We’ve helped hundreds of students get a Band 9 in IELTS Speaking, but did they get this score with the help of idioms?
We took hundreds of practice sessions from Band 9 VIP students and analysed them. We identified the most common idioms they used and even found the number of times they used these idioms.
Below is a list of the most commonly used idioms by our Band 9 students. I’ve also added my own sample answer that includes each of these idioms below. You can read them or watch this video that includes all the Band 9 sample answers.
But, you should not assume that using these idioms will boost your score.
Do Idioms Improve Your IELTS Speaking Score?
Yes and no.
Idioms are a type of ‘idiomatic’ language. Idiomatic language includes:
- Phrasal Verbs
In other words, the type of language you will hear native-English speakers use.
But, trying to include as many of these words and phrases in your speaking test answers is not a good strategy. This is because it is not appropriate to use them very often, and IELTS students will often use them incorrectly which will lower your score.
You should only use idioms if it is appropriate to do so, and you are sure you are using them 100% accurately.
In fact, we found that the average number of times our Band 9 students used these was 1.2. Many of them didn’t use idioms at all. None of them learned a list of idioms for IELTS speaking.
18 Most Common Idioms for IELTS Speaking
|To Bite the Bullet||To force yourself to do something unpleasant or difficult, or to be brave in a difficult situation.||Derived historically from the practice of having a patient clench a bullet in their teeth as a way to cope with the pain of a surgical procedure without anaesthetic.|
|A Piece of Cake||If you think something is very easy to do.||Comes from the fact that eating cake is pleasant.|
|Kill Two Birds With One Stone||To achieve two things by doing a single action.||Believed to have originated from the story of Daedalus and Icarus from Greek Mythology.|
|Let the Cat Out of the Bag||To disclose a secret, often by mistake.||Cats don’t like being in a bag. Once you let them out, it is very difficult to get them back in, just like secrets.|
|Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket||To avoid concentrating all your resources or efforts in one area, as a way to minimize risk.||When gathering up your eggs from your chickens, if you put them all in one basket, you might break them.|
|Once in a Blue Moon||Happens very rarely.||The concept behind the origination of this idiom is the second but rare appearance of the full moon in the same month.|
|Burn the Midnight Oil||To work late into the night or to work hard on something.||Oil lamps were used to provide light. If you were burning oil at midnight, you were working on something.|
|Burn the Candle at Both Ends||To exhaust oneself by working too much, going to bed late and getting up early.||Originally meant to waste money. Meaning changed to doing too much.|
|At the Drop of a Hat||To do something immediately and without hesitation.||Originated sometime in the early 19th century when it was common for people to signal the start of a fight or a race by literally dropping a hat or waving it down through the air.|
|Cry Over Spilt Milk||To waste time feeling upset about something that has already happened and cannot be changed.||If you spill milk, you can’t use it. No point in crying over something that can’t be changed.|
|You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover||You should not judge people or things based on their appearance.||You have to read a book to find out if it is good or not.|
|Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch||Don’t assume that something will happen or be successful before it actually occurs.||Inspired by the fable, “The Milkmaid and her Pail”.|
|Go the Extra Mile||To make more effort than is expected or required.||Reference to a line from the Bible (Matthew 5:41) in which Jesus tells his followers to go the extra mile if someone asks them to go one mile.|
|Raining Cats and Dogs||Raining very heavily.||Uncertain origin, possibly related to old myths or the way heavy rain can carry debris, including dead animals, through the streets.|
|Throw in the Towel||To admit defeat or give up.||Originates from boxing, where a trainer would throw a towel into the ring to signal that their fighter was giving up.|
|Cross That Bridge When You Come To It||Deal with a problem or situation when it actually happens, rather than worrying about it beforehand.||In the past, bridges were often dangerous to cross.|
|When in Rome||Follow the customs and behaviour of the people in the place where you are visiting or living.||Attributed to Saint Ambrose, advising people to adapt to local customs when travelling.|
|Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day||Important work takes time and should not be rushed.||It took hundreds of years to build the greatest city in the world.|
Band 9 Sample Answers Including Each Idiom
Q: Why did you choose that career?
“I didn’t really want to study law, but I was the only one in my family ever to get high grades in their A-levels. So my mother sat me down one day and said it was either medicine or law. So I went to a hospital on work experience and fainted when I saw the sight of blood. I’m too squeamish for medicine, so I decided just to bite the bullet and study law.”
Q: Why did you change careers?
“To be honest, compared to practicing law, teaching English is a piece of cake. To give you a concrete example, to qualify as a lawyer takes around six years of study and work experience. To qualify as an English teacher only takes six weeks. The pay obviously isn’t as good, but the students, the clients are much nicer and friendlier.”
Q: Have you ever given jewelry to someone as a gift?
“Yes, I actually bought my wife a diamond ring last Christmas. So my wife’s birthday is in November and Christmas is obviously in December. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and buy one present for her birthday and Christmas. And she was very happy with that because she got one nice, expensive ring rather than two less expensive gifts.”
Q: Have you ever received jewelry as a gift?
“If you count watches as jewelry, then yes. For my last birthday, my 40th birthday, my wife bought me a very special watch that I’ve been looking at and desiring for many, many years. The funny story about that is that my credit card and my wife’s credit card are the same. So whenever my wife bought it, it pinged on my phone and I got an alert from my favorite watch boutique, and it was the exact amount of money that was for this watch because I had been looking at this watch for ages. So the phone let the cat out of the bag a little bit, but it was still a very nice gift and a nice surprise.
Q: Do you think you will have the same career in the future?
“Probably not, because with the developments in AI recently, I don’t think there are going to be IELTS teachers or even any teachers in the future. I think it would be very foolish for me to put all my eggs in one basket and just hope for the best and hope that IELTS and teaching lasts forever. But honestly, I don’t think it will.”
