Improving your academic English skills can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Choosing the right ways to practice your English will greatly improve your skills in this area. Follow our five tips for improving your academic English to set yourself on the track for academic English success.

5 Tips for Improving Your Academic English

Tip #1: Focus on Academic English Vocabulary

Do you know the difference between English vocabulary and academic English vocabulary? Most conversational English classes teach basic vocabulary, idioms, phrasal verbs, and slang. With academic English, students focus more on the words that are used in academia. There are some wonderful lists of English academic vocabulary; for example, the Academic Word List (AWL). The AWL was created by professors at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The list includes 570 word families that are common in academic texts from many subjects. The 570 words are divided into 10 groups: Group 1 is the most popular words in academia, Group 2 is the second most common words, etc. Check it out!

Tip #2: Familiarize yourself with more formal (lecture-style) English

Professors in a lecture hall will of course speak differently than they would in a conversation. Learn the language and tone that they often use. The best way to do this is by listening to lectures: many universities have entire classes online, and iTunes University also has classes available to watch.

Another important part of lectures is understanding the direction the professor takes during his or her lecture. The direction changes based on connecting words such as however, although, therefore, or meanwhile. Read our post on Using Conjunctions in English to improve your understanding of these words.

Tip #3: Improve your writing skills through more complex sentence structures

Writing is of course an important part of academic English. To improve your writing, make sure that you know how to create more complex sentences using grammar concepts such as Relative Clauses. Also be sure that you understand how to properly use Punctuation in English.

Tip #4: Read. A LOT.

Read everything you can! Read for fun (check out our article on Novels  for English Learners), read the newspaper, change your phone and social media to English, and immerse yourself in the language as much as possible.

When reading, read actively. This means that you take notes in your books, look up words in the dictionary, and keep a journal of new vocabulary. Interacting with the text in this way will help you better understand the content.

Academic English Idioms and Vocabulary 

Ace (an exam)

Definition: to pass an exam with a very high score.

Example: I aced my final!


Definition: a person who loves to read.

Example: I was a bookworm as a child. For my birthday, I didn’t want toys: I wanted books.


Definition: a person who copies another person’s actions (or, in the case of academia, a person who copies another person’s work).

Example: The person sitting next to me was a copycat, but we had different versions of the test!

Cram for (a test)

Definition: to study for an exam.

Example: I crammed for my midterm last night.

5 tips improving academic English

Pull an all-nighter

Definition: to study all night before a test (or work all night to finish a project).

Example: My paper is due tomorrow and I’ve only written half. I think I have to pull an all-nighter.

Study buddy

Definition: a person who studies with you.

Example: Pam is my study buddy for chemistry. We are meeting later at a coffee shop in Little Italy.

Do you need to improve your academic English in order to reach your language learning goals? CISL’s English for Academic Purposes course can help! With CISL’s EAP, students take 12 weeks of afternoon classes that are focused on improving the language skills necessary to excel in the American academic setting. (Students also have the option of taking just four weeks of this course: contact CISL for more information.)