As an IELTS teacher, one of the most common questions I get asked is if a particular word is appropriate for IELTS. People seem to be obsessed with using formal vocabulary!
In a way, it’s not surprising since one of the things that dictionaries are not so good at is explaining register: that is, the appropriate situation in which to use a certain word.
My rule is very simple: make your language as formal and academic as possible in IELTS writing, but try to use natural-sounding language in IELTS speaking.
However, there are some words that you shouldn’t use in any section of the test. What are they? See my list below for all the answers.
|Informal (Avoid)||Neutral (Speaking)||Formal (Writing)|
|Kids (younger)||Babies, Children||Infants, Offspring|
|Kids (older)||Teenagers||Adolescents, Youths|
|Old people||Elderly people||Senior citizens, Retirees|
|–||Boss, Manager||Supervisor, Superior|
|OK, Alright||Fine||Acceptable, Satisfactory|
|Great, Awesome||Good||Preferable, Desirable|
|Rubbish, Useless||Bad, Poor||Unsatisfactory, Unacceptable|
|–||Nice, Polite||Considerate, Agreeable|
|–||Kind, Friendly||Sociable, Neighbourly|
|Nasty, Cheeky (person)||Rude, Impolite||Abusive, Disagreeable|
|Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (idea)||–||Misguided, Questionable|
|Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (person)||–||Misguided, Mistaken|
|–||Happy (person)||Satisfied, Delighted|
|–||Happy (situation)||Satisfying, Delightful|
|–||Sad (person)||Regretful, Distressed|
|–||Sad (situation)||Regrettable, Distressing|
|Sick of, Fed up with||Tired of||Dissatisfied with|
|–||Poor (country)||Developing, Poverty-stricken|
|–||Poor (person)||In poverty, Underprivileged|
|–||Rich (country)||Wealthy, Developed|
|–||Rich (person)||Wealthy, Privileged|
Bonus tip 1: Contractions such as don’t are fine in IELTS Speaking but it is better to use do not in the Academic Writing module. Avoid very casual contractions such as gonna and dunno completely.