Q: How often do you go out with friends?
“I used to go out nearly every night, but since I’ve had kids, it’s really once in a blue moon. Most of my friends have either settled down with kids like me, or they have moved away. So it’s quite rare to have an occasion where a group of friends are all together at the same time. Sometimes at Christmas, when a lot of our friends visit Ireland during the Christmas period, or in the summertime when a lot of our friends have time off, I might go out, but it is quite a rare occasion these days.”
Q: Do you think you changed as you got older?
“Yes, I used to burn the candle at both ends. I had a very much work hard, play hard attitude because I was a lawyer. Lawyers are expected to work 80 to 100 hours a week. But we would often go out to bars and restaurants after work to blow off steam and to destress, which isn’t really sustainable. Now, I do still burn the midnight oil. I work very, very hard on my career, but you’re more likely to find me tucked up in bed by 9 PM than to be out partying.”
Q: Do you own or rent your home?
“We actually rent our home. We could afford to buy a home, but we really value our independence and freedom. If you own a home, you’re kinda stuck in that location because it can take a very long time to sell that home. But if you rent, you can move anywhere at the drop of a hat.”
Q: What do you dislike about your job?
“The thing I dislike most about my job is dealing with people who only focus on the negative, especially when they are given negative feedback. That could be students, that could be employees, but people who make mistakes and don’t learn from them. So for example, I give a lot of feedback on student essays, and some students see mistakes and they’re like, great, now I know what my mistakes are and I can improve. Other students will just cry about it for days and they’ll cry about it for weeks. They’re like, I’m going to fail. It’s like, there’s no point crying over spilt milk. You made the mistake, now learn from it.
Q: How often do you buy new clothes?
“Very rarely actually, because I’m a firm believer in you can’t judge a book by its cover. And we should judge people not on what clothes they wear and their appearance, but by their character and the things that come out of their mouths. My wife firmly disagrees with this because she says someone who gets millions of views on YouTube shouldn’t be wearing the same shirt every day. So she does encourage me to go and buy new clothes, but I do it begrudgingly.”
Q: What type of jewelry do you like best?
“I prefer to buy luxury watches than jewelry. I’m not sure if you could count a luxury watch as jewelry, but the thing about jewelry is like diamond rings, necklaces, and things like that. Often as soon as you buy them, as soon as you walk out of the jewelers, they lose value. Whereas many of the watches that I’ve purchased have actually gone up in value. I don’t want to count my chickens, but if I were to sell these watches, I probably would make a lot more money on them than I paid for them. So that’s why I prefer luxury timepieces over simple jewelry.”
Q: Who does the cooking in your home?
“My wife does the vast majority of the cooking, not because she’s necessarily a better cook. But the thing I love about my wife is in whatever she does, she goes the extra mile. So if I was cooking steak, I would just cook the steak and eat it with a little bit of bread. But my wife will have three different sauces, and balsamic vinegar, and two different olive oils, and four different types of potato. She really does go the extra mile when it comes to cooking in our house.”
Q: Do you like your neigborhood?
“Yes and no. Where I live is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We’re spoiled for choice in terms of outdoor activities and beautiful places. On our doorstep, we have beaches, forests, lakes, and mountains. But unfortunately, it’s Ireland, so it’s normally raining cats and dogs, so you don’t really get to enjoy it.”
Q: Do you have a healthy diet?
“As you can tell from looking at me, no, I don’t have a very healthy diet. I do try, I normally get up in the morning and have a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, but it’s so easy just to throw in the towel when you get home after a hard day’s work, and your wife has a beautiful meal prepared, there’s a bottle of wine on the table, and your kid’s half-eaten chocolate is lying all around the kitchen. So I do quite well most of the day and then fail in the evenings.”
Q: Will you change careers in the future?
“It’s not something I really like to think about because, in the back of my mind, I know IELTS teachers and all educators are doomed because AI is going to replace them. Why would a student hire a human that is not as good as a machine that can do it at half the price or a fraction of the price and do it much more effectively? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I don’t think it’s that far away. But in the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy teaching for as long as I can.”
Q: Is there anything you don’t like about social media?
“The thing I hate about social media is the fact that these companies have so much power to change their systems and change their algorithms, but they decide not to for money. So to give you an example from my work and my job, to become a famous IELTS YouTuber is actually quite easy. All you have to do is come up with some clickbait titles like ‘hacks’ and ‘tricks’ and ‘predictions’ and things like that and put a pretty girl on the thumbnail. But that doesn’t mean that the person making that video knows anything about IELTS, it just means that they know how to trick the algorithm. You know, I understand Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that it takes time to fix platforms and change algorithms. But these are sometimes trillion-dollar companies. If they wanted to get these people off their platform, they could. But they decide not to because popular is more important than educating the public properly.”
Q: Are you okay with someone randomly taking your photo?
“No, I actually hate it and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’m from Ireland and in Ireland, it is quite rare for someone to take your photo. And if they want to take your photo, it is rude to just take it without asking you. So it’s customary just to say, “Do you mind if I take a photo?” And if somebody says yes, you can take it. But if they say no, you should definitely not take it. My wife, who is from Vietnam, in Vietnam, they have a very, very different culture. They are taking photos all of the time, and they will think nothing of this taking a photo of you. And if I get angry with someone for taking a photo, they’ll think that I’m the problem and I’m being rude. So when in Rome.”
It is beneficial to be aware of the most common idioms for IELTS speaking, but please do not think they will guarantee you a high score.
To really improve your score, you should focus on improving every aspect of your IELTS vocabulary, not just idioms.
You should also improve every aspect of your IELTS Speaking, not just vocabulary.
Here’s a free IELTS Speaking Course to help you do that.