If you look at the public band descriptors for IELTS speaking you will see that you need to demonstrate the following to achieve a grade 7 under the vocabulary section.
• uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics
• uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices
• uses paraphrase effectively
It is the second item that I want to discuss in today’s blog. In order to achieve a 7 you should demonstrate less common and idiomatic vocabulary. One easy way to do that is by using idioms. However, the problem with idioms is that they are so specific that it becomes almost impossible to use them.
For example, the idiom “it takes to tango”.
Meaning – when you want to emphasize that both people involved in a difficult situation must accept the blame, or that an activity needs two people who are willing to take part for it to happen.
Idiom in use – She may want to argue, but it takes two to tango and I won’t stoop to her level.
Now, this is a great idiom but realistically there are going to be very few situations in which you can use this idiom in the IELTS test. So, instead of randomly memorising large lists of hard to use idioms I recommend that you focus on idioms for positive and negative emotions. This is because you will always have the opportunity to express your own or someone else’s positive or negative opinions in IELTS.
The top ten idioms for IELTS speaking
1. TO HAVE A WHALE OF A TIME
Meaning – To have a very fun and exciting time
Example IELTS question – Tell me about your hometown.
Example answer with idiom – Well, I’m from London which is a world-renowned city for its history and culture. They say he who is bored of London is bored of life! There is so much to do here that you are guaranteed to have a whale of time if you visit.
2. TO BE ON CLOUD NINE
Meaning – very happy and joyful
Example IELTS question – Do you like your job?
Example answer with idiom – I must say that I adore my job and all the people that work there. It is a pleasure to go to work there each morning. I feel content with my life at the moment and I am on cloud nine.
3. TO BE ON TOP OF THE WORLD
Meaning – feeling amazing, wonderful, ecstatic
Example IELTS question – is art popular in your country?
Example answer with idiom – Yes, I would say that art is highly popular in my nation. Art has the power to unite us and express feelings that we cannot with words alone. When I look at my absolute favourite piece of art, “starry night” by Vincent Van Gogh I feel inspired and on top of the world. It shows me true beauty and that I believe is why art is so popular.
4. TO BE OVER THE MOON
Meaning – extremely pleased and happy
Example IELTS question – What did you do on your last birthday?
Example IELTS answer with idiom – On my last birthday I went to Paris with my girlfriend. It was an incredible city and the food was to die for! The trip was actually a
surprise and when my girlfriend told me I was over the moon.
5. TO BE LIKE A DOG WITH TWO TAILS
Meaning – Dogs express happiness through wagging their tails. Therefore, a dog with two tails must be very happy!
Example IELTS question – Who is your best friend?
Example IELTS answer with idiom – My best friend is called Matthew. We have known each other since we were children. Every time I see him, I’m like a dog with two tails.
6. IT MAKES MY BLOOD BOIL
Meaning – to make you very angry
Example IELTS question – Do you get on with your family?
Example IELTS answer with idiom – I get on reasonably well with most of my family. But my sister is an awful person. She is very selfish and arrogant. Just hearing her voice makes my blood boil.
7. IT DRIVES ME UP THE WALL
Meaning – it annoys you a lot
Example IELTS question – What is your favourite food
Example IELTS answer with idiom – I would have to say that my favourite food is mashed potatoes. However, it drives me up the wall when people don’t mash them properly and the potatoes have disgusting lumps.
It drives me crazy / it drives me nuts
8. I HIT THE CEILING
Meaning – To get very angry and upset
Example IELTS question – Did you have a hobby as a child?
Example IELTS answer with idiom – As a child my hobby was always cycling. I used to ride my bike everywhere I could. One day though, my sister borrowed my bike and crashed it. I hit the ceiling but luckily the damage was not too bad.
I hit the roof
9. HE/IT WINDS ME UP
Meaning – someone or something really annoys you
Example IELTS question – Tell me about your first day in work.
Example IELTS answer with idiom – My first day in work was terrible! My boss wound me up as he kept shouting at me.
10. TO GET ON YOUR NERVES
Meaning – someone annoys you a lot
Example IELTS question – How could your neighbourhood be improved?
Example IELTS answer with idiom – It gets on my nerves that we have no recycling here. I am a big supporter of the environment and we should do more to save it.
TIP – be careful with the idioms that use irregular verbs. If you use in another tense you will need to conjugate the verb.
The irregular verbs are:
Get got gotten
Wind wound wound
Hit hit hit
Drive drove driven
Make made made
Have had had