How to use this list

The headwords of the Academic Word List (AWL) are the stem form of the words. The number after each headword is the sublist the word family is in. The sublists have the word families of the AWL with the most frequently used member of the family in italics. Table 1 on The Sublists page shows the coverage of the sublists over the Academic Corpus (a corpus is a body or collection of texts) and the number of pages of text a learner needs to read in order to encounter the words.

The Words in the academic word list should be learned in several ways

  1. Learners should read academic texts and listen to academic lectures and discussions. Where possible, the written and spoken texts should not be too difficult for learners, with no more than about 5% of the running words in the texts being new words for the learners.
  2. Learners should have the chance to speak in academic discussion and write academic texts using academic vocabulary.
  3. Learners should directly study words from the list using word cards and doing intensive study of short academic texts.

Learning the words in the academic word list

Choosing words

  • Start with Sublist 1. If these words are known, move on to Sublist 2 down to Sublist 10.
  • Don't start with the headwords starting with the letter 'A' and work down the list, but choose words that do not look like each other and are not related in meaning.
  • Check the list for words you find in texts. If the words are in the AWL, you should learn them. If they are not in the list, then check West's General Service List. If the words are not in the most frequent 2000 words of English or the AWL, then think carefully about whether or not you need to learn them.

Learning words

  • Focus on retrieving the words rather than recognising them. Every time you retrieve a word the connection between the form of the word and its meaning is made stronger. Using word cards with the word to be learned on one side and the translations on the other forces you to retrieve the word.
  • Space the number of repetitions of the words you are learning because spacing repetitions results in longer lasting memory. The best spacing is to review the words a few minutes after first looking at them, then an hour or so later, then the next day, then a week later and then a couple of weeks after that.
  • Process the words thoughtfully so that the depth of learning is better. Use techniques which encourage you to make a lot of associations with the words you are learning. For example, think of language contexts and situational contexts in which you could use the words.
  • Avoid interference between the words you are learning by choosing words which are spelled differently and start with different letters. Don't learn words with similar meanings at the same time. Words which look the same or share similar meanings are easy to confuse and make your learning less effective.