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Welcome to our four-part series on expanding your vocabulary for the IELTS exam. Don’t forget to check out the other three posts:

When working on expanding your vocabulary for your IELTS test, it’s important that you choose a method to achieve your goals in the time that you have available. For example, reading novels and other types of literary works in English can be great for expanding your vocabulary, but it wouldn’t be of much help if your test is only a few days away.

desks in a school room

On the IELTS Speaking test, it’s very common for candidates to be asked questions related to their own school experience. Because of this, it’s essential that you feel confident using the necessary vocabulary to talk about your education. In fact, it would be a good idea to use these words and phrases as a starting point for your vocabulary sets. Once you’ve covered the vocabulary that is relevant to you personally, you can then expand each set with vocabulary that you can use to talk or write about education in a more general way. Before we analyze a few different sample vocabulary sets, take a minute to think about the information that you’ll need to include so that you can use the new vocabulary appropriately. Writing the vocabulary item and its meaning is a good start, but there are other details that you should also include to make your sets even more effective. These details can include the part of speech, common collocations, examples, and notes on pronunciation. Now take a look at the vocabulary sets below and pay close attention to the details presented for each word or phrase.

1. Types of school

word/phrasepart of speechmeaningcommon collocationsexamplepronunciation
primaryadjectivethe type of school for children ages 5-11primary school, primary educationI think primary education should be compulsory worldwide./ˈpraɪ.mer.i/
secondaryadjectivethe type of school for children age 11 and upsecondary school, secondary education(synonym: high school)I still keep in touch with many of my friends from secondary school./ˈsek.ən.der.i/
mixedadjectivea school where girls and boys are taught together(antonym: single-sex school)mixed school, mixed-sex education, mixed-gender educationIn my opinion, mixed schools are the way forward./mikst/

2. School work

word/phrasepart of speechmeaningcommon collocationsexamplepronunciation
assignmentnouna piece of work given to someone as part of their studieshomework assignment, reading/writing assignmentBack then, I was working on my last reading assignment of the term/ əˈsaɪn.mənt/
lecturenouna formal talk on a subjectdeliver/give/present a lecture, attend/go to a lectureShe delivered a very interesting lecture./ ˈlek.tʃɚ/
thesisnouna long piece of writing on a particular subjectwrite a thesis, complete a thesis, a thesis about/on (subject)I wrote my thesis on effective treatment strategies for children with ADHD./ ˈθiː.sɪs/

3. Qualifications: university & college

word/phrasepart of speechmeaningcommon collocationsexamplepronunciation
bachelor’s degreenouna first degree at college or universitya bachelor’s degree in (subject)I have a bachelor’s degree in/ˌbætʃ.əl.ɚz dɪˈɡriː/
fellowshipnounmoney for teaching or study given to a person studying for an advanced degreeto apply for a fellowship, to be awarded a fellowshipI then applied for a research fellowship at the university./ˈfel.oʊ.ʃɪp/
doctorate (PhD)nounthe highest degree from a universityto do a doctorate in (subject), to have a doctorate, a doctorate degreeIn developing countries, there aren’t as many people with doctorate degrees./ˈdɑːk.tɚ.ət/

4. People in education

word/phrasepart of speechmeaningcommon collocationsexamplepronunciation
principalnounthe person in charge of a schoolschool principalShe was the school principal for 15 years./ˈprɪn.sə.pəl/
graduatenouna person who has finished their school, college or university educationhigh school/ college/university graduate, a graduate in (subject), a graduate of (school)There are many opportunities for university graduates nowadays./ˈɡrædʒ.u.ət/
professornouna teacher of high rank in a universitycollege/university professor, visiting professor, (history, law, etc.) professor, professor of (history, law, etc.)He later became a professor at a local university./prəˈfes·ər/


You can also add other sub-topics such as school subjects (maths, geography, physical education, etc.) and other useful vocabulary (campus, scholarship, student loan, etc.) To extend your vocabulary sets, read articles on education and pick words or phrases that you can use on your IELTS, keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and look for vocabulary activities on your IELTS preparation course book or online. And don’t forget to keep your vocabulary notebook (or notes) at hand whenever you’re studying for your IELTS.

In our next post on expanding your vocabulary for your IELTS, we’ll be looking at vocabulary related to transportation, so don’t forget to keep checking for new articlesexternal icon.