Answer: Idioms or Description

Let me post the answer to idiom or description.

Previously I asked you which was best for a good score in IELTS speaking:

Which is best?

  • A) My brother is as cool as a cucumber.
  • B) My brother is so calm and composed that he doesn’t get stressed or worried under any kind of pressure.



B is best for a high score. Let me explain below why the examiner will give you a higher mark for B.

IELTS Speaking Marking:

Fluency 25% / Grammar 25% / Vocabulary 25% / Pronunciation 25%

Why A is not the right answer:

  1. Grammar in A: basic. This basic structure was learned by students who are elementary level “my brother is …”. So, this answer shows a low level of grammar.
  2. Fluency in A is limited. Fluency counts for 25% of your marks. Giving such a short answer will not help your score. It shows you can give a precise answer but you can’t speak further.
  3. Vocabulary in A: learned and not impressive. Yes, it is an idiom. But it is an old fashioned idiom that modern English people almost never use any more. It is also overused by low level English language students. So, the examiner will not be impressed. Nearly all low level students try to impress the examiner by learning idioms. They know their English is poor so they learn pages of idioms to compensate – it doesn’t work in IELTS.
  4. THIS MEANS that answer A shows a memorised idiom which is out-dated, it shows low level grammar and no fluency.

Why B is better for IELTS speaking:

  1. Grammar in B is complex. It is a long complex sentence because it contains a clause. The examiner will note that this structure can’t be used easily or correctly by low level students. So, it shows higher level grammar.
  2. Fluency in B is better. There is more to the answer. Although it is only one sentence is contains more information and willingness to talk which will help your fluency score.
  3. Vocabulary in B is excellent. Let me explain:
    1. Synonyms
      1. calm and composed
      2. stressed or worried
      3. These are synonyms. They show the examiner you understand the subtle differences in vocabulary. The word “composed” is unusual to use and is high level. Only high level students learn this word.
    2. Idiomatic language. Students get confused about “idiomatic language”. They think that they must use idioms. But the truth is that the examiner is looking for idiomatic language (not necessarily idioms). Idioms are only one type of idiomatic language – I don’t recommend using them and certainly not from out-dated lists provided by lazy teachers. You will find teachers give students lists of idioms to learn – 1) because it is easy work to print a list 2) because students are impresses 3) so the teacher does little work and the students are impressed
      1. “under pressure” (under any kind of pressure – which is used in answer B)
      2. This is idiomatic. It is the perfect piece of idiomatic language to use.
      3. Other idiomatic language to use is phrasal verbs: bring up / take over etc
  4. THIS MEANS that answer B contains high level grammar, excellent vocabulary with idiomatic language and demonstrates more fluency.

See all my IELTS Speaking Tips & Model Answers

I hope you found this lesson useful 🙂


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  1. Hi,Dear Liz
    I am from Azerbaijan,Baku. Thank you for creating such precious cite for us,we really learn a lot.
    I came into such conclusion that using phrasal verbs is like idiomatic language, but to tell the truth keeping phrasal verbs in mind is not so easy and sometimes it can be confused and I think some same phrasal verbs have some meanings ,how to not confuse them one another when using in different meanings?

    • You should not use new language in your test. If you try to do this, you will make mistakes. All language should be 100% thoroughly understood, known and frequently used for you to use it in the test.

      • Thank you, let me know how can I understand “not using new language in my test”?

        • If you have only recently learned a new word (new language) then don’t use it, particularly in writing. Most students make mistakes if the language is very new. It takes time to learn a word fully and be able to use it naturally.

  2. Hi Liz,you are doing a great job in helping ielts students.
    I have a query here.While we deal with questions like ‘discuss the both views and give your opinion’,is it necessary to support each side with more than one ideas? Kindly leave a reply.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Your job is to discuss both sides which means impartially. Your other task is to give your opinion – you decide what your opinion is.

  3. Sunnatillo says:

    Thank you Liz! You are the best teacher in IELTS!

  4. Lovepreet Singh says:

    Dear teacher, is it fine to use ‘die out’ in academic writing? I have heard that phrasal verbs are generally informal, therefore should be avoided in academic writing. But, I have noticed that you used some of them in your model answers. I am confused.Please help me out.

    • Some phrasal verbs are fine to use in IELTS writing task 2. the verb “die out” is fine to use.

      • Lovepreet Singh says:

        I really appreciate your answer. But, how do I distinguish between informal phrasal verbs and formal ones? I’d be glad if you could make a video lesson on this. Thanks in advance.

        • You don’t need to distinguish between informal and formal. There is no such thing. Just spot the ones that are too informal and not suitable for IELTS writing task 2. You do this by looking them up in dictionary and seeing the sample sentence given. Also if a phrasal verb can be easily replaced by a suitable common verb, then opt for that in your essay. For IELTS speaking, all phrasal verbs are great.

