Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

Today you’ll learn idioms that natives sometimes say or write incorrectly.

Listen up, because after today you’ll understand how to use them to boost your IELTS scores.

These can be used in Speaking and Writing.

Idiomatic language is required on the IELTS Speaking exam.

Some more formal idioms can also be used in your essays.

You must be strategic when it comes to using idioms on IELTS.

For all the strategies you need to score 7+, sign up for our IELTS course today!

Avoid mixing idioms

In a recent IELTS Speaking exam, a student said “pain of my existence.”

They were combining 2 idioms:

  • Pain in the neck
  • Bane of my existence

These both mean something difficult, annoying or frustrating.

“Bane of my existence” is more formal and more extreme.

Studying for IELTS can be a pain in the neck!

Inconsiderate drivers are the bane of my existence!

#1: Bane of my existence

“Bane of my existence” is more extreme, and reserved for extremely upsetting things.

We often use this hyperbolically to exaggerate.

This is formal enough to use on Writing Task 2.

For example, it could be used in an essay about children’s use of technology.

IPads are the bane of parents’ existence!

“Bane” is a band 9 word, as it is not commonly used by students.

  • Bane: a cause of extreme annoyance or distress

An idiom for IELTS Speaking and Writing

Use it alone or in this idiom on both IELTS Speaking and Writing!

On the Speaking exam, use it to exaggerate!

Waking up early is the bane of my existence!

Cooking is the bane of my existence!

Make sure to vary intonation and emphasize “bane” to make it clear you’re exaggerating.

This gets you that native, natural intonation you need.

#2: Pain in the neck

This idiom is much more informal.

Reserve it for Part 1 and Part 2 Speaking.

Honestly, to me, shopping is a pain in the neck. I don’t like it.

Instead of saying, “I don’t like it,” say it’s a pain in the neck!

This will be easy to use on IELTS Speaking, as you will almost always have a chance to talk about something you don’t like.

This gets you the idiomatic language you need!

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How to learn idioms

If you’re memorizing lists of idioms for IELTS, it’s not enough!

This can lead to incorrect usage or combining multiple idioms.

You won’t be prepared to use them correctly on test day.

Instead, you must learn them in context.

When adding them to your vocabulary notebook, include example sentences.

Use them right away!

Get feedback to make sure you’re using them correctly.

Ask a native!

You can get this type of feedback in our 3 Keys IELTS Facebook group!

#3 Blessing in disguise

Sometimes you’ll hear natives say this incorrectly as “blessing in the skies.”

Often, natives say it quickly and they sound the same.

This misunderstanding also happens because people sometimes think of blessings as coming from the heavens or the skies.

  • blessing in disguise: something that seems negative, but ends up having a positive outcome or consequence

This is a fantastic idiom for IELTS Speaking!

Aubrey recently heard a student use it when describing missing a bus.

They said it ended up being a blessing in disguise because they ran into a friend waiting for the next bus.

#4: Pique my interest

The mistakes made with this idiom are more often in writing.

Natives will often write it incorrectly as “peak my interest.”

  • pique one’s interest: make you interested in something; creates an excited, curious feeling

That book piqued my interest.

This means you saw the book and something about it made you interested or curious.

We also often say something “piqued our curiosity.”

  • pique: to stimulate or heighten

This is a band 9 word, as it’s rarely used by students.

Use it as a formal filler phrase in Speaking Part 3!

That question piques my interest, as I haven’t thought about it before!

There is no easy way for IELTS!

If you want high scores, you have to put in the work.

You can’t just memorize lists of words.

You won’t get higher than band 6 if you don’t know how to use them.

Record them in your vocabulary notebook in context with example sentences.

Use them 2-3 times per week.

Finally, don’t take risks on test day!

To find out your estimated band score, you can take our free, 2-minute quiz.

You’ll get your estimated band score and free resources we made for you.


You need idiomatic language on IELTS Speaking.

Some idioms are formal enough to use on Writing Task 2 as well.

It is vital that you practice using idioms so you are ready on test day!

Practice using today’s idioms when answering Speaking questions.

Write them down and use them often!

This will give you confidence and you’ll know you’re ready on test day.

What questions do you have about today’s sample answer?

Let us know in the comments below.

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