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Band 8 Essays Vocabulary Strategies

This is the next in my series of lessons in how to achieve a high band score in IELTS essays. This time the focus is on vocabulary. There is no magic bullet here – vocabulary learning takes time. That’s the bad news. What I do do though is to talk you through some of the more common problems with vocabulary in essays and give you some tips on avoiding them. You’ll also find a bonus essay to download.

A sample essay – weak vocabulary

Read through this sample essay. It is well structured and addresses the question, but it is weak on vocab. Can you see what the problems are?

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

The biggest reason for objecting to extreme sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. Many dangerous sports are also not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal than bungee jumping.

I think that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children.

Seeing the problems – unnecessary repetition

One of the most common problems is you can get “stuck” on certain words. This frequently happens with words in the question itself. You will see my improved version retains has some repetition – there is less of it.

Don’t be afraid to repeat some words/phrases as that is good for the cohesion and coherence of your writing.

See the repetition corrected

Introduction

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important. One of the signs of this people want the government to ban dangerous sports. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

Paragraph 1

The biggest reason for objecting to dangerous sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly hurt. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

Paragraph 2

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. Many dangerous sports are also not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal than bungee jumping.

Conclusion

I think that that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children who cannot make their own decisions.

My personal view is that while the government and other authorities do need to regulate dangerous sports, it would be preferable not to impose a ban on them entirely. I would suggest that  safeguards need to be established so that any risk is minimised. What these safeguards are will vary from sport to sport, but safety has to be paramount, especially where minors are involved. 

Tip – think of vocabulary before you start writing

The idea is quite simple. If you think of the words you want to use before you write, then you can use them. On the other hand, if you start writing too quickly, then it becomes much harder to try and vary your vocab.

Tip – repetition should be on everyone’s editing checklist

One of my top tips is that everyone should have a mental checklist of the type of errors they look for when they check their work – “I’m going to look for any mistake” doesn’t really work. The point here is that even the best writers can subconsciously get stuck on words and keep on repeating them if they are not careful.

Tip – if you can’t find another word, repeat it in a different form

Sometimes there is only one correct word. In this case, the best advice is not to find another word that may well be wrong, but to change the word slightly. This can mean using the noun form and not the verb form (ban becomes impose a ban on) or to qualify it with another word so ban becomes ban entirely.

Seeing the problems – avoid language that is too simple

In general, I am a fan of the simple. There are times, however, when you want to upgrade your English, in particular

  • avoiding words like “big” that are not normally used in more formal written English
  • avoiding words like “do” unless they are part of a set phrase – there is almost always a better variation
  • finding variations for words such as “very” to show your range
  • thinking about collocations (phrases)

See the simple language improved

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important. One of the signs of this people want the government to ban dangerous sports. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

The biggest reason for objecting to dangerous sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly hurt. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. A further point is that many dangerous sports are not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal than bungee jumping.

I think that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children who cannot make their own decisions.

My personal view is that while the government and other authorities do need to regulate dangerous sports, it would be preferable not to impose a ban on them entirely. I would suggest that  safeguards need to be established so that any risk is minimised. What these safeguards are will vary from sport to sport, but safety has to be paramount, especially where minors are involved. 

Tip – when you learn vocabulary, learn phrases and not just words

Part of solution to this problem is to learn phrases. For example, you are much more likely to be able to use “participate”, if you have first learnt the phrase “participate in a sport”.

Finding solutions – think examples for precise language

This is one of my favourite suggestions. The idea is that if you learn to use examples well, you get to use language that is precise and sometimes relatively simple. Take a look at this revised versions of the examples. the revisions may seem quite small, but I get to use precise language – a good thing.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

Finding solutions – be academic and use qualifying language

Part of the academic writing skill is learning to qualify what you say so that it is not too general. Take a look at these two examples of qualifying phrases I add in to the improved version. Again, the changes may seem small but taken together they can have a significant effect on your writing.

 We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

Finding solutions – focus your vocabulary learning on academic vocabulary

This is in many ways the big one. Learning vocabulary takes time. One excellent way to do it is simply to read and listen as much as possible. You will absorb more new words that way than by sitting down and studying any word list. However, there is a however. To get a high band score, you want to learn the “right” words to use in essays. This is where the academic word listcomes to your help.

