In this article, I am going to tell you all about education and IELTS. As you know (if you follow this website), the best way to learn new vocabulary is to study in terms of topics. There are many IELTS topics, such as environment, space, sports, health, and crime. We have talked about education many times in the past but today I will devote a whole article to it.

I intend to look at this topic in a structured way. We will explore it as such:

  1. Vocabulary
  2. Reading & Listening
  3. Speaking
  4. Writing

You can either study the whole lesson or else skip to the part that is most interesting for you.

Education Vocabulary

If we look at the topic of education and IELTS, we can quickly see that there is a huge amount of vocabulary to learn. In fact, this is a vast topic. I will assume that you already know the basic words like “school” and “teacher” (or else you are probably not reading this right now). Instead, I will look at some more advanced vocabulary for IELTS education.

First of all, let’s look at some school subjects.

School Subjects

There many be some regional differences in the words used for these subjects (for example, mathematics is known as “maths” in British English and “math” in American English.

SubjectDescriptionAlternate Forms
EnglishThe study of the English language and/or literatureEnglish lit. (short for “literature”)
MathematicsThe study of numbersMaths (UK), Math (US)
Physical EducationA class in which people do or study exercise and sportPE, gym
Home economicsLessons about activities at home, such as cooking, cleaning, etc.Domestic science, home science, home ec’ (pronounced “eck”)
ArtDrawing, painting, and the study of art 
HistoryThe study of history 
GeographyThe study of natural things, including land, weather, etc. (This is distinct from another related subject: Geology.)
LanguagesWhere people learn how to speak a second (or third) languageUsually just referred to be the name of the language – ie “French.”
Religious studiesPeople learn about religions in this class.It is often called “RS” for short, or also “RE” (religious education).

Depending on where you study, most people learn a subject called “science” when they are young and later this becomes several subjects, including chemistry, biology, and physics. We also have “social sciences.” This includes many areas of study. You can read about it here.

British English vs American English

I actually wrote in depth about the differences between British and American English last year. For now, though, I will focus on the differences in language when it comes to education. Here are a few ways in which we talk about these differences.

Elementary schoolPrimary school
Middle schoolSecondary school
High schoolSecondary school*
Technical collegeCollege
PrincipalHead teacher/ Headmaster

*The British and American school systems are quite different and what is known as “secondary school” in the UK lasts for up to six years. As such, this overlaps the American version. Anyway, those final years in the UK would more likely be called “fifth/sixth form” or “fifth/sixth year,” depending on which part of the country you come from. In England, it is usually “sixth form” and in Scotland it is “sixth year.”

british vs american vocabulary for education (schools and school supplies)

Some other differences

American people talk about their school years in this way:

  • Freshmen (1st year)
  • Sophomore (2nd year)
  • Junior (3rd year)
  • Senior (4th year)

In the UK, we do not commonly use these terms but in the last few decades it has become normal to talk about “freshers” as people in their first year of university. For example, they often talk about “freshers’ week” as the first week in the university year because this is when the new students arrive.

Reading and Listening

Because education is something that affects pretty much everyone in the world, it is a topic that is really common in IELTS. It could appear in any part of the test, including the reading and listening sections.

When it does occur, you should be prepared. This means that you ought to know lots of vocabulary about this topic and also have some life experience and opinions on the matter. You can achieve that by including this topic in your regular reading.

There are many ways to achieve this. You can go on Google News (or any news service that you enjoy) and subscribe to their education feed.


Let’s take an article for an example and do a little practice. We will look first at a piece called “With no students, small college town worries over its future.” Let’s look at the first two paragraphs:

What happens to a college town when the students disappear? Ithaca, a small upstate New York city nearby gorges and vineyards, is finding out.

Most of the 24,000 students at Cornell University and 6,200 more from Ithaca College effectively vanished in March when the coronavirus pandemic struck, leaving behind struggling restaurants and shops. Locals still reeling from the outbreak and resulting exodus are wondering when — or if — things will get back to normal.

It is an interesting text that deals with a familiar situation: the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this excerpt, you can see the word “exodus.” What do you think this means? Let’s isolate that sentence:

Locals still reeling from the outbreak and resulting exodus are wondering when — or if — things will get back to normal.

We can learn from the words around it. “Resulting” tells us that this thing happened because of the virus outbreak. We also know from the previous sentence that thousands of students are not coming to this place.

We can guess then, that “exodus” means “a mass departure of people.” This sort of skill is really important when it comes to IELTS reading. You need to be able to figure out the meaning of a word from context. Here is a video that shows you how to work out the meaning of difficult vocabulary:


I have covered the topic of education here many times, including this TED video lesson about making education better by introducing creativity to curriculums. (By the way, this is one of two possible ways to pluralise “curriculum”! The other is “curricula.”)

