An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning conventionally understood by native speakers. This meaning is different from the literal meaning of the idiom’s individual elements. In other words, idioms don’t mean exactly what the words say. They have, however, hidden meaning. 

For your IELTS Speaking test, idiomatic language can be important because it is one of the elements in this component of the test the examiner looks for. You can see the marking criteria for your Speaking test here.

A whole new ball game

Meaning

A situation that is completely different from what one is used to or expecting

In a sentence

I used to babysit, but having a child of my own is a new ballgame

Jump (or climb) on the bandwagon

Meaning 

Join others in doing or supporting something fashionable or likely to be successful. 

Origin 

Bandwagon was originally the US term for a large wagon able to carry a band in a procession. 

In a sentence 

When your TV show does extremely well, advertisers will be competing to be the first to jump on the bandwagon.

Off (or way off) beam

Meaning

When you are mistaken, inaccurate, or incorrect. Or when you are going against or straying away from the correct line of thinking

Origin

Originally, this phrase referred to the radio beam or signal used to guide aircraft.

In a sentence

The boss’ comments about opposing a diverse workforce so off beam.

At someone’s beck and call 

Meaning 

Always having to be ready to obey someone’s orders immediately. 

Origin 

Beck in the sense of “significant gesture of command” comes from the verb beck, which is shortened form of beckon and is now found mainly in this phrase. 

In a sentence 

She is going to be confined to a wheelchair for the next three weeks but she’s not complaining as she will have a nurse at her beck and call.

Bed of nails 

Meaning 

A problematic or uncomfortable situation. 

Origin 

Originally a board with nails pointing out of it, as used by Eastern fakirs and ascetics. 

In a sentence 

My parents are very judgmental and living with them can be a bed of nails.

Make a beeline for

Meaning 

Go rapidly and directly towards. 

Origin 

The bee was supposed to fly in such a way when returning to its hive. 

In a sentence 

The hungry tourists made a beeline for the buffet that featured delicious food from all over the world.

Beggar on horseback

Meaning 

A formerly poor person made arrogant or corrupt through achieving wealth and luxury. 

Origin 

The proverbial saying set a beggar on horseback and he’ll ride to the devil. 

In a sentence 

It’s not surprising that he lost everything and is being investigated by the authorities as he was a beggar on a horseback.

Work like a beaver

Meaning 

To work steadily and industriously or to work very hard and energetically. Also, work like a dog, work like a horse. 

Origin 

The beaver is referred to here because of the industriousness with which it constructs the dams. 

In a sentence 

He worked like a beaver to clean the house.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of Idiomsexternal iconThe Free Dictionaryexternal icon 

Learn idiomatic expressions for IELTS

The Speaking test in IELTS is just like a conversation that you would have in everyday life. You may notice many native English speakers use idioms in everyday speech. If you want a higher score for your IELTS Speaking test, you should include some idioms (and use them correctly). In our next Idioms A-Z post, you can learn some more most common idioms in English. 

Are you unsure if you use idioms correctly? With IELTS Speaking Coaching, you can practice your English speaking with an official IELTS expert and receive feedback on your performance. This is just one of the ways to study for IELTSexternal icon.