are idioms allowed in ielts

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a widely accepted exam for measuring English language proficiency. One of the challenges test-takers face is the use of idiomatic expressions in the exam. Idioms are phrases that have a different meaning than the literal interpretation of the words used. Understanding the use of idioms is important for effective communication in English. This article will discuss the importance of using idioms in the IELTS exam and provide tips for using them effectively.

What are Idioms

Idioms are phrases or expressions whose meaning cannot be understood from the literal definition of the words used. They are a common feature in most languages, including English. Idioms often have cultural or historical significance and can add color and personality to language. They can also be a significant challenge for language learners due to their figurative nature.

Significance of Idioms in Language Learning and Communication:

Idioms are an essential part of natural language and are commonly used in daily conversations. They can express complex ideas in a concise and colorful way, making communication more engaging and interesting. Understanding and using idioms correctly can help learners improve their fluency and accuracy in English.

Challenges of Using Idioms in the IELTS Exam:

The IELTS exam is designed to test a candidate’s ability to use English language skills effectively in academic and professional settings. While idioms are an important part of natural language, their figurative nature can make them challenging to use correctly in the exam. Candidates may struggle with identifying appropriate idioms for specific contexts and understanding the nuances of their meanings. Additionally, incorrect use of idioms can negatively impact a candidate’s overall score in the exam.

Idioms and IELTS Exam

Rules and Guidelines for Using Idioms in the IELTS Exam:

The use of idioms can be tricky in any language, and it’s no different in the IELTS exam. However, it’s essential to understand the rules and guidelines for using idioms correctly in the exam.

Avoid Overusing Idioms:

Using too many idioms can negatively affect your score in the IELTS exam. It’s important to remember that the exam is primarily designed to test your language proficiency, and overusing idioms can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Use Familiar Idioms:

The IELTS exam is an international exam, and the use of regional or cultural idioms can cause confusion among examiners who are not familiar with them. It’s better to use common or widely accepted idioms to ensure that your message is clear and easily understood.

Understand the Meaning of Idioms:

It’s important to understand the meaning of an idiom before using it in the exam. Using an idiom incorrectly can lead to misunderstanding, which can negatively affect your score.

Use Idioms Appropriately:

Make sure to use idioms in the appropriate context and register in the exam. Using an idiom that is not suitable for the situation can lead to miscommunication and confusion.

Practice Using Idioms:

Practice using idioms in your written and spoken English to improve your proficiency and confidence in using them during the IELTS exam.

Types of Idioms Allowed and Avoided in the IELTS Exam:

In the IELTS exam, examiners prefer the use of formal language, which includes fewer idioms. However, some idioms can be used appropriately in the exam. Here are some types of idioms that are allowed and those that should be avoided in the IELTS exam.

Allowed Idioms:

a. Common Idioms: Common idioms such as “once in a blue moon,” “piece of cake,” and “let the cat out of the bag” can be used appropriately in the IELTS exam.

b. Academic Idioms: Academic idioms such as “it goes without saying,” “in a nutshell,” and “from my standpoint” can be used appropriately in the IELTS exam.

Avoided Idioms:

a. Slang and Regional Idioms: Slang and regional idioms should be avoided in the IELTS exam as they are not widely understood and can lead to confusion.

b. Overused Idioms: Overused idioms such as “at the end of the day,” “all in all,” and “to be honest” should be avoided in the IELTS exam as they can negatively affect your score.

Examples of How to Use Idioms Appropriately in the IELTS Exam:

Here are some examples of how idioms can be used appropriately in the IELTS exam:

In the Speaking Test:

Topic: Describe a time when you faced a challenge.

Idiom: “To be thrown in at the deep end.”

Example sentence: “When I started my new job, I was thrown in at the deep end and had to learn everything on the go.”

In the Writing Test:

Topic: Advantages and disadvantages of technology in education.

Idiom: “A double-edged sword.”

Example sentence: “While technology in education can be a double-edged sword, providing access to information and resources, it can also lead to dependency and reduced critical thinking skills.”

By following these rules and guidelines, you can use idioms effectively in the IELTS exam and improve your language proficiency.

