Idioms for IELTS

Updated on: Nov 8, 2023

An idiom is a phrase or expression that provides a different meaning from the literal sense. People use idioms to convey their thoughts and opinions in a creative and sometimes humorous way. These phrases sound normal to native speakers but might be different for others. You can understand idioms by focusing on the whole phrase rather than the individual words. 

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Using idioms during your IELTS speaking test would boost your confidence and improve your score. You might find it challenging to incorporate idioms when you speak, but with regular practice and learning, you can ace the test in no time. Here we cover everything you need to know about idioms for IELTS so that you can understand them like the 'back of your hand!

IELTS: An overview

The International English Language Test System (IELTS) is a standard language assessment for international students to assess their level of proficiency in English. The exam is accepted as proof of English fluency in several educational institutions in countries like the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and Germany. The IELTS exam has four sections that determine the candidate's language skills.

IELTS speaking test

  • The IELTS speaking test assesses your English fluency through an interview with the examiner. The speaking section consists of three parts and lasts 11-14 minutes.
  • The examiner will begin with basic, general questions from a script. They would then give you a topic on which you should talk for a minute, and the examiner will ask questions based on your speech.
  • The examiner evaluates your speaking ability on criteria like fluency, grammatical range and accuracy, lexical resource, and pronunciation.

IELTS speaking test: Highlights

No. of parts3
Test duration11-14 minutes
Total band score9
Is the syllabus the same for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training?Yes

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Idioms for the IELTS speaking test

Using idioms for the IELTS speaking test gives you an advantage during the assessment and helps to improve your score. We have a curated list of idioms that would suit the best for use in the speaking test.

  • A piece of cake - Something very easy

Examiner: Did you find the test easy to attend?

Candidate: The test was a piece of cake as I had prepared well.

  • Break a leg - Good luck

Examiner: You have your speaking test today - break a leg!

Candidate: Thank you! I'm feeling hopeful.

  • Hit the nail on the head - Say something that is precisely correct

Examiner: What are your thoughts about the effects of global warming?

Candidate: I think the scientists hit the nail on the head when they predicted the effects of global warming.

  • Let the cat out of the bag - To reveal a secret

Examiner: Have you planned any surprises for your parents?

Candidate: Yes, I have planned a surprise party for their anniversary. Although, I almost let the cat out of the bag in front of my mom!

  • Cost an arm and a leg - To be very expensive

Examiner: What is your take on designer clothes?

Candidate: Personally, I think they're overpriced. Some cost an arm and a leg, so I prefer more affordable options.

  • On cloud nine - To be extremely happy

Examiner: How did you feel when you received your acceptance letter?

Candidate: I was on cloud nine!

  • Bite the bullet - Face a difficult or unpleasant situation with courage

Examiner: What challenges did you face while preparing for this test?

Candidate: I struggled with time management but had to bite the bullet and create a study schedule to prepare well.

  • A penny for your thoughts - To ask someone to share their thoughts or feelings

Examiner: You seem lost in thought. A penny for your thoughts?

Candidate: Well, I'm considering if the environmental proposal is a good idea.

  • Kill two birds with one stone - To accomplish two tasks with a single action

Examiner: How do you manage your time between studying and extracurricular activities?

Candidate: I try to find activities that align with my academic goals. So I joined a few study groups to socialise and learn, killing two birds with one stone.

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  • Pull someone's leg - To tease or joke with someone

Examiner: Do you have any funny stories from your music performances?

Candidate: During one performance, I told the audience I forgot how to play the guitar. They thought I was serious, but I was just pulling their leg.

  • Drop out - To leave without completing

Examiner: Have you ever considered dropping out of school or university? Why or why not?

Candidate: No, I have not. I faced several challenges, but the support from my friends and family helped me overcome those difficulties.

  • In the red - To owe money or to not have money

Examiner: Do you think it's common for people to be in the red regarding their personal finances? Why or why not?

Candidate: Yes, it is quite common. Many people find it hard to manage their finances and often find themselves in the red due to overspending and high debts.

  • A white lie - To tell a lie that is not serious

Examiner: Can you think of a situation where a white lie might be acceptable? Why or why not?

Candidate: Telling a white lie might be acceptable in certain circumstances to avoid hurting someone's feelings. For example, if a friend asks how they look in a new outfit, it might be better to tell a small white lie to spare their feelings if it doesn't look good.

  • Brought up - Develop

Examiner: How important do you think a person's upbringing shapes their personality and values?

Candidate: I believe that a person's upbringing plays a crucial role in shaping their personality and values. The values and principles instilled during childhood impact an individual's behaviour and decision-making.

