We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip main navigation

How important are grammar and vocabulary?

There is no separate grammar and vocabulary test in IELTS, but these are important parts of your ability to communicate. Watch Pauline Cullen explain.
Pauline, the IELTS test doesn’t have a separate paper for vocabulary and grammar. No, that’s right. So, yeah, how important is for me to study these things, then? Actually, they’re very important because grammar and vocabulary are actually all the way through the test. Yeah. For example, you have to have a basic vocabulary to be able to understand what you’re reading and listening to in the Reading and Listening tests and to be able to answer the questions. And the vocabulary gradually becomes more difficult as the test progresses. But also, grammar has an impact on the tone of a passage, for example, or on the way that you understand how ideas are connected.
So it’s really there in every single part of the test. So how important are vocabulary and grammar in the Writing test? As we saw in earlier weeks, two out of the four criteria relate to vocabulary and grammar. So they’re really worth half of your Writing test score. And also, it’s important to remember that it’s about the range of the vocabulary and grammar that you’re using, because at a lower level, candidates tend to not have a wide enough vocabulary to avoid repeating the same words over and over again within a topic. And the same with grammatical structures, as well. The lower bands do tend to repeat the same simple or basic sentence structures within their language.
So it’s important to remember that we’re measuring the range of what you’re producing as well. And what about in the Speaking test? Well just like in the Writing test, there are separate criteria for vocabulary and grammar. And the questions that you’re asked will focus on a range of different topics and also tenses. So the examiner will make sure that you have the chance to show a range of topics and tenses. But also, when you are - you’re also being measured on your fluency, and that’s your ability to keep talking. And so sometimes with fluency, people stumble over - when they’re looking for a word and they can’t remember a word - Yeah.
Or they repeat the start of a sentence over and over again. So looking for a word in your mind, or trying to think of a word, also affects your fluency score. We use grammatical structures to show how ideas are connected, so it also comes into coherence and cohesion in your Speaking test as well. So it really is all the way through all the criteria. So grammar and vocabulary are important, but they are part of communication, not something separate. That’s right. Is that correct? That’s exactly right, yes. OK. So how should I study vocabulary and grammar then?
Well vocabulary and grammar are very important, as we’ve seen, very important parts of the test and they’re very important parts of language learning. But it’s really important to take a communicative approach to learning them, so that means you don’t just focus on learning lists of words or learning structures in isolation. It’s important to see them within the context of a sentence or a paragraph, so you see how they’re being used to communicate your ideas and you learn how to use them to communicate your ideas more clearly. Yeah. That’s what it’s really all about. Do you have any advice about what sorts of words I should learn?
Well, a lot of people, when they’re preparing for the academic IELTS Academic module, focus on the academic word list - the AWL, which was produced by Dr Averil Coxhead of Wellington University. And it’s a fantastic resource. It’s freely available. But it’s important to understand that it focuses on the vocabulary that’s commonly used in academic journals. And so it’s a very good resource for the Reading test, for example, but you’re being asked in the IELTS test to talk on a very wide range of ordinary topics, and so you need to go beyond that list and make sure you don’t just focus on learning academic words. You need to focus on general topics as well.
Do you have any advice about what sorts of words should I learn? Well you need to be able to discuss ordinary topics in an abstract way. So look for sources that are going to teach you that kind of vocabulary. So, for example, you need to be able to discuss things like travel and the advantages and disadvantages of travel and tourism. So not just focusing on academic words, as I said, but also making sure that you don’t just learn lists of words. Make sure you learn them within the context so that you know how to use the words correctly. And do I need to use very complex words and sentences to score a high band in IELTS.
Yeah, that’s a common problem I see. People often share writing on my Facebook page, and a common problem I see, especially for candidates stuck at Band 6.5 in their writing, is that they think that they need to use very complex words in order to achieve the complex level of language that they need to show for Band 7, for example. But the result is often complicated language - what I call complicated language. Because they tend to focus on or use words that are actually quite old-fashioned, or words that are not appropriate that a native speaker wouldn’t naturally use.
For example, words that we might only rarely find in a legal document, and so it really is important to make sure that you focus on ordinary topics and words that are commonly used, but to be able to discuss a topic using that vocabulary in an abstract way. That’s really what it’s about. It’s not about learning long, complicated words to be able to use. What should I be doing when it comes to learning vocabulary? OK, so in vocabulary, as we’ve seen, you’re being tested on your accuracy and range. So the range is about not repeating the same words over and over again.
And if you study a topic, for example, you’re going to have lots of different ways of explaining the same thing - so synonyms for words, for example. But accuracy is also important, and that comes down to spelling, obviously, but also the word formation, the word form. So using the noun form, instead of - or the verb form, for example, and what the adverb should look like, or the adjective, and so on - so different forms of the word. And then also, collocation is very important, and that’s the way that words are used together. I’ve seen the word ‘collocation’ used a lot. Yes. Yeah, can you explain a little bit about it? Collocation is very important.
It’s about the way that we naturally combine words together. For example - and again it comes down to not just learning lists of words in isolation. That’s why you need to learn them within a context, so you know which words naturally go together in English. For example, I had an example recently. Somebody wrote in an essay the phrase ‘petty businesses’. And now we can use the word ‘petty’ to mean small if we’re talking about something like a crime, but we can’t use it to talk about a business or a shop, for example. And that’s the kind of problem that can happen if you just learn words in isolation.
It’s really important to learn the words that naturally combine together in English. So that’s what collocation is. So learning new words means more than just learning the meaning, right? That’s right, yes. OK. And how about grammar? Why should I approach learning that? Well grammar, obviously you can use grammar books to help with that. But again, it’s important to see the structures being used in context so that you can understand how they affect meaning, and how they help you to convey precise meaning. So I recommend reading widely for that. And in particular, if you focus on academic reading passages, the official Academic Reading tests are written in a very precise way.
So they show you how to use language in a very precise way. So I think it’s a good idea to just focus on one or two paragraphs, and after you’ve finished your reading passage, just look at those paragraphs and think about the different structures. Think about how the writer has used those structures to connect ideas together. Think about the impact they have on the tone, on the message, and as I said, the way the ideas are connected together. And then try to use that yourself when you’re actively using structures in your own writing. Thank you very much, Pauline. Thanks.
There is no separate grammar and vocabulary test in IELTS, but these are important parts of your ability to communicate in English.
Watch Nuria and Pauline discuss how grammar and vocabulary are important in different parts of the IELTS test, and how you can practise.
Of course, your goal is to communicate well when speaking, listening, reading and writing. Think of grammar and vocabulary as important parts of this goal, not separate.
This article is from the free online

Inside IELTS: Preparing for the Test With the Experts

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education