Here is another interesting video about education. This time it is about gender and education. Remember that sometimes IELTS topics overlap like this.

IELTS Speaking Topic: Education

The topic of education is really common in IELTS speaking. In fact, it is probably one of the most common topics that there is. As such, you need to be ready to answer these sorts of questions.

Part One

inspiring educational quote by ben franklin

As you probably know, the first part of the IELTS speaking test is comprised of relatively simple questions that you should answer with one, two, or three sentences. You don’t need to develop your answers very much here.

Here are a few sample questions:

  1. Do you work or are you a student?
  2. Why did you choose that subject?
  3. Did you enjoy/Do you enjoy studying at school?
  4. Do you study English now?
  5. What kind of school did you go to as a child?
  6. Where do you study / Where did you study?
  7. What do you study/did you study in university?
  8. What was your favourite subject as a child?
  9. Who was your favourite teacher?
  10. Do you enjoy studying alone or with friends?

You don’t need to have dazzling grammar or vocabulary skills to answer these questions. You can just give pretty basic answers. For example:

Q: Do you work or are you a student?

A: I’m studying at the moment but I also have a part-time job.

Q: Where do you study?

A: I’m studying at Shanghai Jiaotong University. The word “jiaotong” literally means “traffic” but the common translation for the name is “Shanghai Communications University.”

Q: What are you studying there?

A: I’m studying English literature at the moment but I will move onto a business course next semester and continue studying English on the side. Literature was interesting for me but I don’t think it will help my career much.

Notice that there was very little specialist vocabulary here. The only word that I used that might require explanation is “semester.” A school year is made up of two semesters. (The word “term” can also be used but different countries have different systems. In some countries, an academic year is four terms, which means that two terms make up a semester. But this is not the same everywhere.)

Part Two

There are countless possible education cue cards for IELTS speaking. You might be asked to describe one of the following:

  • a teacher
  • a subject
  • an important memory
  • the actual school you attended
  • a lesson

The list is extremely long, but let’s look at a few possible education cue cards in more detail.

describe a subject (ielts cue cards)

Describe a Subject

You may well be asked to describe a subject that you studied in school or that you wish you had studied. Remember that it could be your favourite subject or a subject you hated. It is always important that you read the whole cue card and do not jump to conclusions.

Here is an example:

Describe a subject you enjoyed studying at school.

You should say:

– when and where you started studying it

– what the lessons were like

– what made the subject different from other subjects

and explain why you enjoyed the subject

Describe a Lesson or Project

Describing a subject presents many possibilities. You can talk about many different aspects of your chosen subject, including the classes, the books, and the teachers. However, the cue card might present you with a more specific topic, like this one:

Describe a project that you did in school with your classmates or friends.

You should say:

– what the project was

– what it was about

– how you completed it

and whether you enjoyed the project or not.

Describe a Period of Time

It can be harder to answer a cue card when the thing you must talk about is a memory or period of time. These can be a real challenge because thinking of the right vocabulary and grammar is quite difficult. When you are presented with this sort of question, you might have to be a little creative with your answers. Here is another example cue card:

Describe a period of time from your studies that was the most difficult for you so far.

You should say:

– when it was

– why was it hard

– what you were doing at that time

and whether you felt you were successful in overcoming the difficulties.

Describe a Teacher

Finally, we come to the obvious IELTS speaking cue card: describe a teacher. This is definitely a common cue card and also quite an easy one. I think that most people who sit IELTS should be comfortable describing people like teachers. If you are not, you should look at my other lessons on how to describe people. You may also find this article about the good qualities teachers possess to be helpful.

There are lots of different ways that this could be phrases. It could be a teacher who influenced you, a teacher you liked, a teacher who helped you, your favourite teacher… and so on. There are numerous possibilities. But here is one example:

Describe a teacher from the past whom you remember.

You should say:

– what subject the teacher taught you

– how old you were then

– what were some special characteristics of this teacher

and explain why you remember this teacher.

Part Three

Of course, there are also lots of possible questions about education for part three of the speaking exam. In this section, you will most likely be asked questions like “are men and women equally capable of teaching?” and “should boys and girls be forced to take the same lessons?” The issues of gender, age, and other social issues will often intersect with the main topic.

Here are a few examples:

  1. What are some essential qualities every teacher should have?
  2. How are education priorities today different from those in the past?
  3. How well do you think schools should prepare young people for working life?

Education and IELTS Writing

When it comes to task 2 of the IELTS writing test, education is also a really common topic. Again, there are countless possible questions you could be given, so rather than prepare for any single question, it is better to build your skill in dealing with this topic.

You should be familiar with the vocabulary given at the start of this lesson and also with ideas about education on a global scale. It is ok to have different opinions from other people, but you should be aware of all sides of these issues.

