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Vocabulary range

Use a range of vocabulary in the IELTS speaking test. Improve your band score for vocabulary range and accuracy.
3 students sitting at cafe with laptops
© Macquarie University

One of the main aspects assessed under Lexical Resource is the variety of words you use to describe various topics.

In Ming Wei’s answers about cooking, she used vocabulary quite accurately, but there were three aspects in her first responses that she could have improved in relation to vocabulary range:

  • Inexact words: She tried to describe something white to make a cake. She was referring to flour, which she used in her second attempt.
  • Range: She could have used a wider variety of words, phrases and expressions related to cooking. The vocabulary in the first answers was either taken from the questions (e.g. cook, recipe) or was too simple (e.g. food, prepare, cake). This improved significantly in her second set of answers (e.g. cuisine, dishes, flour, taste good, bake).
  • Simple vocabulary: In her first attempt, she tended to use simple vocabulary but she then replaced this with less common words, including some idiomatic expressions:
First attempt Improved attempt
I have very little time I’m always short of time
take something quick grab something quick
almost never hardly ever
a lot of things a lot of ingredients
I am not sure If my memory doesn’t fail me
happy thrilled

There are several ways to show a wider range of vocabulary, including using phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions:

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs consist of a base verb + a preposition or an adverb (sometimes both). This combination creates a new meaning for the verb. For example:

  • You look tired. (look = appear)
  • I look up to my father. (look up to = admire)

Using phrasal verbs can help you achieve a higher score for Lexical resource as it shows that you have a good command of the English language.

Here are a few considerations about phrasal verbs:

They take tenses: This means that you need to carefully consider the most appropriate tense. For example:

  • I got up late yesterday (past simple).
  • I usually get up at 7am on weekdays (present simple).
  • I’ve been getting up quite hungry lately (present perfect continuous)
  • I’m going to get up early tomorrow (future simple)

They can take objects: These can go at the end or in the middle of the phrasal verb. For example:

  • I’ll pick up my sister later.
  • I’ll pick my sister up later.

They can have several meanings: For example:

  • I was brought up by my grandparents (bring up = raise, educate a child)
  • He brought up the idea of having a party (bring up = introduce a topic or idea)

Below is a handout to some of the most common phrasal verbs. Download it and have it ready for an activity in the next step.

Idiomatic expressions

An idiomatic expression (or idiom) is a group of words following a particular order which convey a certain meaning different from the literal meaning of each individual word. For example:

It’s raining cats and dogs (meaning = it’s raining heavily)

The Public Band Descriptors consider the use of less common vocabulary and idiomatic expressions in Bands 7 and 8. However, idiomatic expressions need to be used at the right time and in the right context. Do not overuse them.

Below is a handout to some of the most common idiomatic expressions in English. Download it and use it to complete an activity in the following steps.


Look at the two handouts we provided above. Choose one phrasal verb and one idiomatic expression that are new to you and write a sentence using each in the comment box below.

© Macquarie University
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