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Q. How important is vocabulary building?

IELTS Reading and Listening are really vocabulary tests.

If you’re already getting Band 7 in every skill area except writing, you don’t need to worry much about vocabulary building.

However, listening and reading comprehension are really vocabulary tests, and guessing words from context DOES NOT WORK if you don’t already know at least 90% of the vocabulary.

To know means to simply remember. Knowing forms the foundation of learning. Vocabulary forms the foundation of learning a language. Many language programs, and even many popular IELTS programs, downplay the importance of vocabulary building, to the detriment (detriment = harm) of students. They claim that unknown vocabulary can be guessed from the context; however, guessing vocabulary from context only works when you already know over 90% of the vocabulary in that text. If you don’t, then context will not help you. Our research over the years confirms this: If you don’t know a large percentage of the key terms in a text, you will not do well on reading and listening comprehension, which are primarily vocabulary tests, and secondarily tests of understanding. Before you can understand any text, you need to know the vocabulary.

For that reason, a powerful vocabulary building system is included in this course. It’s an AI vocabulary app that includes words that frequently appear in academic texts, the kind of texts you will get on IELTS. Because it’s AI, it learns which vocabulary is easy for you and which vocabulary you are struggling with – it then reviews the vocabulary you’re struggling until you finally learn it. This is the most effective vocabulary study buddy on earth! It’s the same system used by Harvard Medical School to help doctors memorize key concepts.

We don’t only use the AI-powered vocabulary app. We also provide PDF vocabulary lists and track learning through short digital quizzes, which let you know how well you are studying. ONLY WHAT GETS TESTED GETS IMPROVED! If you’re not testing yourself, you have no way of knowing if your studying is effective or a waste of time.

Testing yourself regularly is the most powerful way to study – this has been proven by research over and over again. One class, after we’d spent time learning new vocabulary, I gave the students a quiz. Most students did very well on this quiz considering that the quiz was given immediately after learning the new words. Peter got 20 out of 20. One week later at our next class, I gave the exact same quiz at the beginning of the class. Peter scored 0 out of 20. It turns out he hadn’t studied at all during the week; based on his 20 out of 20 quiz results, he’d assumed he knew the words. Unfortunately, your brain doesn’t record information like a computer. The old saying is true: “use it or lose it.”

For this reason, vocabulary quizzing is integrated in the course. The results of these quizzes are visible on your course page and are recorded in the course grade book so that the instructor can see how you’re doing. This keeps you honest about the results of your efforts.

You will experience a MASSIVE vocabulary boost by using this program.


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What’s the best way to study vocabulary for IELTS?

The best way to study vocabulary for IELTS is to use the system developed by Toronto IELTS Prep, which incorporates best practices in cognitive science to help you remember new vocabulary.

Principle #1: Test yourself!

Most people review vocabulary lists without testing themselves. This makes you more familiar with the vocab, but you don’t know if you actually remember it or not. The TorontoIELTSPrep.com program has built-in quizzing for vocabulary development: you test yourself and learn at the same time. Vocabulary you don’t know very well or that you got right by guessing is immediately reviewed. The system learns which vocabulary you’re having trouble with and reviews it more often.

You are automatically prompted by email reminders to review your vocabulary. This vocabulary review happens frequently for new words and then more and more rarely based on a scientifically-developed schedule. Review is spaced out in short bursts to maximize learning.

Principle #2: Distinguish between vocabulary you need to produce and vocabulary you need to recognize

This is a MASSIVE distinction that radically changes how you spend your time studying. 80% of spoken English (any language, actually) is about 2000 words. Most things we say use a basic vocabulary of about 2000 words plus context-specific, specialized vocabulary. This specialized vocabulary is different for doctors, engineers, IT professionals, and teachers, all of whom have enormous specialized vocabularies that they produce spontaneously (spontaneously = instantly, without needing to think about it). You can’t really distinguish between professional knowledge and this vocabulary – they’re the same thing.

General vocabulary from the top 2000 simple words, however, is combined in TENS OF THOUSANDS of ways in collocations and lexical bundles. These are really stored as single chunks of vocabulary in your brain. They are unique ways to combine those basic 2000 words. This is where most of your productive learning happens in the TorontoIELTSPrep.com program. You’re not learning new words; you’re learning new ways of combining WORDS YOU ALREADY KNOW. This develops your productive vocabulary (vocabulary you will use regularly). You need this for speaking and writing.

The second part of this is expanding your recognition vocabulary, words you need to know but won’t likely use regularly, or even at all. You need this for listening and reading, which are really vocabulary tests. Your score on listening and reading is 100% correlated with vocabulary knowledge. Compared to increasing vocabulary, reading comprehension “strategies” and test-taking “strategies” are a WASTE OF TIME! Reading comprehension strategies and test taking strategies DON’T WORK if you don’t know at least 90% of the vocabulary. Researchers have experimented with guessing based on context clues: PhDs could only do this for fewer than 20% of unknown words in TEXTS THAT THEY HAD WRITTEN THEMSELVES!

We’ve all heard stories of students claiming they got a great score on reading comprehension without even knowing what the text was about, just by using reading comprehension strategies. This is 100% bullshit.


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