Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

You know you need high level, less common vocabulary on IELTS.

This is vital to score 7 or higher on the Vocabulary scores.

But is any vocabulary too uncommon?

Could using unfamiliar vocabulary lower your score?

Find out today as we answer a listener question about this.

Today’s question

Hi Aubrey,

I’m a big fan of yours, Jess, Michelle and Lindsay. I think you’re an awesome and funny teacher. I watch you guys from monday to thursday on Youtube, rain or shine 😉 I’ve a question for you. What if the examinee at IELTS is sort of a vocab freak, and she/he uses  a word that the examiner doesn’t know? (of course there’s little chance of that happening, but…). Or she/he uses an unknown Australian or British expression, for example.

Mauro from Brazil

Vocabulary can be TOO obscure for IELTS

Some words in English are never used by native speakers.

Examiners won’t be familiar with these!

A good example is the word ‘perspicacious.’

  • perspicacious: (adjective) Having a ready insight into and understanding of things

If you do choose to use less familiar vocabulary, be sure to say something like:

I know that’s an uncommon word, but ….

You would then need to define it.

However, we don’t recommend this because you might sound like you’re bragging.

It’s also not native and natural to stop your answer to define a word.

In sum, don’t be a vocabulary freak on IELTS!

In honor of that, we will share parallel expressions for ‘freak.’

#1: Freak

There are many meanings of this word!

In this context, it means ‘a person seen as strange because of their unusual appearance or behavior.’

A ‘freak’ as a slang noun just means someone who is weird or different.

Feel free to describe yourself as a ‘freak’ on IELTS if you’re sharing that you’re unusual.

Maybe this makes me a bit of a freak, but I HATE chocolate!

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#2: A hot mess

There are many meanings for ‘messy’ as well.

One is that anyone who is ‘messy’ doesn’t have their life fully together.

You can use ‘a hot mess’ to describe a person or a situation.

The party was a hot mess so I left early.

My friend is a hot mess. She wears her pajamas all day long!

#2: The fringes

Someone who is unique or different in some way can say they ‘exist on the fringes.’

We would say this of someone who chooses to live in a van, for example.

I love burning incense, but, to be honest, I exist kind of on the fringes.

We use this to describe a lifestyle rather than a person.

It is usually collocated with the verb ‘exist.’

#3: Oddball

This is a noun that is synonymous with ‘freak.’

She is quite an oddball!

This means they don’t really fit in with the average person.

It can be about their hobbies, personality or tastes.

I know this makes me an oddball, but I don’t like ice cream at all!

When to use this vocabulary

Use this to describe people on any part of the Speaking exam.

This is especially likely in Speaking Part 2, where you often need to describe yourself or others.

It can also come up in Part 1 or Part 3.

You are extremely likely to describe a person on IELTS, so be ready with these band 9 words!

Additionally, you can use these to describe events or situations.

Practice answering sample answers with this vocabulary!


Many of these phrases are used to exaggerate.

It doesn’t actually make you a freak or an oddball to dislike ice cream.

However, because it’s a bit out of the ordinary you can say it does!

Note the intonation in our example sentences.

Slow down to give words proper emphasis.

“I know this makes me an oddball, but…”


Today’s pro tip is that you shouldn’t use extremely obscure vocabulary on IELTS!

Avoid googling ‘words no one uses in English’ and learning them for IELTS.

Instead, learn words like today’s vocabulary that will be useful on every speaking exam!

Examiners will be familiar with most words you could use.

Definitely practice learning less common, band 9 vocabulary.

For all the strategies you need on IELTS, join our online IELTS course!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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