One of the things that differentiate most IELTS candidates from native English speakers is idioms’ correct use. Idioms are used in a natural way by native speakers, so they usually go unnoticed. They are not even aware that they are using them because they have grown up listening to these phrases and expressions. However, as an IELTS candidate, you have to learn how to use them correctly, so they don’t sound unnatural. In the IELTS speaking test, idioms can help improve your score when used accurately. However, they can also lower your score considerably if you fail to use them appropriately.

So, what is an idiom? An idiom is an expression or phrase that generally has a different meaning than the literal meaning of the words in it. For example, if you are thrilled because you got a band 9 in your Speaking test, you might say: “I am on top of the world!”. So the literal meaning (word-by-word meaning) of this sentence is that you are standing on the highest point of the earth or something like this. However, the idiomatic meaning of this phrase is that you are feeling fantastic, wonderful and ecstatic.

However, you should note that Idioms are used informally most of the time and should generally be avoided in the IELTS writing test. On the other hand, spoken English usually is much less formal than academic written English, so it is generally acceptable to use them in the IELTS speaking test.

Now that you know what idioms are, do you have to use them a lot in your speech? The short answer is no. This is in fact one of the most common mistakes in the speaking test. Many students think that using many idioms in the test will help them get a high band score. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Examiners can easily spot candidates trying to use idioms that are inappropriate and might even penalize them. So it all depends on the context, and if you don’t use idioms appropriately, you will sound very forced and unnatural.

Learning common idioms is the best way to begin building up your knowledge of these types of words and expressions. Below you can find common idioms that I have heard candidates use correctly in the IELTS speaking test. If you have never heard some of them before, try to find more examples of how they are usually used first.

Idiom

Definition

Please don’t get angry with him. He’s just pulling your leg.Joking around
Enough talking. Actions speak louder than words.It’s better actually to do something rather than just talking about it
Cut to the chase and tell me already!Leave out all the unnecessary details and get to the point
I just said that in the heat of the moment.Saying something suddenly without thinking about it
The money you sent was just a drop in the ocean.A tiny part of something much bigger
It is very expensive. It cost me an arm and a leg to buy this watch.Very expensive
I hate to tell a lie, but if I don’t, I will lose him. I’m really stuck between a rock and a hard place.Having two terrible choices.
They visit their mother once in a blue moon.Happening very rarely
Everything she does is over the top.Excessive or more than enough.
Let’s keep studying for IELTS. Practice makes perfect.Continuously doing something to improve
Keep an eye on them. I think they may try to cheat.Watch someone or something carefully
I don’t want to argue again. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.Avoid a conflict
She is driving me up the wall.Annoying or irritating somebody
Hold your horses! We haven’t won yet.Telling someone that is getting ahead of themselves to be patient
You are what you eat, so you should have a healthy diet.it is important to eat good food in order to be healthy and fit.
Getting a band 8 in IELTS is not a piece of cake!Very easy
The ball’s in your court now. What are you going to do?It’s someone else’s turn to make a move.
So, you have the IELTS test today?? Break a leg.Good luck
My teacher always goes the extra mile to help us understand.They are willing to make a special effort to do or achieve something.
He’s got a chip on his shoulder.To have an angry or unpleasant attitude
I’m not sure which major he will study. He’s sitting on the fence.To avoid making a decision or choice.
It wasn’t easy when I moved here, but I found my feet.To reach a level of comfort in a new situation.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.To act badly towards the person who is helping
Are you taking your IELTS test next month? Aren’t you jumping the gun a bit?Doing or starting something too early
I bumped into my first-grade teacher. It’s a small world.Show surprise when one meets someone one knows at an unexpected place
You’re flogging/beating a dead horse. There is no hope.A particular effort is a waste of time as there will be no outcome.
He is feeling a bit under the weather today.Unwell
You can’t judge a book by its cover.Outward appearances are not a reliable indication of the true character of someone
I think the teacher got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.Someone who is having a bad day
Please bite your tongue and keep your thoughts to yourself.Wanting to say something but stopping yourself.
We’ve had our differences, but it’s all water under the bridge now.Used to refer to events that are in the past and consequently no longer to be regarded as important.
I was over the moon when I got 8 in my speaking test.Extremely pleased or happy
Are you putting all of your money into stocks? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.To put all your efforts or resources into one course of action
As a rule of thumb, don’t study at weekends and spend time with your friends.A principle that is strictly adhered/kept to
In the IELTS reading test, you are working against the clock.Not having enough time to do something
Quitting my first job was a blessing in disguise. I now earn much more.Something positive that isn’t recognized until later
Well said! You’ve hit the nail on the head.Say exactly the right thing
Unfortunately, the assistant kicked the bucket.Died
Don’t worry about it too much. Every cloud has a silver lining.Every difficult or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect
I have work to do. I have to take a rain check on that.Politely decline an offer, with the implication that one may take it up at a later date
I can smell a rat.To sense that something is not right
The IELTS exam is not child’s play.A task which is easily accomplished.
Her father was a doctor, and she is following in his footstepsTo pursue something that someone else has already done.
Don’t get annoyed by her behaviour. It runs in the family!Many members of the family have this quality or trait.
You should try to Learn these idioms by heart.To memorize something perfectly
I finally did it! I passed with flying colours.To accomplish something exceptionally well or very successfully.
The authorities finally gave him the green light.To grant someone permission to proceed with some action or task.

To achieve band  7 or higher in the IELTS speaking test you definitely need to use idioms and expressions, however, you should only use them if you are 100% sure how they are properly used in context and you have practised using them several times before. Be prepared to lose marks in the speaking test if you fail to use them in the correct way. So it is basically a double-edged sword (something that has or can have both favourable and unfavourable consequences).

The best way to practice speaking and see if you are using idioms correctly is to be evaluated by a certified IELTS examiner. This is exactly what you will get by taking TakeIELTS.net’s online mock tests. These are the most popular and trusted online IELTS mock tests in the world.

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