The Importance of Synonyms in IELTS

Every IELTS student knows that vocabulary is important when attempting to get a high band score, but do they really understand how useful it is to know lots of synonyms? In fact, learning synonyms is a great way to improve all areas of your IELTS skill. In today’s lesson, we examine the importance of synonyms in IELTS.

What are Synonyms?

A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. Because English is a language with such a huge vocabulary (some people say nearly a million!) there are naturally many synonyms. These add colour to the language and reduce the need for repetition.

Examples:

children/kids

speak/talk

ill/sick

plants/flowers

houses/homes

present/gift

Note that the words above are not exactly the same in meaning, but very close.

How to Learn Synonyms

You don’t need to specifically study synonyms. It wouldn’t be very useful for your English skill to memorize lists of synonyms and recite them aloud. However, it is important to build an extensive and varied vocabulary, and to do this you should make use of a dictionary. Dictionaries may point out synonyms, or else you may notice similarities in meaning. If you want to double-check, you can consult a thesaurus.

When reading a text that is written in English, you may notice that some words are used to avoid repetition. You may find that when an article talks about an object like a book, they replace book with “text,” “tome,” or even “read” (used as a noun). These area synonyms and avoid the writing from sounding boring.

Synonyms for IELTS Reading

IELTS Reading Test

The IELTS Reading Exam requires a number of important skills to get a high band score. Arguably the most important IELTS reading skills are skimming and scanning. This is because the time limit is so short. If the IELTS Reading Exam was two hours long, it would be easy! However, at just 60 minutes it is a very difficult exam to pass, and so it is important to be able to read quickly. To do this, you need to be good with synonyms.

When looking at questions in the IELTS Reading Exam, you need to pick out key words. Perhaps there is a question about “criminals,” for example. When you scan the text for information relating to criminals, you may or may not find the actual word used. However, “criminals” may be referred to as “thieves,” “prisoners,” “murderers,” “law-breakers,” or some other word or phrase. You should make a mental note to search the text for references to crime and punishment, or even to police – that can help you find the part of the text you should focus on.

Being able to do this means you can save a lot of time, and that is the key to success in IELTS reading.

Synonyms for IELTS Listening

This is pretty similar to IELTS reading. When looking at questions, you ought to be thinking of words with similar meanings just in case the word or phrase in the question doesn’t appear exactly in the listening passage. If the question is looking a population, you might hear “number of people who live there”.

Synonyms can be particularly important when doing summary completion. This is a very common question type and students should be prepared to follow the summary while listening to the passage.

Synonyms for IELTS Speaking

Native English speakers use synonyms all the time without thinking. However, for English learners it is necessary to insert them into speech on purpose. Look at this dialogue ask yourself what is wrong with it:

Examiner: Do you do any sports?

Candidate: Yes, I do sports. I like sports. Sports are a great way to meet other people, so I do sports as much as possible. Sports are a big part of my life and I think more people should take up sports and incorporate sports into their daily life.

What is the problem?

The repetition of “sports” sounds really bad to a native speaker. You can reduce this by using pronouns, but you can also use synonyms.

Here is the candidate’s speech again:

Yes, I do. I like sports. I think that it is a great way to meet other people, so I get play football and basketball as much as possible. Exercises is a big part of my life and I think more people should take up physical activities and incorporate them into their daily life.

Synonyms for IELTS Writing

In the writing exam, you need to write either 150 words (for task 1) or 250 words (for task 2). Many students fall into a trap of repeating themselves as they panic over word count. They rely too heavily on the material in front of them, and repeat what they think are key words too often. In task 1, students frequently refer to the diagram or chart by using the terminology that is included, whereas this is a great opportunity to show off your lexical resource (vocabulary).

It is especially useful to make small changes to your language that can have a big impact on your description of the illustration or graph. Think about an upward trend. You could say:

  • increase
  • go up
  • rise
  • soar
  • improve
  • rocket

Just be careful to make sure that your language exactly matches the trend.

In task 2 it is also important to use synonyms to keep your writing interesting and engaging. Don’t copy the question, but if you do choose a few words to incorporate into your essay, be careful not to repeat them unnecessarily. If the question asks you about pollution, you might want to vary your language using some related words:

  • dirt
  • dust
  • PM2.5 levels
  • smog
  • emissions
  • toxic gases

Again, make sure that your meaning is clear and matches the question. Accuracy is more important than lexical range.

Conclusion

Having a good vocabulary is really important to IELTS success and so when you learn new words, think about their synonyms. When you practice reading and listening, pay attention to synonyms from the question and text, and when you are speaking or writing, try to vary your own language use. When you are doing writing practice, you might benefit from a thesaurus.

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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