  5. Hi Liz,

    Thanks indeed for creating such a wonderful post, it is of great help.
    I have one query here. I read below lines at the end of introduction for the essay which talks about “Discuss both sides and give your opinion”

    This essay will discuss why .. .. has its benefits but why .. is ultimately superior.

    Example: This essay will discuss why petrol cars have its benefits but why diesel cars are superior and most preferred.

    My question here is, does the below sentence is idiomatic and can it be used in discuss both sides and give your opinion essay.

    This essay will discuss why ….. but why …..

    I shall be grateful for your reply.

    Thanks & Regards,

    • You should NEVER write “this essay will …”. The examiner knows what the essay will do because the examiner has the instructions. The examiner wants your opinion – what is your answer? Be direct and stop learning / memorising sentences.

  6. thank you soo much for your best effort doing for us

    wish you the best always

  7. Thanku! So much Liz for your explanation. Your lessons are very much useful.

  8. Superb explanation, Thank you

  9. thank you Liz

  10. Amani Flaifl says:

    Hi Liz,
    Thank you for the wonderful explanation, specially for the word “composed” I have never thought it is the same word of “very calm”. Your blog is great.

    • It’s a great word. People who can stay composed in the face of danger or a crisis are rare. To learn this word well, learn the situations it can be used in and all possible collocations.

  11. Thank you Liz

  12. Ben Williams says:

    an excellent and clearly analyzed answer on a topic that is well overdue for both students and teachers. Idiomatic expressions (along with ‘sayings’, ‘proverbs’) are often inappropriately used, misunderstood as to the meaning and, as you correctly point out, outdated and seldom used in regular conversation. Generally, an idiomatic expression can always be replaced with language that highlights a student’s range of vocabulary and grammar and which will receive a higher score from the examiner. As a former IELTS examiner trainer, I can assure your readers that your advice is absolutely correct. IELTS instructors would do well to heed your comments about idiomatic expressions lists that seem to be used so prevalently, especially here in Vietnam and Asia in general. Providing such lists is basically ‘short-changing’ students by making them over-reliant on a ‘speaking technique’ that should be used with extreme caution in the IELTS speaking test (and avoided completely in the writing tasks). I agree that the use of phrasal verbs will benefit students who can be taught that idiomatic expressions, as in the example you provided, is not the kind of language that IELTS recommends. There is a difference between idiomatic language and idiomatic expressions. The former is more than acceptable while the latter fails to impress. I urge all IELTS instructors to make this clear distinction to their students so that time is not wasted on ‘memorizing’ expressions that are likely to receive a low band score across all four scoring guidelines.
    Your website is a very professional resource for all IELTS candidates and I highly recommend it to my own students for their self-study.

    Yours truly,
    Ben Williams, PhD
    Academic Director

  13. Jitendra Desale says:

    Thanks for explanation about Idioms and idiomatic language.

  14. Thank you very much Liz for your useful and wonderful explanation.

  15. I’ve been teaching ielts for the last two years. Your blog has been really helpful. Thank you.

  16. Thank so much ,Liz now i see you are very kind and genous teacher.
    Your explanations are very useful for me.
    Thanks again

  17. Thanks a ton for explaination.

  18. I had found it so usefull, thank you.

  19. Thank you so much,Liz!

  20. Ahmed Emam says:

    Great! Thanks a lot.

  21. Thank you
    I have a question , if you please

    I am a little bit confused
    Sometimes you write one side opinion essay in which you mention one issue in the essay
    But the last lesson you said that we have to write about all issues in the question even we will write one side opinion
    So.. which of which is the correct
    Thanks a lot
    Your blog is the best♥️

  22. Hi Liz,

    While speaking I use a couple of fillers like : I mean, uh umm, you know, will my marks be deducted for it

    • Fillers are words that you can use to fill gaps. For example, “well, let me see…”. “umm” or “ahh” are not words and are not fillers – you will lose points for fluency when you um and ah.

  23. Thanks a lot Liz. I would have chosen ‘B’. Thanks for the in depth explanation.

  24. Are there other kinds of idiomatic language recommended to use in Ielts? Thank you

    • As I mentioned above, phrasal verbs are idiomatic and great for speaking. Also language such as “under pressure” or “key to success” are good.

  25. sharanpreet says:

    thanks for your explanation

  26. Basabdatta Chackrabarty says:

    thank you Liz

  27. Basabdatta Chackrabarty says:

    Your explanation is superb. Thank you Liz

  28. Jasvinder Kaur says:

    thanks alot mam

  29. Basabdatta Chackrabarty says:

    Yes Liz your explanation is superb

  30. I’d chosen B. Thank you for the explanation.

  31. Very insightful description
    Thanks Liz☺

  32. Thanks a lot Liz,your explanation is preciouse.

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