The Complete Guide to IELTS Vocabulary

The Complete Guide to IELTS Vocabulary

What kind of IELTS vocabulary words are on the test? Just how many words do you need to learn? Read on to find the answers to these important questions, along with resources to help expand your IELTS vocabulary.

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Click the links below to go to each section of our IELTS Vocabulary Guide.

Introduction to IELTS Vocabulary

IELTS Academic Vocabulary

IELTS Conversational Vocabulary

Learn IELTS Vocab with Magoosh Comics

Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary Flashcards

All About IELTS Speaking Vocabulary

The Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary PDF

Additional Vocabulary Resources

The Takeaway

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All About IELTS Vocabulary: An Introduction

What is vocabulary like on the IELTS test? Before I give you an answer, there’s one thing you should remember: when it comes to vocabulary, the IELTS isn’t one test. It’s really four tests. Each section of the IELTS—Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking—has its own unique mix of vocabulary.

Still, these sections do have one thing in common: each part of the IELTS features either academic vocabulary, conversational vocabulary, or a combination of both.

Here is a helpful video we’ve made that introduces you to a handful of the vocabulary words you’ll encounter.

There are many different IELTS word lists out there, and each list has a different number of words. So, exactly how many words do you need to know for the IELTS? The answer is that you can’t know. There’s no exact number of words that is guaranteed to give you full mastery of vocabulary for the test. In general, the more words you know, the better.

How to Expand Your IELTS Vocabulary

The real way to see if you know enough words isn’t to memorize a fixed number of them. Instead, you should start by doing IELTS practice questions. As you practice IELTS questions, how do you do with vocabulary? How many words do you not know? How does this affect your IELTS performance?

One quick way to get a feel for this is to take a full-length IELTS practice test. As you take an IELTS practice test, ask yourself: Can I understand all the necessary information in the recordings and the reading passages? Can I express my ideas in both written and spoken language effectively and accurately, by using various words?

Once you’ve taken a practice exam and have an idea of your current level of vocabulary, you can start to work to expand your vocabulary.

Get a higher IELTS score? Start your online IELTS prep today with Magoosh.

Keep in mind: Expanding your vocabulary is not just remembering the spelling and translation of vocabulary lists. It is about learning meanings, functions, phrases, and more. Therefore, learning new words should be based on meaningful contexts. Check out our free list of IELTS vocabulary words, five ways to learn and remember English vocabulary, and our other vocabulary posts for suggestions!

Another quick way to expand your vocabulary is to learn the meaning of prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes are letters attached to the beginning of a word root while suffixes are letters attached to the ending of a word root. Each prefix and suffix carry a certain meaning. We can deduce the meaning of new words based on the prefix or suffix, and the word root.

For example, the word imperfect consists of the prefix im- and the word root perfect. We know im- means “not” and perfect means “having no mistakes and flaws.” Then we can deduce that imperfect means “not perfect, having mistakes and flaws.” Here is a list of common prefixes and suffixes with examples provided.

Academic Vocabulary on the IELTS

You’ll find academic passages in IELTS Reading, and these passages are full of academic vocabulary. This is true both for IELTS Academic Reading and IELTS General Training Reading. On either version of the exam, you’ll read educational nonfiction articles that deal with specific academic topics. This means you’ll need to know vocabulary related to science, history, economics, and so on.

Similarly, on both tests, the IELTS Listening sections also touch on academic vocabulary, with educational talks and university-style lectures. Vocabulary for IELTS essays varies, depending on the Writing task.


Academic Vocabulary for IELTS Writing Task 1

In IELTS Academic Writing, the vocabulary for Writing Task 1 is related to summarizing factual information. The task requires you to describe the contents of a detailed informational graph or chart. This means you need to write a factual, source-based essay. You’ll be required to use “reporting verbs,” or verbs that describe the way information is given. For example, you might say “the chart illustrates…” or “the graph presents…” or “the table demonstrates….” You’ll also need to use adjectives such as “approximately” or “gradually” to describe data, or changes to data over time.

You can find a full guide to vocabulary in the Academic Writing Task 1 in the Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary PDF. Then, to get a full picture of what this task looks like, read Eliot’s Complete Guide to IELTS Writing Task 1. Eliot’s guide helps you to really apply the vocabulary, and create a well-formed, complete graph essay.

In contrast, vocabulary for IELTS Writing Task 1 on the General Training test is more informal and conversational. For General Training, the first Writing task involves personal and professional emails and letters.


Academic Vocabulary for IELTS Writing Task 2

For both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training, the second Writing task is the same. Here, you’ll need to use vocabulary that’s appropriate for a short, university style essay.

