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The IELTS Speaking Test: Lexical Resource

Lexical resource, along with pronunciation, grammar, and fluency, is one of the skills that the IELTS examiner will be assessing during your speaking test. Read on to understand what this means, how it its marked, and ways to improve it!

Lexical Resource: What is it?

This is basically just a fancy way of saying vocabulary. Your vocabulary includes:

  • Words. If the word motivation isn’t part of your vocabulary, you might instead paraphrase to say “the reasons why I want to.” Paraphrasing is an important skill that examiner’s consider when assessing your speech.
  • Phrases. You know that the meaning of the verb to take and understand that when it is accompanied by other words, its meaning can change.  Combinations such as to take in, to take out, to take for, to take on, for example, are distinct in meaning from one another. (Understanding the way words work with surrounding words is a consideration of collocation, a term you will find below on the IELTS band descriptors.)
  • Idiomatic expressions. You can use idioms, or expressions that are not meant literally, but have commonly understood meanings, such as seeing eye to eye or being on the same page. 

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How Your Lexical Resource is Marked

Just as there are for the other skills, there are nine band descriptors used to describe your lexical resource skill level. Band 9 is assigned to speakers who use a broad English vocabulary naturally. This means that words, phrases, and complex expressions are used appropriately and precisely. Level 2 is the lowest you can earn and is assigned for those who can only use memorized expressions. If you can create new sentences and phrases to suit the situation, you should earn no less than Level 3. Check out the band descriptors below for an idea of what the examiner will be looking for and how errors, inappropriate choices, and limited vocabulary is factor in to your score.

IELTS Lexical Band Descriptors -magoosh

Ways to Increase your English Vocabulary

Research has shown that reading is the best way to increase your vocabulary. Read IELTS-specific example tests in your IELTS prep studies. The language in literature, magazines, and newspapers provide you with authentic language in context. This means that the meaning of new words can often be figured out based on how it is used, allowing you to make form-meaning connections the way a child does as they learn their first language. Of course, we’re not children, so this doesn’t happen in exactly the same way, but repeated exposure of a new word in context will eventually lead to recognition, then recall, then use.

If you notice a word (or a combination of words) several times but remain unsure about its meaning, look it up! If it’s too tricky to derive meaning or if its meaning is too subtle to deduce from context alone, don’t just skip over it. Frequency is a sure sign of importance in English vocabulary. Keep a notebook to keep note of frequently sighted words. Try to make this a routine, something you do every time that you encounter words or phrases like this. The more you engage with the new word, the more likely it is to be taken up into your vocabulary. Here is what this kind of engagement might look like as you read:

Imagine that you are reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and come across the word “matters” used in a way you’re not familiar with:

 “I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved anyone. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ 

Imagine that you know what matters means when it is used as a verb as in “Money matters very little to me,” but you’re not 100% sure about what it means when used as a noun. You could guess, but you’ve seen it before and you’re still not entirely sure about how it would translate. Here is how you should proceed.

  1. Look up matter in the dictionary. Read and note the dictionary entry.
  2. Do an online search for the word in context using a search phrase such as, “matters in a sentence.” Make a note of interesting samples that you think are useful in understanding the meaning clearly.
  3. Still not 100% clear? Look up the translation. What is it in your first or second language? After you’ve figured this out, go back to the sample sentences and see if it is any more clear to you in context.
  4. Add the Little Prince sample to your entry in your notebook. If you come across the word again and cannot remember exactly, go back to your notebook to look at your notes and add the new instance.

With enough engagement like this, you can easily add words and phrases to your vocabulary. Focusing your attention on a word or phrase’s meaning helps translate awareness into familiarity, and eventually, knowledge.

Here are some helpful articles for working on your English vocabulary:

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