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30 Useful Phrases To Boost Your IELTS Speaking Score

In this study guide, you will learn the meaning of 30 collocations and find out how to use them in a sentence. You will see examples of how to use these phrases to talk about familiar topics on the IELTS speaking exam. Check out the exercises at the end to test your understanding! You can also download this guide as a free pdf to use offline.

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What you will learn: 

 

What are collocations?

Collocations are combinations of two or more words that frequently occur together. Some words collocate with many other words, for example: broad could be used to form the collocations a broad smile, a broad range or a broad accent. However, some words only occur in one or two collocations, for example: mindless violence. 

Words that collocate with many other words are called weak collocations. Those that only form collocations with one or two other words are known as strong collocations. Using expressions like these can help you to improve your vocabulary range and increase accuracy. Learning common collocations in English can help you to sound more “native” on your IELTS Speaking test.
 

30 useful collocations for IELTS speaking

You may be familiar with adjective + noun collocations, such as a big mistake or heavy rain. However, collocations are formed from many different word combinations, for example: a verb with a noun (make a speech) or an adverb with an adjective (extremely successful).

The collocations listed here are all commonly used in everyday speech. The table divides the collocations list into four different types: verb + noun, adjective + noun, noun + noun and adverb + adjective.

Each collocation is given with a definition and an example sentence. In section three, you will see how you can use collocations in a real IELTS Speaking exam.

Verb/noun collocationAdjective/noun collocation
Find a solution
Go on a diet
Make a living
Overcome a hurdle
Throw a party
Spend a fortune
Watch what you eat
Keep in shape
A complete disaster
Formal education
A heavy workload
Mature student
A quick learner
A surprise party
A special occasion
A bubbly personality
Noun/noun collocationAdverb/adjective collocation
Carbon footprint
Childhood friend
Full marks
Food miles
Personality trait
Value for money
Fashion victim
Absolutely delighted
Extremely successful
Newly qualified
Cautiously optimistic
Slightly different
Stunningly attractive
Absolutely vital
30 collocations with definitions and examples
  1. A quick learner – someone who learns new things easily
    Anne speaks Italian fluently and has only been in Rome a year! Yes, she is a quick learner. 
  1. Absolutely delighted – to be very happy about something
    Toni was absolutely delighted with her wedding gift! 
  1. Absolutely vital – extremely important
    It’s absolutely vital that you read the instructions carefully before you start your exam!
  1. Bubbly personality – someone with a bubbly personality is positive, lively and talkative
    I prefer people with bubbly personalities – they are so easy to talk to.
  1. Carbon footprint – a measure of your impact on the environment
    I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint by using my bike instead of the car.
  1. Cautiously optimistic – to have a realistically positive view of the future
    I am cautiously optimistic about getting a new job.
  1. Childhood friend – a friend you have known since you were young
    I have known Debbie for 30 years – she is a childhood friend.
  1. Complete disaster – describes a situation that has gone very wrong
    The shopping trip was a complete disaster! It rained all day.
  1. Extremely successful – to have the desired aim or result
    Jane was extremely successful in her engineering career.

To help you remember them, try learning collocations by topic. Make a list of common IELTS Speaking topics and learn a couple of collocations that relate to each one.

  1. Fashion victim – a person who wears fashionable clothes even if they look silly
    Have you seen what Steve is wearing? What a fashion victim!
  1. Find a solution – to find a way of solving a problem
    Tom hasn’t found a solution to our budgeting issue yet – he is organising a board meeting to discuss it later this week.
  1. Food miles – the distance food has to travel from where it is produced to where it is eaten
    If you grow some of your own vegetables, you can decrease your food miles dramatically. 
  1. Formal education – the time in your life when you are educated at school or university
    My grandfather left school when he was 14, so his formal education was quite short.
  1. Full marks – to score 100% in a test
    Sarah looks very happy today. Yes, she got full marks in her maths test!
  1. Go on a diet – to eat in a way that will cause you to lose weight
    After Christmas I am going on a diet – I have put on so much weight during lockdown!
  1. Heavy workload – to have a job where you have a lot of work to do
    His new job is great, but he has a really heavy workload at the moment.
  1. Keep in shape – to take good care of your body and not get fat
    He looks fit. Yes, he keeps himself in shape by going to the gym every day.
  1. Make a living – earn enough money to live on
    In the 90s, my father made a living working in the hospitality industry.
  1. Mature student – a student who is older than the average age of others
    It was fine being a mature student, but most friends I made at uni were younger than me.
  1. Newly qualified – having recently completed your training for a job
    Jim doesn’t have much experience yet. He is a newly qualified lawyer. 
  1. Overcome a hurdle – to manage to resolve a problem
    I had to overcome many hurdles on my way to becoming a qualified teacher. 
  1. Personality trait – particular aspects of someone’s personality
    Ryan has some very positive personality traits. He is intelligent, caring and loyal. 
  1. Slightly different – not exactly the same
    That hat is a slightly different colour to your dress.
  1. Special occasion – a time when a particular event is celebrated
    I think I will save this party dress for a special occasion. 
  1. Spend a fortune – to spend a lot of money
    Maggie spent a fortune on her new car! 
  1. Stunningly attractive – very good looking
    If you look at these old photos, my grandmother was a stunningly attractive woman.
  1. Surprise party – a party held for a person who does not know about it
    Jeff’s colleagues organised a surprise party for his 31st birthday.
  1. Throw a party – to organise a party
    When I was a kid, we used to throw a party every Halloween.
  1. Value for money – something is worth the money you spend on it
    That coat was really good value for money.
  1. Watch what you eat – to follow a diet in order to lose weight
    I’m watching what I eat at the moment – I need to lose a few pounds.