Benefits of Using Idioms in the IELTS Exam

Using idioms appropriately can have several benefits for test-takers in the IELTS exam. Here are some ways in which using idioms can enhance communication and improve scores:

  1. Demonstrates a higher level of language proficiency: Using idioms appropriately shows that the test-taker has a deeper understanding of the English language beyond basic vocabulary and grammar.
  2. Adds color and variety to language: Idioms can add color and variety to the language used in the exam, making it more interesting and engaging for the examiner to read.
  3. Improves coherence and cohesion: Idioms can be used to connect ideas and provide a smooth transition between different parts of the exam. This can improve the overall coherence and cohesion of the written or spoken response.
  4. Increases memorability: Using idioms can make a response more memorable to the examiner, increasing the chances of a higher score.

Real-life examples of situations where using idioms can be helpful in the IELTS exam include:

  1. Writing an essay: Idioms can be used to express a point of view or to provide examples in a more engaging way.
  2. Speaking part 2: Idioms can be used to describe a situation or a personal experience, making the response more interesting and memorable.
  3. Speaking part 3: Idioms can be used to express opinions or to compare and contrast different ideas or situations.

Overall, using idioms can be a great way to demonstrate language proficiency and improve scores in the IELTS exam. However, it is important to use them appropriately and avoid overusing or misusing them.

Misuse of Idioms in the IELTS Exam

While using idioms in the IELTS exam can be beneficial, there are potential negative consequences of misusing or overusing them. One of the main risks is that the examiner may misunderstand the meaning of the idiom, resulting in a lower score.

Another common mistake is using an idiom incorrectly or inappropriately, which can make the language sound forced or unnatural. It is important to avoid using overly complex or obscure idioms, as they may not be familiar to the examiner and could lead to confusion.

For example, if a candidate uses the idiom “let the cat out of the bag” to describe revealing a secret, it could be seen as a strong and natural way to convey the meaning. However, if the candidate uses the idiom “cry over spilt milk” to describe a lost opportunity, it may be considered too informal or inappropriate for the exam.

It is important to use idioms sparingly and only in situations where they are appropriate and effectively convey the intended meaning. When in doubt, it may be better to use simpler and more commonly used expressions to avoid any potential misunderstandings.

Tips for Using Idioms Effectively in the IELTS Exam

  1. Understand the meaning and usage: Before using an idiom in the exam, make sure you understand its meaning and usage in context. It’s important to use idioms correctly to avoid misunderstandings and score higher.
  2. Use idioms sparingly: While idioms can make your writing or speaking more engaging, using too many of them can confuse the examiner and make your language sound unnatural. Use idioms only when appropriate and relevant to the topic.
  3. Practice with sample questions: Practice using idioms with sample questions to improve your skills and confidence. Make sure to receive feedback from a teacher or tutor to help you identify areas for improvement.
  4. Focus on common idioms: It’s important to focus on commonly used idioms that are relevant to the IELTS exam. Don’t waste your time memorizing obscure idioms that are unlikely to be used.
  5. Use idioms that fit the context: When using an idiom, make sure it fits the context and topic of the question. Using an idiom that is unrelated to the topic or situation can hurt your score.
  6. Avoid using slang or informal idioms: While slang and informal idioms may be common in everyday language, they are not appropriate for the IELTS exam. Stick to formal and common idioms that are suitable for academic or professional contexts.

By following these tips, you can effectively use idioms in the IELTS exam and improve your chances of achieving a higher score.



In conclusion, using idioms in the IELTS exam can enhance communication and improve scores, but it also comes with certain challenges and risks if not used correctly. It is important to understand the rules and guidelines for using idioms in the exam, including which types are allowed and which should be avoided. By following tips for using idioms effectively and improving their understanding and usage of idioms, test takers can increase their chances of success. It is recommended that readers practice using idioms in their own exam preparation to become more comfortable with their usage. Ultimately, idioms can add richness and variety to language and communication, but their appropriate use in the IELTS exam should be approached with care and precision.

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Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Camford Publishing
Founder of On the Horizon (camford publishing)and The Technology Source, and professor of education at North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Morrison is author and co-author of over 200 publications focusing on educational planning and using information technology tools.Dr. Morrison has delivered numerous conference presentations and workshops for associations such as EDUCAUSE, AAHE, the College Board and others.He has served as a planning consultant to a number of colleges, universities, university systems, community colleges, educational agencies and public agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, and Department of the Army.His consulting activities focus on assisting organizations to integrate information technology tools in teaching and management.

The title of his Speech is “The Future of Distance Learning.” Professor Morrison will describe the driving forces that will affect education and distance learning in this decade and will focus on the implications of these forces for education and distance learning
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