It’s a Hard Nut to Crack Idiom

Idioms for IELTS: Tough Nut to Crack

“It’s a hard nut to crack”  or “it’s a tough nut to crack” is a great expression. This is used in two different situations:

  1. talking about a problem that is difficult to solve
  2. talking about a person who is difficult to understand

tough nut to crack

Model Sentences with Idiom

See the examples below for how this expression can be used:

  1. The problem of turning the failing health system around is a tough nut to crack.
  2. IELTS is a really hard nut to crack. There’s so much to learn and so many challenges to face in the test.
  3. He’s not the most forth-coming of people and can be quite secretive. He’s been described as a tough nut to crack and I’d have to agree.
  4. I can’t find any reasonable solution for the problem. It certainly is a tough nut to crack. I think everyone would agree.
  5. She’s been working here for over 5 years now but still doesn’t really socialise with anyone or even talk to anyone much for that matter. She’s a hard nut to crack.

Can you add any other model sentences with this idiom? Post them in the comments box below.

Note: This expression is an idiom and should not be used in academic writing. However, it’s very good to use it in your IELTS speaking test.

Tip: In sentence 2 above, the words “many challenges to face” are also idiomatic. You don’t have to use actual idioms to use idiomatic language. So, don’t over load your answers with idioms – just use the odd one or two in a natural way.

All the best


Practice with Uncountable Nouns

One of the most common mistakes people make with English vocabulary is being able to spot uncountable nouns and using the correct verb form to match. This lesson will test your ability to spot uncountable nouns and form correct sentences.

Questions 1-10: Choose the correct word or words to complete the sentences below. 

  1. Luck/Lucks  play/plays  a part in all exams, including IELTS.
  2. Grandparents often give excellent advice/advices.
  3. During the war soldiers had to display a lot of courage / courages.
  4. Economics/economic  play/plays  an important role in the development of a country.
  5. My grandfather had a lot of wisdom/wisdoms.
  6. It is hardly surprising that people struggle to find employment/employments in some cities where competition is high.
  7. Without state-of-the-art equipment/equipments, a company will not be able to compete in the current market.
  8. News is/are essential to keep abreast of.
  9. A lot of pollution/pollutions in city centres can cause health problems for people living and working there.
  10. My friend is almost completely bald. He has very few hair/hairs left on his head.

By the way, there is one question above that is not so easy. Pay close attention to the sentence and remember that some words can be both countable and uncountable depending on the context and wording in the sentence.


Answers are available below.

Click here: Answers for Uncountable Practice


Subscribe to Receive my New Posts by Email

Vocabulary: Obese, Fat or Overweight

Students often confuse the words: obese, fat and overweight. This lesson will explain the difference between these words so that you learn to use them correctly.

IELTS often has questions in both writing and speaking about the problems of eating fast food or problems with the modern diet. Making mistakes with these words is common and will damage your band score.

  • Obesity (n) / Obese (adj) = a medical condition when excess body fat has accumulated and can have a negative impact on a persons health by contributing to health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes or kidney problems. This term is often used incorrectly and is only used in extreme cases when a person’s weight is a serious health concern and is labelled as a medical condition.
  • Overweight (n) / Overweight (adj) = weighing more than is considered normal or more than is optimally healthy and can cause some health concerns depending on how overweight a person is. This is neither negative or positive in meaning and is just a statement of a person’s size.
  • Fat = being larger than normal. This is used informally to describe people who are considered larger than average. It is not a polite term to use and can be offensive to people.

Practice Vocabulary Questions

Fill in the sentences below with the correct word listed above. Make sure you use the correct form of the word. A word may be used more than once.

  1. Many people who have a sedentary lifestyle are …………………. because they do not participate in regular exercise.
  2. My next door neighbour got quite ………… when she went to live in America for a year. I think she ate fast food most the time.
  3. 14 million children worldwide under the age of 5 were either overweight or ………….. in 2016.
  4. Worldwide ………… has nearly tripled since 1975.
  5. It is easy for people to become ……………….. if they do not eat a healthy diet.


The answers are available on the link below.


Prepositions Practice Sept 2018

Complete the sentences below using the following prepositions.


  • A = down
  • B= for
  • C = on
  • D = with
  • E = over
  • F = in
  • G = no preposition required

Questions 1-6

Which of the above options can be used to complete these sentences.

  1. Smaller family units have become more common ………. recent decades.
  2. One of the main reasons ………. family units becoming smaller is finances.
  3. There has been a fall ……….. in the number of families with more than four members.
  4. Many children do not have a close relationship ………… their grandparents.
  5. Nowadays, less emphasis is placed ……….. close relationships between the generations.
  6. Children of working parents are often left alone ……. extended periods of time.


