week to tell them what progress you made.
#8. Find ways to reward yourself.
Give yourself a little treat from time to time to show yourself some appreciation for all the hard work you’re doing.
#9. Imagine your success
There are two sides to this.
Some people are motivated by imagining the day they get their successful IELTS results.
Others are more motivated by imagining all the steps they need to take to ensure that they achieve success.
Either way, it’s important to understand that all achievements come from hard work and sacrifice.
You are investing your time in a better future.
Every time you study, that IELTS certificate is getting closer and closer to becoming a part of your reality.
Now you can start your new routine of improving your lexical resource every day.
Also, well done on completing this lesson. This really was a big one, and you’ve already shown that you have an incredible amount of motivation by getting to the end.
If you haven’t already completed my Task 2 lessons on Task Achievement, Coherence & Cohesion and Grammatical Range & Accuracy, I would recommend that you complete those next as they will ensure you’re fully prepared for Writing Task 2 on your test day.