Collocations for IELTS: Enhancing Fluency and Accuracy 

 May 23, 2024

By  Jonathan

eIf you’re aiming for top scores on the IELTS exam, understanding collocations is key. Collocations are natural-sounding word pairings that proficient English speakers use frequently, and they play a significant role in influencing how your writing and speaking are assessed. Neglecting them can make your English sound stilted and awkward, regardless of your general vocabulary knowledge.

What Are Collocations?

Collocations are groups of words that habitually go together. Here’s the difference between regular word combinations and collocations:

  • Word Combinations: You can often combine words based on logic and meaning. For example, “eat fruit” or “yellow fruit” are perfectly understandable.
  • Collocations: These are word pairings that have become established through common usage. Instead of “eat fruit”, a native speaker is more likely to say “have fruit”. Even though “yellow fruit” is technically correct, “ripe fruit” sounds more natural.

Why Collocations Matter in IELTS

  • Fluency: Using correct collocations makes your speech and writing flow effortlessly, giving it a native-like quality that impresses IELTS examiners.
  • Accuracy: Even if individual words in a sentence are correct, incorrect collocations sound jarringly wrong, raising concerns about your language proficiency.
  • Lexical Range: Learning collocations expands your vocabulary exponentially, giving you precise pairings of words to express ideas with more nuance.

Types of Collocations

Collocations exist in several forms. Here are the main types to be aware of for IELTS:

  • Adjective + Noun: “Heavy rain”, “strong argument”, “significant improvement”
  • Verb + Noun: “Make a mistake”, “pay attention”, “take a decision”
  • Noun + Verb: “Traffic causes delays”, “problems arise”, “laws change”
  • Verb + Adverb: “Speak confidently”, “think carefully”, “strongly disagree”
  • Other Combinations: These include verb + preposition (“depend on”), and even entire phrases that function as collocations (“in the long term”).

How Collocations Affect Your IELTS Score

IELTS examiners are explicitly looking for your ability to use collocations accurately and flexibly. Here’s how they impact your score in different sections:

  • Writing: Strong collocation use demonstrates your control over the nuances of English, contributing to both your vocabulary and grammatical range scores.
  • Speaking: Using collocations naturally makes you sound less hesitant and more fluent, even if you pause occasionally for other reasons.

Learning Collocations Effectively

  • Don’t Focus on Isolated Words: When you encounter new vocabulary, learn it within the context of common collocations it forms.
  • Read and Listen Widely: Exposure to well-written texts and native English speakers is the best way to absorb collocations subconsciously.
  • Collocation Dictionaries: Use dedicated collocation dictionaries to look up combinations with specific words you want to learn.
  • Create Your Own List: Keep a notebook for collocations you encounter, grouped by topics relevant to IELTS tasks. This makes them easier to revise.
  • Focused Practice: Dedicate practice time to identifying and using collocations correctly. Online quizzes and exercises are helpful tools.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Direct Translation: Collocations rarely translate literally from your native language. Trying to do so is a recipe for errors.
  • Overreliance on Logic: Just because a combination makes sense doesn’t mean it’s a natural collocation. For example, while you might logically “do exercise” (based on “do work”), the standard collocation is “take exercise”.
  • Overusing Fancy Collocations: Don’t try to force uncommon collocations to impress the examiners. If used incorrectly, they’ll have the opposite effect.

Final Note

Learning collocations takes time and effort, but the payoff for your IELTS score is substantial. Here’s how mastering them benefits you:

  • Confidence Boost: Knowing you’re using common word pairings correctly reduces anxiety during the exam.
  • Beyond the Test: Correct collocation use is a fundamental skill for sounding natural and fluent in any English-speaking context.

By integrating collocations into your IELTS preparation from the start, you’ll be well on your way to demonstrating your English proficiency and achieving your target scores.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.