Click below to reveal the answers:


  1. F = in
    1. Smaller family units have become more common in recent decades.
  2. B = for
    1. One of the main reasons for family units becoming smaller is finances.
  3. G = no preposition needed
    1. There has been a fall in the number of families with more than four members.
  4. D = with
    1. Many children do not have a close relationship with their grandparents.
  5. C = on
    1. Nowadays, less emphasis is placed on close relationships between the generations.
  6. B = for
    1. Children of working parents are often left alone for extended periods of time.


All the best


Vocabulary for Plant Topic IELTS Speaking

Below is a list of vocabulary for the topic of plants in IELTS speaking part 1.

Pot Plants

  • Cactus (plural = cacti or cactuses)
  • Peace lily (see picture above)
  • Bamboo
  • Palm
  • Flowering plants
  • Orchids
  • Small plants for the window sill
  • Easy to maintain

Balcony plants

Trailing plants / climbers

Plants and flowers attractive to bees and butterflies

Hanging baskets (flowering plants)

  • Roses
  • Geraniums
  • begonia

Other vocab

  • Leaves
  • Stem
  • Bloom
  • Lush
  • Soil
  • Compost
  • Plant feed
  • Pruning
  • Re-potting
  • Drainage
  • Watering (daily/ regularly)
  • Automatic watering system
  • Full sunlight / shade / exposure to sun
  • North facing window
  • Variety of colours
  • Petals
  • Herbs grown in pots
    • mint, parsley, coriander, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme
  • Vegetables grown in pots
    • tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans
  • to have green fingers

Sample Questions & Answers

You can see that some questions might produce shorter answers and other questions require more detail and explanation. This is normal in speaking part 1.

  1. Do you like plants?
    1. Yes, I do. I usually have at least one indoor pot plant in my sitting room such as a peace lily.
  2. Are you good at growing plants?
    1. No, I’m not. I definitely don’t have green fingers, unlike my grandfather who was really good with plants. I frequently have to buy new plants for my house when they die.
  3. Why do people grow plants?
    1. I think some people grow plants because it’s a pleasurable hobby that they can enjoy all year round. It is very rewarding to grow a plant, particularly when the flowers bloom. For other people, it is a way to make their living environment better. What I mean is plants can provide not only clean air but also greenery which is supposed to be uplifting for the spirit.

See extra questions for this topic: Speaking Part 1 Questions for Plant Topic

How to Paraphrase Successfully in IELTS

Paraphrasing in IELTS is essential for a high score in IELTS. This page contains tips on paraphrasing to maximise your score. You need to learn to to identify paraphrases in IELTS listening and reading. For IELTS writing and speaking, you need to learn to paraphrase using your own words. Students who are good at paraphrasing will do better in all parts of their IELTS test.

This page will review 6 tips for paraphrasing in IELTS:

  1. using synonyms
  2. not changing all words
  3. avoiding mistakes
  4. changing word forms
  5. changing sentence stucture
  6. paraphrasing and band scores
  7. paraphrasing practice lessons

1. Using Synonyms

In IELTS one way to paraphrase is to use synonyms. Using different words with a similar meaning shows the examiner a range of vocabulary which you need to get over band score 6. Here is an example of how a sentence can be re-written by using synonyms:

The reasons for increasing levels of pollution are the development of industry and air travel.

The sentence above can be paraphrased as:

The causes of rising levels of pollution are the growth and expansion of industry as well as the number of people travelling by air.

Here is a list of how the sentence was altered using synonyms.

  • causes = reasons
  • increasing = rising
  • the development of = the growth and expansion of
  • and = as well as
  • air travel = travelling by air
  • Notice: you can see that the words “levels of pollution” and “industry” have not be changed. This is fine. Not all words need to be changed. In fact, the word “pollution” is best not changed. See tip number 2, below:

2. Not All Words Need Changing

Not all words need to be changed for a high score in IELTS. You can see from the example above that some words have remained the same “levels of pollution / industry / air). This means you need to decide which words to paraphrase and which words to keep the same.

Decide which words you can successfully paraphrase and which ones you will keep. Be selective. A high level student knows when to change words and when now to change words.

If you try to paraphrase too much, you might:

  1. make mistakes which will lower your score
  2. change the meaning which might result in you going off topic
  3. See tip number 3, below:

Here is a link to more practice paraphrasing for IELTS.

3. Avoiding Mistakes

The more mistakes you make with vocabulary in IELTS writing and speaking, the lower your score will be. Paraphrasing is a skill. Synonyms do not have exactly the same meaning and cannot always be used at the same time.

Watch this video below to get useful tips on paraphrasing for writing task 1 and writing task 2.