Academic vocabulary and IELTS

Certain words in English are simply more “academic” than others. This does not necessarily mean they are “difficult” words, it just means native speakers tend to use them more when they are writing more formally. They are in other words exactly the sort of words you want in IELTS. Take these examples from the improved essay:

  • retain
  • principal
  • assume
  • participate in

These are all excellent words to “learn” as they can be used in all sorts of different contexts. All I would add is that you also need to learn how to use them and that is where my daily word exercises come in.

Exercise on the AWL words in the essay

To see my point, have a go at this exercise based on improved essay:

AWL words in dangerous sports

Vandana is a lovely lady and one of the winners in our monthly IELTS results competition. When we asked what strategies were responsible for her beautiful score (Listening 9, Reading 8.5, Writing and Speaking 7, Overall Band 8), here is what she said:

“I am delighted to know that I have been chosen as a winner in the IELTS competition. I would like to extend my gratitude to www.ielts-blog.com for keeping me updated and motivated for the test. The experiences that students shared on your site were very helpful. I also found useful the writing task samples with estimated scores. They were very informative and I learnt the key tips about how to convert a normal 6 band writing task to a 7 or higher band one.

A piece of advice for the test takers:

1. Reading test

I would like to recommend the strategy that I followed – one should read the topic of the passage, then get a gist of it by reading the first line of each paragraph and thereafter switch to questions to understand what exactly he/she has to find while reading the complete passage thoroughly. Secondly, one must carry out exhaustive practice of reading IELTS test targeted passages to acquire the required speed of surfing through paragraphs and understanding the overall picture as well. The more you practice, the more you recognize what type of mistakes you are prone to, and thereafter you can try to overcome them. FOCUS or CONCENTRATION are the keys to success in the reading section while speed and analyzing ability are additional essentials. I scored 8.5 in Reading by following this strategy.

2. Listening test

Listening tasks are easy but tricky at the same time. Watch English movies which involve different accents and listen to as many practice audio tests as possible. If you neglect this section thinking that you are too cool to practice in listening to English then you may have doomed yourself to a poor score. This is because this section tests your concentration, attention and accent comprehension, simultaneously, as a listener. Practice all different types of questions and identify your weak spots. For example I faced problems with picture or diagram questions as I used to lose track of the recording and get confused. One should try to behave as a person who doesn’t have his own brain and just follows what is being said because sometimes your own extra thoughts make you miss answers and harm your chances to score higher. I scored a perfect 9 in the Listening and I believe the main reason was a calm mind where no other sound but the audio recording voice echoed. One must be very attentive and sorted enough before starting the Listening test. The questions are fairly simple but mostly lack of self-concentration causes errors. So, prepare smartly!

3. Speaking test

Again, watch some good English movies. Rectify your pronunciation and develop enunciation! Try not to fumble too often or repeat sentences. Stay calm and confident. Answer and speak naturally. Sometimes people try to be pretentious and then mess up with questions giving senseless answers. Of course, they do not test your intelligence but definitely your sense of understanding, analysis and ability to convert thoughts into words. While good VOCABULARY, versatile description of ideas and fluency are three most important things to remember, confidence and convincing naturalness are the plus points. Moreover, if you make a mistake in understanding a question or replying to it, don’t hesitate to correct yourself as soon as you realize and move on without any tension. It happened to me, but I was happy to know that I still received a Band 7.

4. Writing test

For this section, I would say www.ielts-blog.com writing samples are beneficial! They have organised the answered sample tasks well, grouped by Band score, which helps you to compare your own writing abilities and predict your current score. Thereafter, one can see the answers of higher band scores to find what is missing in his/her style of writing and improve accordingly. I had practiced very little for this section but ielts-blog.com helped me to fetch a decent score of 7. Vocabulary, diverse ideas and extensive expressiveness are vital to be incorporated in your writing skills. Fluency and grip of the topic are also equally important. In this section, one should try to understand the topic first, then frame points to be written in the answer and then build up systematically the full body of passage in a step-wise manner. Read as much sample answers as you can and pick useful ideas. Again, concentrate on main ideas of the questions and try to mention all key points while explaining your context. Support your answers with suitable examples and comparisons wherever necessary and be very descriptive as well as convincing with profound thoughtful reasoning.

Rest, PRACTICE hard, Stay COOL and DO it!”

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