 

How to use collocations in IELTS Speaking

Part 1: Short Questions

In part one of the IELTS speaking test, the examiner will ask you questions on one or two familiar topics. The following examples show the types of questions you may be asked and give some suggestions on how to use collocations in your answers.

Shopping

Q. Do you enjoy buying new clothes?
A. Yes, I really like shopping for clothes, but I don’t spend a fortune on them. I like looking for attractive clothes that are also good value for money.

Q. Is it important to buy fashionable clothes?
A. I do like fashionable clothes, but I’m not a fashion victim! I buy things that are in fashion, but they have to look good on me too!

Work

Q. What job would you like to do in the future?
A. I would like to make a living as a lawyer. I think it would be an interesting job, although a lot of lawyers have a heavy workload, so it could be quite stressful and I expect the working hours would be rather long.

Q. Do you like your current job?
A. Yes, I am a newly-qualified teacher. I only started teaching last year. It’s a challenging job, but I really enjoy it.

Want to learn more collocations for your IELTS Speaking exam? Check out our blog post about collocations with make/do!

Friends

Q. Tell me about one of your friends.
A. My mate Josie is a childhood friend. She is really chatty and cheerful. She has a bubbly personality, so she is always good fun to be with.

Q. What makes a good friend?
A. Well, a friend doesn’t have to be stunningly attractive! It is much more important that you get on with them and that they have some positive personality traits. In my opinion, it’s important that a good friend is honest, loyal and kind.

Part 2: Presentation

In part two of the IELTS Speaking examination, you will give a short talk based on a topic card. You will talk for one or two minutes. The topics are usually on everyday themes, giving you a chance to use some collocations that are relevant to the topic. The examples below show how you can use collocations in your presentation. 

Q. Describe a time during your education that you really enjoyed.
A. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy school when I was very young. I think it took me some time to get used to formal education. I think I would have preferred to have stayed at home! I thought it was a bit boring and I wasn’t a good student.

I started to enjoy school when I was a teenager. I think I’m quite a quick learner, so I really liked it when lessons got more difficult at secondary school. I started to listen more in class and got some good grades. I remember I was absolutely delighted when I scored full marks in a science test when I was 14. That encouraged me to choose science subjects at A level. Now I’m a mature student, studying to be a doctor, but I think my love of science started back then!

Q. Describe a time when you helped to organise something.
A. Last year me and my friends decided to throw a party. Our mate Matthew was 18 last summer and we thought that he would enjoy a big celebration! We decided it would be fun to make it a surprise party, so we talked to his parents and they agreed to hold the party at their house.

We invited lots of Matthew’s friends, bought some food and drink and got everything ready at his house. We were careful to keep it a surprise, so we all hid in the kitchen, waiting for Matthew to arrive for the special occasion!

Matthew had a part-time job, so the plan was for another friend to pick him up from work and drive to the house. Unfortunately, on their way to the party the car broke down! It was a complete disaster! Finally, Matthew got home in a taxi. We all jumped out and shouted ‘surprise!’ He looked a bit shocked, but I think he really enjoyed the party.

Part 3: Discussion

In part three of IELTS Speaking, you will be asked questions relating to the topic from part two of the exam. You should give your opinion on each question and your reasons for it, as well as some examples from you own experience. You can include collocations that relate to the question topic.

Diet & health

Q. Does eating healthy food improve your health?
A. Yes, I think it is important that we all watch what we eat because eating too much junk food can make us overweight and that causes other health problems. I don’t think people necessarily need to go on a diet to be healthier. They just need to eat fresh, healthy food, such as fruit and vegetables.

Q. Is it important to have an exercise routine?
A. I think the most important thing is to do some exercise regularly so that you keep in shape. It doesn’t really matter whether it is running, swimming or dancing, but it is really important that you enjoy the exercise that you choose. A regular exercise routine can be extremely successful at keeping you motivated. Even if you only exercise now and then, it is still good for your health.

Environment

Q. What can you do as an individual to help the environment?
A. There are lots of things we can do in our homes to help the environment. For example, we can recycle our waste and try to reduce the amount of plastic we use. One important thing to consider is how to reduce your carbon footprint. That means you try to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that you produce by using public transport, eating less meat and buying second-hand clothes. You can also reduce your food miles by buying food that is produced locally.