[su_youtube url=””]

4. Changing the Word Form

Another way to paraphrase sentences is to change the form of the word. This means we use the same words as IELTS but change their form. Here is an example:

Many people are unhealthy because they fail to eat well and exercise.

This can be paraphrased by changing the word form of “unhealthy”, “fail” and “exercise”.

Many people have poor health because they are failing to eat well and are not exercising enough.

You can see from the above example, that many of the words are the same but the form is changed.

  1. unhealthy = poor health
  2. fail = failing
  3. exercise = exercising

This demonstrates excellent vocabulary skills to the examiner and will help you get a good score for vocabulary. It shows that you understand the words very well and can use them in different ways.

If you watch the video below about writing an introduction for IELTS writing task 2, you will see again how words can be paraphrased by changing their form and using synonyms.

Writing an Introduction for an IELTS Essay

[su_youtube url=””]

Common Word Forms Examples

  • developing = the development of
  • increasing = an increase in
  • pollution = being polluted
  • explain = explanation

5. Changing Sentence Structure

Another way to paraphrase successfully is to change the order to words in a sentence. This means changing the structure of the sentence. Taking the example from above again:

Many people are unhealthy because they fail to eat well and exercise.

You can see there are two clauses “Many people are unhealthy” and the second clause “because they fail to eat well and exercise”.

We can change the order of the clauses:

Many people fail to eat well and exercise and, for that reason, they are unhealthy.

Lets make more changes to the sentence. Now we can also paraphrase by altering the word form as we did previously. The final sentence would be:

Failing to eat well and not exercising are the reasons that many people have poor health.

6. Paraphrasing & IELTS Band Scores

Of course paraphrasing will help your band score for the criterion of vocabulary.

Band Score 5

  •  Minimum Range of Vocabulary
  • Frequent Errors which cause problems with meaning

Band Score 6

  • Adequate Range of Vocabulary
  • Some Errors but the meaning is clear

Band Score 7

  • Sufficient Range of Vocabulary
  • Few Errors

Band Score 8

  • Wide Range of Vocabulary
  • Most sentences are Error Free

You can see that you need to show a range of words which means you need to paraphrase. But you also need to reduce your errors which means don’t try to paraphrase too much and don’t make mistakes.

Following the above tips (using synonyms, not paraphrasing all words, avoiding errors, changing the word form and changing the sentence structure) will help you achieve the highest score.

7. Paraphrasing Practice

It is essential that you practice paraphrasing and using synonyms. You can find some paraphrasing practice lessons on the links below.

  • My IELTS Reading Main Page which contains lessons for paraphrasing and using synonyms as well as lots of lessons for TFNG and other question types that appear in IELTS reading.
  • My IELTS Writing Task 2 Main Page which contains lots of tips for essay writing as well as paraphrasing practice.


Main IELTS Pages

Develop your IELTS skills with tips, lessons, free videos and more.

Vocabulary for Shoes Topic in IELTS Speaking Part 1

Learn useful vocabulary for shoes topic in IELTS Speaking Part 1 and improve your pronunciation. This topic is currently being used in the speaking test January 2017. This lesson provides vocabulary and audio to improve your pronunciation to talk about shoes.  Try to use these words in your answers in your test.

Listening and Vocabulary Practice

Can you label the missing shoes in the picture below? Pay attention to plural or singular nouns. Some answers will be plurals and some will be singular.

  1. Listen to the audio recording below and write down the missing words in the diagram below.
  2. Check your answers by clicking the arrow to reveal the answers below.


  1. Some answers are plurals and some answers are singular.
  2. Answers will be presented from left to right.

Shoe Type Vocabulary

Listen to the recording below. Write down the missing words you hear.



Click below to reveal the answers to the missing words:


  1. high-heeled shoe
  2. loafer
  3. slippers
  4. walking sandal
  5. flip-flops (also knows as thongs)
  6. trainers (also known as sneakers)
  7. wellington boots (also known as wellies)
  8. cowboy boot
  9. walking boots (also known as hiking boots)


More Vocabulary with Pronunciation

Learn more useful language for shoes. Listen to the recording below and practice your pronunciation.

Shoe Parts Vocabulary

Listen to the audio  for the above vocabulary:


More IELTS Vocabulary and Tips

Click below to visit useful pages for IELTS:

Questions and Model Answers for Shoes: Speaking Part 1

Vocabulary for Clothes

All speaking tips and model answers

All vocabulary lists

Body Language Vocabulary

Here is a list of body language communication and a free video watch with extra vocabulary. There are many examples of how body language is a form of communication. Body language is used in every country and culture throughout the world.

Why is body language important to understand?

  •  Body language is used to assess people’s characters. It is one of the first ways we assess a stranger’s character.
  • Body language is used to communicate directly with someone when language is not possible.
  • Body language is commonly used and assessed at work and interviews.
  • Body language is an essential part of friendships and relationships.
  • Body language can lead to great misunderstanding between different cultures.

