IELTS Listening And Its Most Common Vocabulary

Many test takers are having a problem related to the lack of vocabulary, especially when doing the Listening Section. The problem is due to the fact that not knowing what words are spoken in the audio often means not knowing what word(s) to write on the answer sheet. Some test takers prepare themselves by doing an extensive reading. They start trying to find a motivation to read newspaper, online article, listen to songs in English, and watching movies without subtitle. This is good for improving our vocabulary range, but it is not effective.

English is an ever growing language, and is believed to be one of many languages with the most words and dictionary entries, and these are some of the reasons why:

a. English is originated from the Germanic language brought by the Angles Saxons and Jutes, so it shares many grammar and basic vocabularies with Dutch and German. In 1066, Duke William of Normandy II or commonly referred as William The Conqueror invaded Britain. He later brought a lot of Norman elites to the structure of the government and declare Norman French as the language of the ruling class as well as Latin as the language of scholarship and Church (this is just some stuff I recall from a course named History of English Language). This makes English a language that has both Germanic words, French words and some other loan words.

b. English accommodate loan words from foreign language. The development of science and technology also results in a new word coinage. A new word can also be formed by combining some already-existing words. The word blog is probably one of many interesting cases of the emergence of new words in English. Blog was actually called web log, some kind of diary that people post online. Now, it is known as blog (as a Noun as well as the Verb) and the activity itself is often called blogging. Oxford dictionaries defines blog as:

A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

Oxford dictionaries now have around 171,476 entries. However, the words are not all used. In fact, there are some words in the dictionary that are considered obsolete. According to a lexicographer named Susie Dent, the average active vocabulary of an adult English speaker is of around 20,000 words, with a passive one of around 40,000 words ( It means that even a native speaker would not be able to memorize all words in English. Only words that are commonly used for communication are commonly known, and this also happens in the IELTS test.

The point is, we don't have to master all English words just to pass the test. We just need to find the most commonly used words and try to make a list of words that will likely appear in the test (we actually have a book that deals only with vocabulary list in IELTS). I do not mean to encourage people not to use various vocabularies. Expanding our vocabulary range is good, but in this case, we probably need to focus more on the words that are used in Listening Section.

Listening Section of the IELTS test requires the test takers to have a wide range of vocabulary and precise spelling in order to get a good score. I recently read an article on ieltsessential blog and found a list of most common vocabulary used in IELTS test. Here is some common vocabulary listed based on the different section of the Listening test.

Section 1

This part mainly consists of several basic vocabulary that one studied when learning English for the first time.

1. Days of the week: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday

2. Months of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

3. Shapes: circle, square, rectangle, triangle, cylinder

4. Transportation: automobile, truck, subway, aircraft, train, tube, taxi

5. Colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, black, brown, mauve

Quick Tip: Colour spelled with a ‘u’ is the Canadian/British spelling while in the US, it is spelled ‘color’ without ‘u’. You can use British or American spelling since it is only a matter of choice.

6. Verbs: develop, lend, persuade, conduct, discuss, review, concentrate, deceive, believe, argue
Be careful with the use of inflection -s in Verbs like writes, walks, etc. The -s inflection is usually not clearly heard. The same thing applies to -ed inflection in Past and some Perfect Verbs.

7. Adjectives: beautiful, necessary, essential, convenient, righteous, terrible, illegal, temporary, knowledgeable
Numbers, times, and currencies usually appear in listening test. Using number or symbol is suggested because this will help eliminate the possibility of misspelling. Besides, it is more practical

For example, forty dollars is the same as $40 on the listening test. Seven o’clock and 7:00 are actually the same.

Section 2

In section 2 of the IELTS listening test, there are various question types such describing maps that will involve some words related to direction.

1. Rooms in buildings: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room, dining room, den, library, gymnasium, cafeteria, classroom, waiting room

2. Place markers: street, road, avenue, lane, drive, court
It is inevitable that we sometimes need to take a note when trying to follow directions. Some words will help us find which area of the map explained in the audio.

3. Directions: north, south, east, west, go up, go down, go straight, turn right, turn left, on the left side, on the right hand side, across from, between, beside, between, at the back of, near, diagonal, corner, opposite,

Section 3

Being familiar with words related to academic will be of much help for section 3.

1. School terms: presentation, temperature, scale, project, teamwork, pairs, organization, measure, outline, proofreading, experiment, reference, chemical, lecture, substance, assessment, tutor, attendance, specialist, knowledge, evidence, claim, faculty, bachelor’s, schedule, management, leadership, questionnaire, statistic, percentage, laboratory

2. Subjects in school: Mathematics, Science, English, Physics, Economics, Art, Music

3. Subjects in University: Commerce, Biology, Psychology, Engineering, Marketing, Sociology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Architecture, Computer Science, Law, Philosophy, Economics, Management

Section 4

The last part of the Listening test is still related to academic, but it has higher difficulty level than the third part of the test. It covers a range of different academic topic and the most common words used in this part are listed as follows:

1. Health: emission, disease, containment, vitamin, protein, carbohydrates, exercise, treatment, obesity, 

2. Animals and their habitat: mammals, reptile, primates, predators, birds, prey, swamp, mountain, jungle, forest, island, pond, river, stream

3. Continents and Countries: North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Antarctica, Australia, Oceania, England, Canada, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland

4. Environment: iceberg, global warming, landslide, disaster, earthquake, tornado, blizzard, hurricane, carbon, pollution, temperature, drought, flood

5. Government: politics, senator, minister, mayor, laws, policy, regulations, senate, election, vote, president, society, ballot

6. General: appointment, cooperation, employment, government, exhibition, occupation, aluminum, century, decade, millennium, individual, creativity, guarantee, satellite, opportunity, license, frequently, calendar, different

To deal with the listening section and any other part of the IELTS test, try to be more knowledgeable on a range of topics and have various vocabulary to discuss those topics.

For Material on IELTS Listening Section, click the link below

IELTS Listening Material