What Are Less Common Lexical Items?


If you want to get Band 7 or higher for Lexical Resource in IELTS Writing, you need to “use less common lexical items”.

Here are the band descriptors for Lexical Resource for Band 8 and Band 7:

Less Common Lexical Items

What is a “lexical item”?

A lexical item is a group of words that has a single meaning.

A lexical item can be an individual word, but it can also be a group of words, such as phrases, phrasal verbs, idioms and collocations.

All of the following are examples of lexical items:

  • morning
  • good morning
  • nice to see you
  • the happiest time in my life
  • she’s old enough to
  • on the other hand
  • growing levels of prosperity
  • appalling working conditions
  • a rapidly declining trend
  • we would be more likely to
  • around the clock
  • a lot of time on his hands

So a lexical item does NOT just mean words. It can also mean groups, or chunks, of words.

What is a less common lexical item?

To get a Band 6 or Band 7 for Lexical Resource you need to use “less common” lexical items. What does “less common” mean?

It means lexical items which are less commonly used by English language learners.

When I write my IELTS model essays, I use a lot of lexical chunks that are not commonly used by English language learners. In my model essay about advertising, you will see these phrases and idioms:

  • increasingly surrounded by advertisements
  • traditional TV channels
  • paid advertising on social media
  • the effectiveness of advertising
  • adverts related to special offers
  • Black Friday offers for tech products
  • people’s browsing habits
  • very carefully crafted
  • grab their attention
  • a strong incentive to buy
  • mere background noise

None of the individual words in this list are all that advanced or rare, and these phrases are likely to be used by native and fluent users of English. However, intermediate and elementary English language learners would not be expected to use these phrases. They are “less commonly” used by them – and so these are the kinds of phrases that will help you to get Band 7 and higher for Lexical Resource.

A “less common lexical item” does NOT mean rare, advanced or difficult words. But one of the most common mistakes made by IELTS candidates is trying to use rare words in their essays, words like:

  • ubiquitous
  • phenomenon
  • myriad
  • aforementioned
  • bellicose
  • opine
  • imperative
  • plethora

Using words like these on their own will NOT help you to get Band 7+ in IELTS Writing.

Less Common Lexical Items: What You Should Do

1. Use topic-specific vocabulary

When you are discussing a topic in your essay, try to use vocabulary with a precise meaning. This often means using topic-specific vocabulary.

For example, the phrase “paid advertising on social media” is specific to the topic of advertising. So is “Black Friday offers for tech products”.

If you use topic-specific vocabulary, then you will probably already be using less common vocabulary. So focus on using “topic-specific vocabulary”, rather than “less common vocabulary”.

2. Use Phrases

When you choose vocabulary to communicate your ideas, try to use phrases, not individual words. Phrases are more precise than individual words, and they are also less commonly used by English language learners.

If you look at the list of less common lexical items in my advertising essay above, you will see that they are ALL phrases and idioms. So don’t just write individual words, write phrases.

About the author

Charlie is a former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 100,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.

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