The 4 Things Examiners Love: Lexical Resource - IELTS University (Singapore)

Part 1: Task Response

Part 2: Coherence & Cohesion

Part 3: Lexical Resource (Vocabulary Range)

Part 4: Grammatical Range & Accuracy

This blog post series is a continuation of 3 Things Every IELTS Student Needs To Know About The Writing Band Descriptors. Have you read it yet? If not, go ahead and click here.

Lexical Resource: The range of vocabulary which you know for conveying your intended meanings with precision.

What it is NOT: Using extremely difficult (and low frequency words) and even the examiners cannot recognise (e.g. anfractuous or dilatory).

What did the IELTS examination board say about Lexical Resource?

Here is a snapshot of Lexical Resource from bands 4 to 9.

Band 8 or 9

According to the descriptors, you have to use “a wide range of vocabulary”, “convey precise meanings” and skilfully use “uncommon lexical items”.

Sounds like a tall order!

Tall Order: A task or job that is difficult to carry out.

But if you are aiming for 6 or 7, here are the descriptors for you.

Band 6 or 7

You have to use “a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow for some flexibility and precision” and use “less common lexical items”.

There is slightly more room for mistakes to be made here compared to band 8 or 9, but you really want to MINIMISE that from happening.

So, what do all these band descriptions mean for your writing? 


In order to show that you have “flexibility and precision”, you will like to use synonyms for words that tend to be used frequently in the essay. These words are often key words in the essay question itself.

Take a look at the essay question below. I have picked out two words that I can paraphrase for a start.

Studies show that overeating is as harmful to people’s health as smoking. Therefore, advertisements of certain food products should be banned, just as cigarette advertising is banned.

To what extent do you agree?

Let’s begin with just two words here - “harmful” and “banned”. The diagrams below show you each of their synonyms (words of similar meaning).

Notice how I have also used the phrase “made illegal” to substitute “banned”? It is perfectly all right to use a phrase to take over a term you want to paraphrase. Don’t be stuck in thinking that you can only use one word to paraphrase the original word.

You should spend one or two minutes thinking of easy paraphrases for key words in the essay question BEFORE you begin writing because you will very likely need to use these key words over and over again throughout your writing. That is something that smart students do yet it is such a simple thing to accomplish.


Just because a word shows you in the dictionary DOESN’T MEAN it is suitable for use in your essay.

For instance, a search on for the word “banned” returned the result “taboo”. This word is quite different from its original meaning in the context of the essay question!

Taboo: Usually used in the context of social or religious practices where something or an action is considered not appropriate.

This word will definitely NOT be suitable for substituting “banned”.

To make matters worse, (a popular website students go to) did not even suggest other more appropriate synonyms like “disallowed", “prohibited”, etc.

If only English language is like math and has a strict, reliable formula to it… In reality, there are many nuances to the English language and you need a trained IELTS specialist to help you, especially if you are already weak in English.

You know the struggles you have:

  • You are not confident of using synonyms accurately
  • Just when you think you did a great job in paraphrasing, someone comes around and points out your mistake
  • You wonder if you are doing okay for your practice because you are all alone on your IELTS journey

At the end of the day, you need CONSTRUCTIVE feedback for what you are doing. With good feedback that will point you the right direction, you can make PROGRESS in your preparation. Think about it - isn't it right?

So make sure that you are getting professional help if you know you CANNOT HANDLE this on your own. Ultimately, getting an IELTS specialist to help you may save you a lot more money than trying your luck and retaking the IELTS exam many times over. 

Okay, enough preaching. Let’s get back to business, and move on to Part 2 of Lexical Resource. 


Another way to achieve a wide range of vocabulary is to use topic related vocabulary.

I highly encourage you to start collecting useful vocabulary phrases and categorise them into common IELTS topics. When you are tackling an essay question related to that topic, pull out your mind map(s), and apply the phrases whenever suitable.

I have already created 12 complete sets of vocabulary mind maps and I am going to show you how I will apply them to this IELTS essay question. 

I do not usually openly share notes that my students have paid for, but I believe this will be helpful to you, so I'm going to reveal parts of how my mind maps look like.

Here are portions of my “Technology & Media” and “Health” mind maps which I will use for this IELTS question.

There are the phrases I have picked out from the mind maps above:

Technology & Media

  • responsibility to do (something) rests on the government’s shoulders
  • limit the sale of unhealthy consumer products
  • ban misleading advertisements


  • at the mercy of (something)
  • exposed to health risks

Remember that the chunks of language you have acquired can be versatile (adaptable). Here is how I will slightly modify my phrases to fit into a sentence that can be used in the essay.

Sentences Formed from Vocabulary Phrases

  • The mass public can be at the mercy of unscrupulous businesses if the government does not prohibit advertisements that encourage unhealthy eating habits.
  • Citizens can be exposed to health risks because of such irresponsible advertisements.
  • The government would have failed them because of the lack of intervention as the responsibility to safeguard its people’s interests lies on the government’s shoulders.

These are individual sentences that you can use in the introduction, body or conclusion paragraphs. How and where you use them is entirely up to you. I am simply demonstrating how you can create more powerful sentences if you have a list of vocabulary phrases or words ready.

To see how you can write fluently and coherently to link these separate sentences together, read this post on cohesion and coherence.


1. The ability to use topic related vocabulary words or phrases whenever appropriate is a great way to demonstrate to the IELTS examiner that you are capable of using “less common lexical items”.

2. This will also help you to achieve “precision” in your writing. That’s killing two birds with one stone! I hope you get started on creating lists of vocabulary which you can use for your IELTS writing.

If you are keen on my vocabulary class, register here to indicate your interest, and I’ll keep you informed when I run a class specially to help students with improving their vocabulary.


Collocations: a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase in a way that sounds correct

To meet the Band 7 Writing Task 2 criteria, you have to use “less common lexical items with some awareness of style and COLLOCATION”.

In other words, you have to use less common vocabulary (something we have already covered in the earlier part of this post), and you CANNOT make too many collocation errors.

In the exercises below, you will find many collocations that go with common nouns which you often have to use in IELTS Writing Task 2.

Read each of the questions below and select the right answers. Have fun!

Which words did you find tricky? 

Comment below, and tell me how many points you got from these two short exercises!


Here is a quick summary of what we have covered today:

  1. Think of synonyms to substitute keywords you find in the essay question. They will be very helpful for you when you write your essay later.

    Be careful when you use a dictionary to look for synonyms. Make sure you are very sure that the synonym you have chosen is 100% suitable.
  2. Topic related vocabulary can help you in achieving a higher writing band score. 

    Collect these words and phrases and organise them into common IELTS topics. Use a mind map if possible. Make sure you pull out your lists and use these vocabulary often in your essay practices.
  3. Collocation accuracy is important. Pay attention to what words go with a keyword you want to use, and do not change the pattern of the collocation.

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