The video tutorial below gives some of the most common examples of body language. More examples are listed under the video.

Body Language Vocabulary: Video Tutorial

A great video to learn some vocabulary for body language communication. A fun video to show that learning vocabulary can be fun!!!

List of Body Language

Below is a list of body language that is common in the west with the common meaning.

Facial Expressions

  • Avoiding eye contact = shy, worried, lying
  • Crinkling nose = disgust
  • Deadpan face (without any expression) = emotionless or hiding feelings
  • Direct eye contact = confidence
  • Eyes staring into the distance = dreamy, not concentrating
  • Pressing lips together (tight lipped) = annoyed, angry
  • Raised eye brows = doubtful, disbelieving
  • Smiling = friendly

Physical Actions

  • Arms behind back, shoulders back = confidence
  • Arms crossed = defensive or insecure but sometimes it means being angry
  • Bowing (bending at the waist) = greeting someone new (in some countries)
  • Biting nails = nervous
  • Blushing (going red in the cheeks) or stammering (speaking with hesitations and repeated letters) = embarrassment
  • Eye rubbing = tired or disbelieving
  • Hands covering gaping mouth = scared
  • Putting arms up with palms facing forward = submission
  • Scratching one’s head = confused
  • Shaking the head = negative, no
  • Shrugging shoulders (moving shoulders up and down) = don’t know, doubt, confused
  • Stroking one’s chin = thinking deeply
  • Nodding head =  agreement, yes
  • Firm handshake = strong and decisive / limp handshake = weak

International Problems with Body Language

Nodding head = In some countries, it means “yes” but in other countries it means “no”. Likewise, a shaking head means “no” in some countries but “yes” in others.

Silence = In the West, this can be negative and be a problem between people. However, in other countries, such as China or Japan, it can be a sign of agreement or femininity.

Personal space = In countries, such as England, people should stand a respectful distance from each other but in other countries, such as Spain, people touch each other when talking. In Japan, the person space is often bigger between people than in England. Respectful space between people changes depending on countries.

Eye Contact = In the West, this is a sign of confidence and is important when listening actively to someone. On the other hand, there are countries where this might be a sign of aggression and confrontation.

Practice Using Body Language Vocabulary

Fill the gaps of these sentences with the suitable words:

1. I had no idea what she was talking about. Then suddenly she asked a question that I couldn’t understand so I just ………….. my shoulders and walked away.

2. My boss always tells tall stories. Yesterday he came to work with another unbelievable story but the only response I could give was to ……….. my eyebrows.

3. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being late. Once I was in a really long meeting at work and by the time we finished I was late to meet my friend. During the meeting, I could feel myself getting impatient and my foot started ……………. on the floor.

4. I can’t stand watching films at the cinema because you can’t relax like you can in private, particularly when watching an action movie full of surprises and shocks. When there is a really sudden unexpected scene, my eyes ………. and my mouth ……… open which I find really embarrassing in public.

5. I remember once I was late for an appointment. When I arrived, which was over 1 hour late, I ………….  deep red and stammered an apology.


  1. shrugged (the answer isn’t “shrugged off” because that means to get rid of – usually a feeling – and does relate to shoulders)
  2. raise
  3. tapping (the answer isn’t stamping because stamping is when you are very angry not impatient)
  4. widen    gapes  (don’t forget the “s”)
  5. blushed

Using vocabulary in IELTS

Q) In what way is body language a form of communication?

A) Well, people use body language to send a message or to indicate something so it is definitely a way to communicate. For example, when people raise their eyebrows, it often means they are incredulous or disbelieving and when they tap their foot on the floor, you know they are impatient. So, using facial expressions and physical actions can communicate things to other people.

Q) Do you think it is possible to misunderstand someone’s body language?

A) Yes, definitely. When someone avoids your eye, it is possible to think that they are avoiding your question and don’t want to talk to you. But really, it might be that they are just shy. So, it’s quite easy to grasp the wrong meaning in people’s actions.

Q) Describe a time you were late for an appointment.

A) I remember, about one month ago, organising to meet someone in the town center at 9pm. Unfortunately, I was delayed because of traffic and didn’t arrive until about 9.30pm. My friend was really mad. She had her arms crossed and was tapping her foot impatiently on the ground. I was so embarrassed and blushed a lot. I stammered my apology but felt really uncomfortable because she was staring at me with angry eyes. Anyway, we sorted out our differences and have been really good friends ever since. (this is an example of part of a talk for speaking part 2 – add details and descriptions)

Main IELTS Pages

Develop your IELTS skills with tips, model answers, lessons, free videos and more.

error: Content is protected !!