How can synonyms improve my band score?
One of the assessment criteria for IELTS Speaking (and Writing) focuses on the range of vocabulary you use. If you show the examiner you’re able to use a wide range, not just repeating the same common words or expressions again and again, you’re likely to be awarded a higher grade.
This is where synonyms are extremely useful! Synonyms are words or expressions that have a similar meaning. For example, Candidate A who is working at a lower level, will often repeat the same words again and again such as ‘I think …’, ‘I think …’, ‘I think …’ etc. A more advanced student would be able to express their opinion in various ways and depending on the context, might use any of the following expressions to express an opinion:
It seems to me that …
As far as I’m concerned …
I’ve always been of the opinion …
As I see it …
Speaking for myself …
If you ask me …
To my mind …
In my view …
For my part …
Personally speaking …
Sometimes, synonyms can have almost the same meaning and can be used interchangeably. For example, ‘huge’ and ‘enormous’ can be used to describe something that’s very big:
They live in a huge/enormous house in the country.
The directors awarded themselves a huge/enormous pay rise.
However, you need to be careful when using synonyms. Often two words or expressions that have a similar meaning cannot be used in the same contexts.
Sometimes words have different ‘connotations’ or subtle meanings which if used incorrectly, can give the wrong impression. For example, ‘single-minded’ and ‘stubborn’ have a similar meaning. However, the former can be used in a positive context to describe someone who is focussed and determined to achieve something. ‘Stubborn’ on the other hand tends to be used with a negative connotation.
In addition to this, one word might ‘collocate’ or go with another word to describe something specific. For example, ‘vacant’ and ‘uninhabited’ have a similar meaning but are used to describe different things:
There are several uninhabited islands off the coast.
We had to stand on the train as there no vacant seats.
In a similar way, some words appear as part of a set expression and so using a synonym just wouldn’t work. For example, although ‘blow’, ‘hit’ and ‘punch’ have a similar meaning, only one of them works here:
The argument got so heated I thought they were going to come to blows/
Synonyms can also be more or less formal. For example, the nouns ‘help’ and ‘assistance’ have a very similar meaning. Imagine you’re with a friend who’s carrying some heavy shopping bags. You’d be far more likely to say ‘Do you need any help with those bags’ because ‘assistance’ would be rather too formal. On the other hand, ‘If I can be of any assistance, please let me know.’ would be perfectly OK if it was said in a more formal situation.
So as a learning strategy try categorising any new synonyms you come across. For example:
The company has a goal/target/aim of increasing sales by 20%.
The group trekked through the forest.
I generally walk to the station every morning.
Formal x informal
The show commences at 7.30.
I think I’ll start preparing dinner.
And finally, if you also make a point of learning set expressions, you’ll hopefully avoid using a synonym when one isn’t appropriate.
There are lots of resources online to help you learn synonyms. An excellent one is ‘https://dictionary.cambridge.org‘. Simply search for a word, and below the definition and examples you’ll find a link to a list of synonyms.