Keep in mind that education does not just mean “school” or “university.” It involves much more: teaching, learning, childhood, adulthood, books, reading, etc. It could be about community colleges or distance learning. Do not be surprised by these questions and do not think that you can handle this topic just because you are comfortable talking about high school. There is much more to it than that.

Here, I will give you four sample band 9 answers to typical IELTS writing questions. Two are from task 2 and two are from task 1, both general and academic tests.

Question #1

Many businesses think that the new employees who have just graduated from schools lack interpersonal skills, such as working with colleagues as a team.

What has caused this and what are the solutions to this problem?

Sample Band 9 Answer

It is claimed by some business owners and recruiters that graduates nowadays tend to lack interpersonal skills. This essay will first explore why this is the case, before then suggesting how it may be remedied.

If it is true that graduates now lack the interpersonal skills necessary to succeed in the modern workplace, then that surely can be blamed on the exceptionally high level of theoretical knowledge necessary to achieve a good degree. As universities have become more competitive, the requirements for achieving a degree have gotten much more stringent, and students are required to spend all their time reading books and preparing for difficult assessments. It seems likely that this hinders their opportunities to socialize or work with others on productive tasks.

Solving this problem should not be terribly difficult. In fact, university faculties should pay attention to these complaints and implement solutions into their courses. Perhaps the most obvious suggestion is that students must be required to participate in more group activities throughout their education. For example, rather than studying all day and night to write an essay or sit an exam, students could be asked to prepare a group presentation together with their peers. Ideally, these groups should be picked at random to ensure that students develop the necessary skills to work with others whom they would not have previously chosen to work.

In conclusion, it appears that universities are failing students by not educating them in how to develop their interpersonal skills, and as a result they are struggling in the workplace. These universities should thus require students to develop their communicative abilities through specific group-based tasks.

Question #2

Some people think that a sense of competition in children should be encouraged. Others believe that children who are taught to co-operate rather than compete become more useful adults.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

Sample Band 9 Answer

People disagree over how to raise their kids, with many parents and teachers suggesting that competition is detrimental to their development. They think that children should be taught cooperation instead. This essay will look at both views, before deciding that these need not be mutually exclusive.

The argument against competition in children essentially revolves around the idea that it is unhealthy for children to be pitted against one another. Rather than teaching them to compete, these people argue, we should teach them to work together. Natural selection dictates that some children will invariably be winners while others will be losers, and in the modern era, this seems like an out-dated concept. All children should be winners.

On the other hand, competition is a part of life and therefore children should be exposed to it from the beginning. It needn’t be unfair, of course. When children are taught healthy attitudes towards competition – such as sportsmanship – then it is actually tremendously beneficial for them. They can learn how to participate in natural activities and then deal healthily with the result, whether that is victory or loss.

However, it seems to me that there is no real distinction between competition and cooperation. Team sports, after all, involve both these elements. If children play football, basketball, or rugby, then they will work with their teammates to compete against another team. In the end, both aspects are learned.

In conclusion, there is no need to separate competition from cooperation, and neither should be removed from a child’s education or environment. Both are important for child development.

Question #3

You recently did a short cookery course. The cookery school has asked for your feedback on this course.

Write a letter to the course director at the cookery school. In your letter

  • describe what you enjoyed about the course
  • say how much cooking you have done since the course
  • suggest another cookery course you’d like the school to offer

Sample Band 9 Answer

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing in response to your request for feedback on the cookery course I recently attended. I am happy to give you some of my thoughts on the course.

First of all, I really enjoyed it. I had wanted to study French cooking techniques for several years and so I was really excited to see that this course became available. It certainly did not disappoint me, and I was delighted by the processes that I learned during that amazing week.

Since the course, I have been cooking and baking for my friends and family at every opportunity. They have been really impressed with my newfound skills, and I will continue to practice what I have learned.

As for suggestions, I do think that it would be worth adding some other sorts of cuisine to the courses on offer. I would love to learn how to cook Thai food, for example.


David S. Wills

Question #4

ielts education bar chart and pie chart

Sample Band 9 Answer

There is a bar chart and a pie chart containing information taken from a survey on adult education. The bar chart describes why adults go into education and the pie chart shows who the respondents think should pay for it. People mostly go into education out of interest, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is believed that they should pay for it themselves.

According to the data, forty percent of adults go into education due to some sort of interest in a particular subject, while thirty-eight percent do it to gain qualifications. These are far and away the most common reasons, as the next most frequently cited reason was almost half this value. Several reasons were picked by about twenty percent of people, including the fact that it may help them earn a promotion at work. The least frequently stated answer was that adult education is a good way to meet new people.

The survey results showed forty percent of people believe the individual should pay the costs of a course. This matches quite well with the previous data, as the same percentage of people did these courses purely out of interest.