  • Child’s play - Something easy to do

Examiner: Do you believe learning a new language is child's play? Why or why not?

Candidate: Learning a new language is not child's play; it can be challenging. Children can learn new languages effectively, whereas adults find it difficult due to cognitive factors.

  • Day and night - To work continuously

Examiner: How has technology influenced communication in the modern world?

Candidate: Technology has revolutionised communication, allowing people to connect day and night. With smartphones and social media, communication has become more instant and accessible.

  • Learn by heart - To memorise

Examiner: What is your preferred method of studying for exams?

Candidate: I find it effective to learn by heart. I prepare flashcards and learn until I can recall them without referring to any notes.

  • Out of the blue - An unexpected happening

Examiner: Have you ever received any unexpected good news?

Candidate: Yes, once I received a scholarship offer out of the blue. I hadn't applied for it, so it was a pleasant surprise.

  • Driving me up the wall - Something that is annoying

Examiner: Are there any sounds or noises that annoy you? Can you give an example?

Candidate: Yes, the sound of construction work drives me up the wall. It disrupts my concentration.

  • Give someone the green light - To allow or give permission

Examiner: Do you think governments should encourage the use of electric vehicles?

Candidate: Absolutely! Governments should take steps to reduce carbon emissions, and one way to do that is by giving individuals the green light to switch to electric vehicles. They should also work to make electric vehicles more accessible and appealing to the general public.

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More idioms for IELTS

  • Trial and error - Experiment with various methods until finding a successful outcome.

Example: Researchers are relying on the process of trial and error. 

  • It goes without saying - Something obvious

Example: It goes without saying that the students would benefit the most from the law.

  • The driving force - Someone or something behind an achievement

Example: She was the driving force behind the organisation.

  • As a rule of thumb - A method or principle that arises from experience

Example: As a rule of thumb, social media encourages users to meet new people from around the world.

  • To bear something in mind - To remember something and take it into account

Example: We should bear in mind that saving money should be a top priority to have a stable budget.

  • In the long run - In a period of time/eventually

Example: In the long run, opting for electric vehicles reduces the level of pollution in the environment.

  • Across the board - Applying to all

Example: Considering the risk of artificial colouring in food, these substances should not be allowed across the board.

  • Good/bad news - A welcoming or an unwelcoming entity

Example: The use of electrical appliances that emit chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is bad news to the ozone layer.

  • To get grips - Understand or deal with something

Example: He was unable to get to grips with the robber.

  • Last resort - The final plan or course of action

Example: The Government only takes extreme measures as a last resort.

  • Tip of the iceberg - A small visible factor of a much bigger problem

Example: The research team’s recent discovery was only the tip of the iceberg.

  • On the same page - To have a shared opinion

Example: The doctors and the administration are on the same page with the proposal.

Pro tips to prepare for the IELTS speaking test

Here are some tips on how to score high on your IELTS speaking exam.

  • Understand the test format. It eases the preparation for the IELTS speaking test.
  • Refrain from memorising any responses. It will confuse you during the assessment.
  • Stay confident, and don’t shy away during the interview.
  • Use a range of grammatical structures and practice maintaining fluency instead of using big and unfamiliar words.
  • Using idioms will give you an advantage during the interview. But be cautious while using these phrases. Do not overuse idioms or forcibly add them when you speak.

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Frequently asked questions

Can I use idioms for IELTS?

You can use idioms for the IELTS speaking test but refrain from using them for the writing test. Using idioms for the IELTS speaking test will allow you to improve your score in the interview. While the speaking test follows a less formal approach, the IELTS writing test requires your content to be formal. So do not use idioms for IELTS writing tests.

How to improve your vocabulary for IELTS?

Here’s how you can increase your vocabulary for the IELTS exam.

  • Read newspapers and magazines.
  • Learn idioms and other common quotes and phrases and understand how to use them effectively.
  • Watch the news or other television programmes to improve your communication skills.
  • Read across various topics like climate change, environment, and family.

How can I improve my English idioms?

Learn commonly used idioms and understand how they are delivered in everyday life. Note how and where they can be used, and keep practising. This way, you can improve your idiom game for the IELTS speaking test.

What are the commonly used idioms for IELTS speaking?

Here are some common idioms for the IELTS speaking test.

  • Drop out
  • On cloud nine
  • Break a leg
  • In the red
  • Driving me up the wall
  • Give someone the green light
  • A white lie
  • Day and night
  • Learn by heart
  • Out of the blue

Can we use formal idioms in IELTS writing?

It is advisable to refrain from using any idiom in IELTS writing as you might lose marks for disrupting the formal structure of the content. You might use idioms in the IELTS General Writing Task 1, but make sure to use them correctly.