IELTS Writing Task 2: Vocabulary Secrets

May 15, 2020 | IELTS WRITING TASK 2

Just as important as task achievement, cohesion & coherence, and grammar, vocabulary accounts for 25% of your writing score. Here are some pointers on boosting your performance in vocabulary segment.

  1. Topic-specific vocabulary

All Task 2 questions revolve around a small number of topics which appear throughout the IELTS exam. It is recommended that you have in mind a few words and phrases relevant to each of these topics, so that you can show the examiner you have a strong range of topic vocabulary.

Here are some key topic-specific words which are useful for Task 2:

  • Work: workplace, workforce, professions, gender equality, egalitarian society, etc
  • Education: formal education, tertiary education, correspondence learning, higher education, syllabus, curriculum, testing, etc
  • Children & families: nuclear family, extended family, role model, upbringing, child development, child-rearing, parent support, primary caregiver, etc
  • Environment & energy: carbon footprint, air pollution, greenhouse gases, renewable energy, fossil fuel, subsidies, etc
  • Art, culture & traditions: folklore, handicrafts, fine art, mythology, rituals, etc
  • Health & sport: corpulence (obesity), sedentary lifestyle, fitness, spectator sports, competitiveness, etc
  • Global & social problems: joblessness (unemployment), global hunger, endangered species, soil erosion, deforestation, natural habitat, etc
  • Cities & countryside (including infrastructure, agriculture): urban sprawl, depopulation, rural migration, transport hubs, amenities (facilities), etc
  • Government & authorities: the courts, punitive system, sentencing, law and order, policy, initiative, etc

Of course, there are many more words and phrases relevant to these IELTS topics. As you are reading IELTS practice papers or the general media, make a note of topic-related vocabulary and try to remember them. Correct use of relevant expressions will enhance the credibility of your essay, and thus your score.

  1. Academic vocabulary

In English, there are usually two possible words for the same idea: an informal or neutral word (which is mostly Anglo Saxon in origin, such as ‘often’) and a more formal word (which is mostly Latin or French in origin, such as ‘frequently.’) In Academic English, we tend to use the more formal words, because they give a sense of professionalism and authority.

Below are some examples of formal/ academic words, with the less formal alternatives alongside:

  • Consistently (all the time)
  • Major/ significant (big)
  • Contented (happy)
  • Conscientiously (with a lot of care)
  • Decline (get worse)
  • Negative/ unfavorable (bad)
  • Considerably (a lot)
  • Pursue (go after)
  • Prime (best)

You are expected to use this formal type of vocabulary rather than the very simple, less formal words such as ‘big’ or ‘small.’ The list of words above shows you some of the most frequent formal/academic words. You should try to use most of these words in any Task 2 essay.

  1. Academic collocations

A ‘collocation’ is a combination of words which usually go together. Examples from general English are ‘extremely happy’ and ‘deeply disappointed.’ In IELTS writing, you will increase your score if you can use some of the Academic English collocations which are used in formal writing.

Try to use these collocations wherever possible in your essays, and the examiner will recognize that you are using advanced Academic English.

  • There is widespread concern about . . .
  • It is virtually certain that . . .
  • It is barely conceivable that . . . (= it is very hard to imagine this happening)
  • There is universal consensus that . . . (= everybody agrees on this)
  • It is of paramount importance that . . . (= extremely important)
  • It seems highly likely/unlikely that . . .
  • It is generally accepted that . . .
  1. Academic phrases

Just as academic collocations show that your writing is advanced, there are also some academic phrases which should be used where applicable.

  • By no means (= certainly not)
    Example: Pollution is by no means the only challenge that we face.
  • Above all (= the most important or most urgent thing)
    Example: Above all, better training and stronger sentencing would appear to be far more robust remedies for crime these days.
  • Regardless of (= it does not matter)
    Example: Governments should create a high-quality transport infrastructure, regardless of the cost.
  • This is not to say that …
    Ex: Crime is a major concern, but this is not to say that it should be the only focus for the authorities.
  1. Phrases of purpose

There exist various ways to express purpose:

  • so as to/ in order to + V
  • so that + clause (subject + verb)
  • for the purpose of + V_ing
  • with the intention/ aim of + V_ing
  • with a view to + V_ing
  1. Complex adjectives

A complex adjective consists of an adjective that is preceded by another word (frequently an adverb). These two words are usually connected by a hyphen (-) although you may read some books or articles where the writer does not use one. Examples:

  • A much-discussed/ less-discussed issue…
  • The ever-rising use of …
  • The ever-present danger of …
  • A well-known cause of …
  • A widely-observed impact …
  • There is a widely-held concern that …
  • Many long-established traditions have been lost.
  • A long-term impact …
  • There should be a wide-ranging discussion about …
  • A constantly-evolving field of research …

Using complex adjectives like these shows the examiner that your Academic English is advanced and you have a wide range of vocabulary.

You do not need to use complex adjectives all the time; however, but try to use at least once in your Task 2 essay.

  1. Noun persons

Noun persons are nouns used to identify people by their role in a situation. This helps avoid the use of ‘people’ (‘people who pay tax/work/provide health/ people who argue that’ etc).


  • Proponent(s) of… = supporter(s) of… = advocate(s) of… (= those who support/ accept …)
  • Opponent(s) of … = critic(s) of … = adversary(ies) of … (= those who oppose/ reject …)
  • The authorities (= the government, police and courts)
  • Health providers
  • Taxpayers / workers
  • Contributors/ donors to …
  • Recipients/ beneficiaries of …
  • Observers (= journalists and analysts who comment on situations)
  • Researchers

It is not a mistake to say ‘people who + verb.’ However, as always in IELTS academic writing, to achieve a high score you should show that you can use at least some of the noun persons explained here.

  1. Tentative language

‘Tentative’ means that you say that something might be true, or might happen, rather than saying that something is always true or always happens. This is important in Academic English, because it shows you understand that situations might be complicated and there tend to be exceptions rather than 100% certainty in life.


  • The expense involved can be prohibitive in some cases.
  • Probably/ Perhaps the major factor is …
  • The cost of day-to-day life can be almost overwhelming.
  • Such work tends to be
  • A second remedy might be
  • Students themselves should perhaps be
  • … and (might) consider attending University at a later stage.
  • A coordinated response … may well lessen the severity …

These expressions will achieve a much higher score than if you say “The expense is prohibitive/The major factor is/Such work is” and so on. In your essays, try to use this type of tentative language at least twice, to show the examiner that you understand it.

For example, instead of:

The police should have guns, because this protects them …

Try to write:

The police should consider having guns, because this tends to protect them.

  1. Impersonal style (removing “I”)

In Academic English, it is possible to say ‘I think/ I believe/ I feel’ to give your opinion, if the Task asks for your view. However, you will improve your score if you show that you can use impersonal ways to express a viewpoint. ‘Impersonal’ means that you do not use ‘I’ but alternatives instead. The examiner will recognize that you are giving your opinion in an academic, impersonal way, and will be impressed by this. In Opinion type essays, try to use one of the following phrases at least once, to communicate your view:

  • It seems/ appears that…
  • It would seem/ appear that …
  • It is logical/ sensible to conclude that…
  • Overall, it seems advisable that …


IELTS Band 9 Grammar Secrets (published by Cambridge IELTS Consultants)


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