Vocabulary for IELTS Writing Task 2 depends a lot on the specific essay question you are given. And we have specific vocabulary resources for specific question types:

What’s important is that you are good at using written vocabulary in context. For more information on how to use vocabulary for IELTS Writing Task 2, see Vocabulary for IELTS Writing Task 2. Finally, if you are looking to improve your writing for Task 2, take a look atMagoosh’s Complete Guide to IELTS Writing Task 2.


Academic Vocabulary on the IELTS and GRE

It’s also worth noting that the academic vocabulary on the IELTS is similar to academic vocabulary on a number of other standardized tests. This is convenient for the many students who need to take both the IELTS and the GRE. IELTS Reading and GRE Reading Comprehension feature very similar vocabulary words.

But the similarities don’t end there. The IELTS Writing Task and the GRE’s AWA issue task have very similar questions, and you can use very similar vocabulary in both essays. Moreover, even GRE Quant, which focuses on math rather than language, has some vocabulary in common with the IELTS. You’ll need to read and understand similar graph and chart labels in GRE Quant, and on the graphs found in IELTS Listening and IELTS Academic Writing Task 1.


Links to Academic IELTS Vocabulary Lists

Magoosh has a number of posts that define common academic vocabulary words that appear on the IELTS. For your convenience, here are links to all of our posts in one place, as well as a video to get you started.


IELTS Conversational Vocabulary

On both versions of the IELTS exam, IELTS Listening also has a lot of conversational vocabulary. But don’t get the wrong idea. You’re not simply listening to informal conversations between friends. Instead, in IELTS Listening, you’ll hear people having business-related conversations. You might hear an exchange between a customer and a clerk at a store, or listen to someone make a phone call to a travel agent.

On the IELTS General Training exam, you see some of this conversational vocabulary in the Reading section as well. IELTS General Training Reading includes short flyers and bulletins about things like public events, services, store refund policies, products for sale, and so on. These short written pieces are full of IELTS conversational vocabulary.

So how are these flyers and bulletins “conversational?” I’m glad you asked! These kinds of IELTS texts contain the same kinds of words you’d use if you were actually talking to someone about events, services, shopping, or goods. To see what I mean, you can check out some real IELTS General Training passages on the official IELTS website. Take, for example, this bulletin about a recalled product, or this handbill for a group bicycling activity.

The IELTS General Training exam also has a conversational Writing Task. In IELTS General Training Writing Task 1, you need to write a letter, either to a colleague or a friend. This kind of writing is very informal, similar to speech, and it requires a good range of conversational English vocabulary.

Links to IELTS Conversational Vocabulary Word Lists


Learn IELTS Vocab the Magoosh Way… With Comics

Magoosh offers a special resource to help you really remember and master all the IELTS vocabulary you need. In our Magoosh Comics series, you’ll find cartoons that help you remember the meanings of academic words. We also offer comic strips that let you visualize the use of IELTS conversational vocabulary in context. You can see a few examples below.

Sample Science Word Cartoon

IELTS vocabulary sample science-magoosh

Sample University Vocabulary Comic Strip

IELTS vocabulary sample university-magoosh

Sample Conversational Vocabulary Comic Strip

IELTS vocabulary sample conversational-magoosh

Magoosh Comics: The Complete IELTS Vocabulary Collection

Below is a complete set of links to all of the Magoosh Comics I’ve created on the IELTS Blog… so far.


Learn IELTS Vocab with Magoosh IELTS Flashcards

In addition to our comic strips, Magoosh IELTS offers free flashcards for over 600 common IELTS words. So what are you waiting for? Check out the Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary Flashcards online right now, or get on your phone and download our app for Android or Apple.


IELTS Speaking Vocabulary: A Little Academic, a Little Conversational

If you’re an observant IELTS student, you’ve probably been getting impatient with me. “Why hasn’t he mentioned IELTS English vocabulary for Speaking?” you may have asked.

Don’t worry—I’ve been building up to it… and for good reason. The IELTS Speaking section deserves special attention. This section tests your vocabulary in a way that is unique and challenging.

For one thing, in IELTS Speaking Part 1 and IELTS Speaking Part 3, you need to actually use vocabulary in a live, ongoing conversation. You can’t pause to think of the right word, the way that you would in IELTS Writing. You are expected to respond immediately to vocabulary words you hear. You have little time to pause and think about what you’ve heard. This means you’ll need more than just passive listening or reading skills in conversational vocabulary.

Part 2 of IELTS Speaking is an even more special case. This is the IELTS Speaking “long turn.” Here, you need to give a speech—2 to 3 minutes long—where you express a personal opinion about a social issue. This is similar to the kind of talk you might give in a university speech class. So you’ll need to know the vocabulary of formal speech, rather than conversation… and you’ll need to know some good academic transition words.

