Why is Lexical Resource important in the Speaking test?

Table of Contents

by Volodymyr Prystai

IELTS Expert


IELTS Speaking is a face-to-face interview which takes 11-14 minutes. It consists of 3 parts, each lasting 4-5 minutes. The test assesses your ability to respond to familiar situations (work, school, etc.) as well as more abstract ones. It also checks whether you can speak for a longer period and develop your answers. The response is marked according to 4 criteria – Pronunciation, Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource (which we’ll discuss on this page), and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. A candidate can receive Band 1 to 9 for their answers, however, a successful candidate is aiming at Band 6 or higher.

What is Lexical Resource?

Lexical Resource is one of four marking criteria in the IELTS Speaking test. But what does it mean?

Essentially, Lexical Resource is the vocabulary you use when answering questions.

How much is Lexical Resource worth?

Lexical Resource is worth 25% of your overall Speaking score (the other 3 criteria are also worth 25% each). However, keep in mind that Lexical Resource is not assessed separately, but is an integral part closely connected with the other criteria. This is because the wrong use of a word can lead to an unclear answer (which will affect Fluency and Coherence), or a mispronounced word can have a different meaning (which will affect your Pronunciation score).

How can I receive a good Lexical Resource score?

There are several points to keep in mind when you try to improve your Lexical Resource score.

  • Firstly, try not to use the same words that you hear in the question. That is to say, paraphrase by using synonyms or different grammar forms of the words. This also relates to repeating the same words in your answer.
  • Secondly, try to use less common words and expressions. 
  • Thirdly, use collocations and words related to the topic. 
  • Lastly, try to use some idioms.

What kind of things will lower my Lexical Resource score?

If you use a less common word, expression, or idiom incorrectly, this may give the impression that you do not know the meaning of that word or idiom. Errors like these will lower the score. Furthermore, your score may not improve if you simply repeat the words the examiner uses, for example by not paraphrasing the questions.

Idiomatic expressions like "the elephant in the room" can improve your score if used correctly and appropriately.

Lexical Resource Features

Now let’s look at the Lexical Resource features in more detail.


This is an important feature that can lead to a higher score in IELTS Speaking. Paraphrasing means changing the words or grammar of the questions that the examiner is asking, but not the main idea. Don’t worry! – You don’t have to change every single word from the question, but mainly the keywords, i.e. some nouns, verbs, or adjectives.

Paraphrase Example – Changing the words

  • Q – What is your current job?
  • A – At the moment, I am employed part-time as a fitness instructor in the local fitness centre.

Here, the word ‘current‘ in the question is paraphrased as ‘at the moment‘ in the answer. In addition, the answer paraphrases ‘job‘ to ‘employed‘.

Paraphrase Example – Changing the grammar

The paraphrase can also be grammatical, where you change the form of the word. 

  • Q – What are your main responsibilities there?
  • A – I am mainly responsible for providing professional advice to the centre members on dieting, types of exercise, and safety.

Here, the adjective ‘main‘ is transformed into the adverb ‘mainly‘. Also, ‘responsibilities‘ (a noun) becomes ‘responsible‘ (an adjective).

Less common words & expressions

A successful candidate will show a wide range of less common vocabulary, but at the same time use it appropriately. These less common words can be adjectives, adverbs, more specific verbs, or phrasal verbs, among others.

Note that this doesn’t mean every single word you use should be so advanced that your answer sounds awkward and unnatural. 

  • Q – What do you think is the main problem of living in a big city?
  • A1 – I think that the biggest problem is that everything is so expensive. Young people can’t buy a house or an apartment because the prices are high. This can make people feel stressed all the time.

This answer is fine but uses quite simple and general vocabulary. It’s not indicative of a high-scoring answer.

  • A2 – I think that the major issue is the cost of living. First-time homebuyers are priced out of the market as real estate prices have become prohibitively high for many. This can lead to feelings of constant stress and anxiety.

This answer, on the other hand, uses less common words and expressions. This might be spoken by a high-scoring candidate.

Collocations and Topic-Specific Vocabulary

 In the IELTS Speaking test, examiners also pay attention to how well a candidate can use collocations – i.e. combinations of two or more words that occur naturally in English. For example, “first-time homebuyers” instead of “people buying a home for the first time”, or “cost of living” rather than “the high prices of everyday things”.

