How can you understand difficult vocabulary on the IELTS reading exam?

You will very likely encounter words you are not familiar with.

What should you do when that happens?

Today we share 3 tips that will help you decipher tricky words.

This way you can be ready to find answers on test day!

For all the strategies you need on IELTS, sign up for our online IELTS course!

You need an extensive vocabulary on IELTS

This will help you on every part of the exam.

On the Reading and Listening exams, you need to be able to understand difficult words.

This is vital for finding the answers.

You also need to use high level vocabulary on both Writing and Speaking exams.

You need topic-specific vocabulary.

You don’t need to understand every word!

In fact, the most uncommon words are often distractions!

If you have never seen or heard a word before on the Reading exam, you probably don’t need to know it!

Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.

Don’t make assumptions!

However, most words you will need to understand to find the answer.

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#1: Figure out all parts of the word

If you come across a difficult word, parse out the individual parts.

Notice if it has a prefix or suffix.

Knowing all the pieces of the word is so important.

When you see a long word that is unfamiliar, you can break it up and examine its parts.

You can then riddle out the meaning.

Words can be like puzzles!

#1: Prefixes

A prefix comes at the beginning of the word.

  • pre: comes before

Preview: to look at before

Predestination: something that was supposed to happen

  • anti: opposite
  • non: not

Nonplussed: not pleased

Nonverbal: not verbal

#2: Suffixes

These come at the end of a word

ant: a person

assistant: a person who helps

ery: a place

bakery: a place where bread is made and sold

#3: Cognates

Cognates are very similar to words in your first language.

Many words have the same Latin roots.

Latin root: companere




If your first language shares Latin roots with English, this can help!

Be aware of false cognates!

However, be aware of false cognates, sometimes called “false friends.”

For example, embarrassed in English looks like ’embarasada’ in Spanish which means pregnant.

Pain in english is spelled the same as the word for bread in French.

People may assume the meaning is similar, but it isn’t at all!

This can trick you or throw you off.

Don’t let that happen!

#4: Context

There may be no prefix or suffix on a difficult word.

It may not have a familiar root.

In this case, you must look for context clues.

These are clues in the other words around it that tell you its meaning.

Jessica provides an example from a news article with the word ‘chronically.’

Using context clues, you can figure out that it means repeatedly or happening over and over.


There are many strategies you can use to understand difficult vocabulary!

These will be vital when you take the IELTS exam.

Keep in mind that you won’t need to understand every unfamiliar word.

The Reading exam is not a comprehension exam!

It’s all about finding keywords.

However, you need an extensive vocabulary.

Use today’s tips to be able to decipher unfamiliar words.

For strategies to score 7+ on IELTS, sign up for 3 Keys IELTS!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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