Careful Usage Of Idioms In IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking Tests

In the Speaking and Writing tasks of the IELTS exam, you can use idioms to make your speaking and essay more interesting. Even if you already know what an idiom is it is still very important to be cautious with its usage. Every idiom can still be detrimental to your IELTS band score if not well-chosen and properly used.
In choosing a good idiom, it is imperative to accurately know its meaning. More importantly, choose the ones that are appropriate for the given context. For example, in the Academic Writing task, it would be unwise to use informal idioms such as those under the category of “daily-life idioms”. Another aspect to consider is the theme or topic question you are answering. What idea would you like to emphasize or highlight? It is only when you can inject an idiom appropriately into a particular part of your speech or the essay that idioms should be used.
How you use these well-chosen idioms is another important factor. The answer goes back to a test of simplicity and genuineness. Use an idiom to elaborate a thought rather than complicating it, or worse, making it more vague. Also, be natural, and do not use a number of idioms as if the task is to showcase how many idioms you know. Remember, a natural conversation is not scripted. You are there to express, not to impress!
To go with these guiding points on effectively using idioms, here are seven idioms that can be used in various topics under the IELTS Speaking and IELTS Writing tasks. Notice that all of them fall under the same category which is of “ambition and determination”. You can use them to answer the personal questions in IELTS Speaking part 1, the two-minute talk in IELTS Speaking part 2, and the discussion in IELTS Speaking part 3. Finally, you can include them in writing an opinion essay (IELTS Writing task 2) as well. So, try using these idioms as you talk about ambition and your dreams:
• At all costs – You can use this if you want to talk or write about someone (even you yourself) who does his/her best to achieve or succeed at something. In Speaking, you might be asked:
Can you tell me about your ambition? You can then tell the examiner of your particular dream and you can continue with how you will make it happen.
Consider this: “My ultimate dream is to be a doctor. I know it is not easy, so I will strive hard for it at all costs.” This answer sounds very natural and full of conviction as your passion and determination to achieve such ambition are made very prevalent with the use of an appropriate idiom. A good rating will be given for this.
• Beyond your wildest dreams – This suggests a positive surprise which it is more than you think you deserve. If the IELTS Speaking task 2 question asks you to describe a recent success in your life, you can simply talk about it with supporting details and make it very interesting in the last part. You may finish this task with a good sentence:
“So, that was really beyond my wildest dreams”.
• Blood, sweat and tears – This is similar to ‘at all costs’. The two of them are actually interchangeable. You achieve something through blood, sweat and tears. Going back to our sample task 2 of the Speaking test above, this idiom might be used to explain how you succeed on something. Just be careful! You never have them together in one task. Decide which one would work better for you.
• Buckle down – This is simply the verb-phrase version of ‘at all costs’ and ‘blood, sweat and tears’. Observe how I express the same thought if I use this instead of ‘at all costs’ in the given example above. Our previous example was: “My ultimate dream is to be a doctor. I know it is not easy, so I will strive hard for it at all costs.” Now, our new example is:
“My ultimate dream is to become a doctor. I know it is not easy, so I have to buckle down and stay focused.”
• Explore all avenues – A very common function of this idiom is when giving a recommendation or possible solution to a problem. Let us try to use this in Writing task 2. Assuming the topic is:
A very recent social issue today is the dangerous effects of mining. Do you think the government should allow this? Why? Or why not? Explain. Whether you affirm or not, you still need not only to provide reasons to support but also recommendations or reminders.
Sample lines as part of the concluding paragraph of the whole essay:
“I believe every human activity like mining has also its drawbacks. That is why we need to explore all avenues before doing something that is not very safe to a great number of people in order to minimize unfavourable consequences.”
This will make your essay more valuable to the readers, and the examiners will definitely give credit to that. Thus, ‘explore all avenues’ is expressed if you want to say you are very keen on a particular issue or action. Your main purpose is to avoid trouble or harmful effects in the end.
• Go the extra mile – Let us still contextualise this as an aid to our Writing task 2, especially in the concluding paragraph. You may cap you essay with words of encouragement. Taking the same topic we used above, I will show you how to take advantage of this expression:
“I believe every human activity like mining has also its drawbacks. Thus, it is not only the government who should deal with them. Each of us should also go the extra mile to contribute to our society.”
• Paddle your own canoe – This is yet another great expression if you want to call your readers into action or encourage them to put everything in your opinion essay’s conclusion. Let us use this sample paragraph again:
“I believe every human activity like mining has also its drawbacks. Thus, it is not only the government who should deal with them. Each of us should also go the extra mile to contribute to our society.”
Since, it is not advisable to use two or more idioms in one paragraph, let us use this new idiom instead of the previous one without changing the whole idea:
“I believe every human activity like mining has also its drawbacks. Thus, it is not only the government that should deal with them. Each of us should also do what we can to face such concerns (another term for “drawbacks”. After all, a good society always has responsible citizens paddling their own canoes.”

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