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Video: Unknown vocabulary


A common difficulty in the IELTS reading test is when you find a word that you do not recognise. Many candidates make the mistake of spending some considerable time reading the word and the sentence it is in trying to understand what it means. This, of course, takes valuable time and may not necessarily improve your result. However, there are seven different points that you could consider to help you deal with unknown vocabulary. The first point is that, on occasion, you will find that the reading passage has a glossary at the end, describing two or three of the key words. If there is a glossary, then you should make sure to read it carefully, as if it was important enough to give you a glossary, then the words are probably required for one or more of your answers. If there is no glossary or it doesn’t explain the word you were looking at, another point to consider is whether it begins with a capital letter or is in italics. If it starts with a capital letter, then the word is probably a proper noun, for example a place or a person’s name. If the word is in italics, it is probably a technical word which you are not expected to know. Here are some examples. The third point is that often in the IELTS reading test, you are given a word or words which are immediately followed by a definition, so make sure you read the complete sentence. Here is an example. If the points covered so far have not helped you understand the word, then see if you can find the word root. For example, the word ‘disabled’ is actually a combination of the prefix (dis) the root word (able) and a suffix (the -d). Focussing on the root word only, then considering how the prefix changes that root, can often help. There is a list of prefixes in the Skimming, scanning and reading in detail lesson. Another technique you could use is to work out a general meaning logically. Consider this example. What is most likely to have killed climbers who were trapped in a snowstorm? It is logical that the answer is something to do with the temperature. Sometimes looking logically at the sentence is not enough, but you should also look out for contrasting statements. Consider this sentence. The word ‘yet’ tells us there is a contrast, and that Maori is being brought back into daily life. Therefore the opposite of that is not brought back into daily life, to be disappearing. Moribund actually means to be on the point of death, or almost gone. The final technique you could apply to new vocabulary is to consider the word group. This may not help you find a definition for the word, but sometimes it helps to know if you are looking for a verb, noun, adjective or adverb. In this example, we can tell from the grammar of the sentence that the word is a noun because it follows ‘a’. So we have a noun of Chinese students. The word contingent actually means group. The final point to remember is that having applied the seven techniques, if you still have no idea what the word is or means, then you should consider whether it is actually worth spending more time on. Remember that not every word in the reading passage is relevant to finding an answer, and even if you need this word to answer the question, if it takes you 5 minutes to answer you will have to rush the other questions.