Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Did you know that there are actually some idioms you should not use?

In order to score a 7 or higher on the Speaking Exam, for Lexical Range, or Vocabulary, the examiner must hear you use some “idiomatic language”.

However, not all idioms are created equal!

There actually some idioms that are not used anymore by native speakers, and, thus, sound awkward and weird. Likewise, there are some idioms that are known by almost every IELTS candidate; therefore, these phrases do not sound interesting. They make you sound like every other student on the exam, and will bring you a vocabulary score of no higher than a 6.

Today, we’re going to focus on the idioms that you should not use on test day, and I’ll give you some more interesting language to use instead.

It’s raining cats and dogs.

Students! Please, please do not use this! For some reason, perhaps because it sounds catchy and is easy to remember, or because it is the first idiom taught in every lower-level ESL/Test-prep textbook, students say this all the time.

News flash: this is a junky idiom. Native speakers rarely say this. It sounds corny and antiquated to native-speaker ears.

Instead you should say:

  • It’s really coming down.
  • It’s raining buckets.

Hanging out with friends

As the topics of leisure time, free time or friends often come up in Speaking Parts 1 and 2, and occasionally in Writing Task 2, idioms related to these topics are useful to know.

However, unlike the last idiom, this idiom is actually too common. That means, again, that many students use this on the exam, and it is not interesting enough to fulfill the requirements for a 7 or higher for vocabulary.

Instead you should say:

  • My buddies and I usually just waste our time playing video games.
  • On the weekends, I just take it easy since I’m usually wiped out from working all week.

Watch this video for more phrases and examples of what to say when asked about your free time.



It’s a piece of cake.

Again, this idiom is just too common. It’s true that native speakers do use this, but it is well-known by students as it is featured in many textbooks, vocabulary lists and worksheets.

Instead you should say:

  • It was easy-peasy. No problem whatsoever.
  • It was no sweat. Child’s play, really.

Pass with flying colors

As school and studies are topics that can be found in every part of the IELTS exam, you should prepare yourself with some interesting phrases and idioms to talk and write about them.

To pass something with flying colors is an older idiom, and, although it is acceptable to use, there are other, way more interesting phrases that you should use instead.

Remember, our goal, in order to get a 7 for vocabulary, is to stand out from other students.

Instead you should say:

  • I really nailed it– got a perfect score.
  • I just killed it on test day. Best score in the class!

As idioms about school are so useful for IELTS candidates, listen to this podcast to learn more.

You should also go to our homepage and check out our YouTube channel (IELTS Energy TV) and search for “idioms”.

Do you know any other idioms related to the topics above?

Share your ideas in the comments section below!

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