Q. Some people think it is too late to stop global warming. Do you agree?
A. I am actually cautiously optimistic about the environment. I do think we can work together to slow down the impact of global warming. However, it is absolutely vital that we all work together now to make big changes in how we live, including switching to clean energy and developing green technologies.

Technology

Q. How can technology be helpful in everyday life?
A. Sometimes technology can be really useful for finding a solution to a problem. For example, with modern technology you can find an app to help you in almost any situation. You can buy food online, navigate to a destination in your car and even find a new partner online!

Q. How do younger people and older people use technology differently?
A. I think young people use technology in almost every part of their lives. For example, they watch videos on their laptop, take photos on their phone and use social media all the time. For older people, I think it is slightly different. Some see new technology as overly complicated, but, with help, they can overcome this hurdle. I think older people often use technology in a limited way because they don’t fully understand it.
 

Collocations: exercises

  1. What is a collocation?
    a. A phrasal verb or idiom.
    b. A long sentence.
    c. Two or three words that commonly occur together.
    d. Words with the same or similar meaning.
  2. Which one of the following collocations is formed using an adverb and an adjective?
    a. A good example
    b. Extremely successful
    c. Make a success of it
    d. Achieve success
  3. Which one of the following collocations cannot be used to describe a person?
    a. A quick learner
    b. Absolutely vital
    c. Mature student
    d. Fashion victim
  4. Which statement is correct?
    a. All collocations are formed with an adjective and a noun.
    b. You can’t speak English properly if you don’t use collocations.
    c. Your English will sound more natural if you use collocations.
    d. Collocations are only used in formal English.
  5. Your ______________ is a measure of your impact on the environment.
    a. Carbon fingerprint
    b. Carbon footstep
    c. Carbon foot
    d. Carbon footprint
  6. Which answer is the nearest in meaning to the sentence: ‘I’m looking forward to my new job, but I will have a heavy workload.’?
    a. I will have a lot of work to do.
    b. I will have to lift boxes.
    c. My job will be easy.
    d. I won’t be able to do the job.
  7. If you have to overcome a hurdle. What do you need to do?
    a. Solve a problem
    b. Climb something very high
    c. Start something again
  8. She has a bubbly personality. She is ___________.
    a. Nervous and stressed
    b. Happy and friendly
    c.
    Irritable and grumpy
  9. Which is the most likely answer? ‘Do you have to watch what you eat?’ Yes I ________________________.’
    a. Love vegetables
    b. Put on weight easily
    c. Always make my meals look attractive
  10. ‘The holiday was a complete disaster.’ Which sentence is closest in meaning?
    a. We had a great holiday.
    b. Everything went wrong on the holiday.
    c. The holiday was cancelled.
  11. Which ONE of the following could you achieve in a test?
    a. Complete marks
    b. Full marks
    c. Total marks
    d. Big marks
  12. Which ONE of the following could not be described as a special occasion.
    a. Your first day in a new job
    b. Your parents’ wedding anniversary
    c. Two people having a Valentine’s Day meal
    d. A friend’s birthday party
  13. Which collocation means: “to earn money in your job to support yourself”?
    a. Have a living
    b. Make a living
    Make an earning
    Make a wage
  14. Which collocation means: “very, very important”?
    a. Absolutely vital
    b. Very vital
    c. Absolutely important
    d. Very much important
  15. Which collocation means: “the distance food has travelled from where it is produced to your home”?
    a. Food journey
    b. Food distance
    c. Food miles
    d. Food metres
  16. Which of the following is not a collocation?
    a. Childhood friend
    b. Throw a party
    c. Surprise party
    d. Near friend
  17. Which is the correct answer to the question: “What do you do to keep in shape?”
    a. I eat cakes.
    b. I buy bigger clothes.
    c. I go the gym three times a week.
    d. I watch lots of TV.
  18. If your friend says he is ‘going on a diet’, what does he mean?
    a. He is going to try to lose weight
    b. He is going to eat more healthy food
    c. He is becoming a vegetarian
    d. He is going to eat more protein
  19. What is a personality trait?
    a. A negative aspect of someone’s personality
    b. A negative or positive aspect of someone’s personality
    c. A positive aspect of someone’s personality
    d. The overall type of personality someone is
  20. Tom and Tony are friends. Tom’s favourite colour is red; so is Tony’s. Tom loves football; so does Tony. Tom and Tony both love cake. Tom likes chocolate cake, but Tony prefers vanilla. They are:
    a. Completely different
    b. The same
    c. Slightly different
    d. Totally different
Answers:
  1. c
  2. b
  3. b
  4. c
  5. d
  6. a
  7. a
  1. b
  2. b
  3. b
  4. b
  5. a
  6. b
  7. a
  1. c
  2. d
  3. c
  4. a
  5. b
  6. c
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Judith P.
— ESL Tutor.
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