Collocations show a higher level of English, and being able to use them correctly will increase your score in the Lexical Resource category. In addition, being able to use topic-specific vocabulary (i.e. words and expressions that are associated with a specific topic) is another aspect that can boost the candidate’s score.

  • Q – Why do some people not want to shop online?
  • A1 – I believe they are afraid that someone can steal their personal information. As a result, they can lose all their money. Also, they cannot try on clothes in online stores, as they do in real ones. If they order the wrong size, they will have to return it and ask for their money back.
  • A2 – I believe that shoppers are worried about identity theft. This means that their savings can be stolen. In addition, online stores do not offer the opportunity to try on clothes as opposed to brick-and-mortar stores. If customers order the wrong size, they will have to arrange for a return and ask for a refund.

Answer 1 uses quite general vocabulary, while Answer 2 uses more specific words and expressions connected with the topic of shopping (i.e like shoppers, savings, brick-and-mortar stores, customers, refunds).

Idiomatic Language

For candidates who are aiming at Band 7 or higher, it is important to show knowledge of figurative language, i.e. idioms.

Idioms are expressions that don’t have a literal meaning. Instead, they have a different, non-literal meaning. For example, ‘a piece of cake’ means ‘easy’ – it doesn’t mean a real piece of cake! Furthermore, idioms are fixed expressions and normally the words in them cannot be replaced with synonyms. For example, you cannot say ‘a slice of cake’, or ‘a piece of tart’. It is also essential to know where to use idioms and what their exact meaning is.

  • Q – Where do you live?
  • A – I live in Toronto, in the heart of the city. My house is located just a stone’s throw away from the Royal Ontario Museum.

In this answer “in the heart of’ is an idiom which means “in the centre”, and “a stone’s throw away from” means “very close to”.

Consider popular words people use when talking about a topic, like the topic of technology.

Improve Your Lexical Resource

Now, here are some tips on what to do (and not to do) so that you can achieve a higher band score in your Lexical Resource:

Tip 1: Learn vocabulary by topic

Try to learn your vocabulary based on topics. For example, if a question asks you to describe a piece of electronic equipment, you should know what kind of vocabulary is typically used to talk about technology. These could be words and expressions such as ‘multifunctional’, ‘state-of-the-art’, ‘device’, ‘user-friendly’ and so on. If you use specific, topic-related vocabulary you could also end up improving your Fluency score (which is another marking criterion). Remember, all the marking criteria are related!

Tip 2: Practice collocations

Instead of learning separate words, focus on collocations. Let’s say you came across a new word in a text or an activity. Instead of just trying to remember the meaning of the word, look around the word and try to find other words that are used with it. See the example below.

“I also knew that having a year out wouldn’t harm my job prospects because employers generally look favourably on it.”

In this sentence ‘prospects’ might be a new word. However, noticing that it is used with the word ‘job’ can make it easier for you to remember this expression in the future when you are talking about work. Going further, ‘job prospects’ is used here with the verb ‘harm’. It is worth remembering that as well. So, instead of just focusing on ‘prospects’, you could learn the phrase ‘harm your job prospects’ (meaning to damage your future work opportunities). When speaking about work, you can use this collocation and other expressions and increase your Lexical Resource score.

Tip 3: Improve your paraphrasing skills

When learning vocabulary, make sure that you also know different grammatical forms of the word, as well as synonyms.

For example, a synonym for ‘responsibility’ can be a ‘duty’. Furthermore, ‘responsible for’ is the adjective form.

If the examiner asks you, “What are your responsibilities at work?”, you can answer it by saying “I am mainly responsible for communicating with customers.”, or “My duties include communicating with customers”. In either answer, you paraphrased the words from the question, which can improve your Lexical Resource in IELTS Speaking.

Using appropriate word collocations and idioms can help boost your Lexical Resource score in IELTS Speaking.

To sum up, vocabulary is an important component that can influence other aspects of your answer. If you take time to remember a word or an expression, it can affect your Fluency score. If you do not know how to say a word appropriately, your Pronunciation score can suffer. If you use a wrong preposition in a collocation, your Grammatical Range and Accuracy score may decrease. Therefore, when learning vocabulary, make sure that you not only learn its meaning, but also the way it is pronounced and spelled, what grammar forms it has, what possible collocations it can form, and when it can be used. With these in mind, your Lexical Resource score should improve.

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