Above all, IELTS vocab for Speaking is a huge part of your Speaking score. In fact, “lexical resource,” meaning variety and range of vocabulary, makes up 25% of your IELTS Speaking score. (See the official IELTS Speaking band descriptors.) So you need to develop a good range of high-level vocabulary.

Elsewhere on this blog, Trisha offers a lot of powerful advice on how to broaden your English vocabulary for speaking with the interviewer. Read her post, “High-Level Vocabulary in the IELTS Speaking Test,” for skills-building advice.

Scroll down for a look at the types of vocabulary you need for the three parts of the IELTS Speaking Interview. From there, be sure to check out the list of IELTS Speaking Vocabulary words in the Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary PDF.


IELTS Vocabulary for Speaking: Parts 1 and 3

In IELTS Speaking Part 1, you’ll have a fast-paced conversation about your personal experiences. In Part 3, you will again have an active, personal conversation. The difference is that in Part 3, you aren’t just giving basic facts about your personal life. In this final section of IELTS Speaking, you also reflect on your personal life. This means you state your opinions about personal experiences you’ve had, and describe how these experiences affected you.

The topics of discussion in IELTS Speaking Parts 1 and 3 vary, but there are several common topics. You can find example questions for these topics in Magoosh’s IELTS Speaking Topics PDF.

Magoosh also provides a long list of words related to common IELTS Speaking topics and common Part 1 and 3 transitions. They’re in our IELTS Vocabulary PDF.


IELTS Vocabulary for Speaking: Part 2

IELTS Speaking Part 2 serves as a kind of “bridge” between Parts 1 and 3 of the IELTS interview. After giving basic personal facts in Part 1, Part 2 gives you a chance to reflect on your personal experiences in a longer speech.

The Part 1 and Part 3 vocabulary words are also potentially useful in IELTS Speaking Part 2. However, IELTS Speaking Part 2 requires you to use additional types of academic words. You’ll need your speech to be just a little bit more formal than usual.

Don’t worry—you don’t need to use the highly formal vocabulary you’d use in IELTS Writing. Your speech can still have a natural, informal tone, for the most part. But it is a good idea to use formal transition words.

Because you are talking “solo,” without any replies from your interviewer, strong transition words are important. They help your interviewer understand your ideas, even though he or she cannot stop you to ask for clarification or extra information. In our IELTS Vocabulary PDF, you can find a list of formal transition words for the Speaking long turn.


The Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary PDF

Many Magoosh students have asked if I know of any test-specific vocabulary lists with meanings for each word, available as a free PDF download. I researched this, and found surprisingly few good vocabulary PDFs that are available on the web for free. So, I talked with the Magoosh IELTS management. We decided to solve this vocabulary PDF problem with a new resource for all of you Magooshers: the Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary PDF!

You’ll notice we’ve referenced the new PDF frequently in this post. It’s a great resource with vocabulary word lists and advice for each section of the IELTS. We’re proud to present this wonderful new study aid to anyone who wants to use it. Enjoy, and feel free to let us know what you think in the comments.

Download the Magoosh IELTS Vocabulary PDF


Additional IELTS Vocabulary Resources

It’s best to approach all of your Magoosh study materials with vocabulary in mind. If you use a study schedule, such as our academic IELTS one month study schedule or our one week IELTS study schedule, be sure to think carefully about how vocabulary fits into all of your study and practice activities. And as you look for the best IELTS books and resources, think about how these resources can help you build your vocabulary, directly or indirectly.

Beyond the resources Magoosh currently offers, there are other places where you can find excellent vocabulary study materials. Cambridge has made an especially good official IELTS vocabulary book, “Vocabulary for IELTS.” I own a copy of this book, and I highly recommend it.

If you don’t want to buy a book and would prefer to find word lists online, I recommend the IELTS word lists you can find on For especially ambitious scholars, I specifically recommend’s IELTS vocabulary for 8 band page.

For a particularly good academic vocabulary list, I also recommend the Academic Word List, or AWL. It wasn’t created specifically for the IELTS, but it does cover all the kinds of academic words you’ll find on the test. The AWL features the academic vocabulary words that most often appear in university-level texts and lectures.


The Takeaway

IELTS vocab skills lead to exam success. There are many good resources, both here at Magoosh and in other places, that can help you learn IELTS vocabulary.

To truly master IELTS vocabulary, memorization exercises and flashcards are helpful. But there’s far more to vocabulary than just memorization. To really shine on the IELTS, make sure you are ready to not just recall vocabulary, but also to understand vocabulary in context. And of course, be prepared to fluently use IELTS English vocabulary in context, in your own writing and speech. Good luck!

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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