If you’re struggling with idioms, you must be blue in the face. Perhaps it’s not your cup of tea or maybe you just have your heart in your mouth!

Whatever the case may be, it’s important not to underestimate the TOEFL iBT exam. Practicing is the only way to get better and achieve success. However, if English is not your native language, it can be difficult finding out what works best for you. For this, we recommend you go through our free TOEFL student resources.

But if you want to achieve success in the long run and make everything easier, it’s imperative to start early—that is, 3 months in advance. Getting an early start can make preparing a piece of cake.

Idioms can be tough to memorize at first, but once you get the hang of them, they can help you improve your writing, and the way you communicate with others. By adding an abstract touch to your essays, they help you express yourself without giving too many details.

Ways to Memorize Idioms

There are plenty of ways to memorize idioms, but remember, you need to stick with something that works for you. Do what’s easiest for you and what makes you most comfortable.

Some people memorize things by reading them out loud and some do it through writing. Everyone has a way of doing things, and working with their own techniques and methods.

Here are a few techniques and methods that you should consider looking into:

  • Make Sentences

If you’re someone who can’t memorize anything without writing it down, then make a separate journal or notebook that is just for idioms. Write them down as many times as possible, along with their meanings.

If you find an idiom in a magazine or an advertisement, first try to understand its context. Think about what it means for a couple of minutes. Then think about ways you can use it in a sentence or phrase.

For example: After Julian tried to prank Kate by pretending to be calling from a local pizzeria, Kate decided to give him a taste of his own medicine by ordering 27 pizzas to his house.

Example # 2: Sasha made it to the soccer team by the skin of her teeth.

Idioms are great for adding more details to your essays, without going into depth.

Here is a table of idioms. See if you can use these to form your own sentences.

Butterflies in my stomach To feel nervous
Down for the count Tired and exhausted
Easier said than done Not as easy as it seems
Give it a whirl To give something a try
In the fast lane A life that is full of excitement


It’s okay if you don’t get them right on your first try. Remember that practice makes perfect.

  • Listen to Podcasts and Lectures 

There are plenty of podcasts and lectures that are available on idioms and phrases. There are also short videos available on YouTube that focus on idioms, using stories. You can also find various lectures that help you build confidence, while using idioms for examples.

  • Create Your Own Presentations

One way to learn is to create a presentation. You can use PowerPoint or a whiteboard to jot down a few idioms. Then see if you can create sentences or stories that can go with them. This is a technique used by experts to memorize things.

Once you’re done, try to go in reverse. Recall what you’ve learned and see if you can follow everything without an order/sequence.

For example:

Idiom: Lose one’s marbles.

Meaning: To get angry and furious.

Sentence: After Jack lost to John in checkers, he lost his marbles and went off on a tirade, claiming that she had cheated.

You can go with a story that shows two best friends, Jack and John. They’re playing checkers and Johne wins after some time. Jack gets angry, saying that John cheated and switched pieces when he wasn’t looking. Jack then goes off on a tirade, saying that he wants a re-match.

These are just a few tips that you can use. Remember that not everything works for everyone. Find a method that will make things easier for you, not difficult.

Idioms that You Should Memorize

Now that we’ve covered the part where we learn how to memorize idioms, it’s time to look into phrases and idioms that you can learn for your TOEFL exam.

Look at the table below. There are at least 20 idioms listed. See which ones you can use in a sentence.

  1. 24/7:This implies that something is going on 24 hours in a day, and 7 days a week. My brother annoys me 24/7!
  2. A short fuse:Quick temper, quick to get angry. Sarah is known for her short fuse. Yesterday, she yelled at Jane for not getting her ice cream.
  3. A taste of your own medicine:Bad treatment, especially one that is deserved after doing someone wrong. Jennifer got a taste of her own medicine for stealing Fred’s lunch, when her car got towed.
  4. Butterflies in my stomach:Nervousness; to feel skittish. Lizzie felt butterflies in her stomach when she approached her teacher  to confess her mistake.   
  5. By the skin of your teeth:  To barely make it. Sarah passed her TOEFL exam by the skin of her teeth; you could tell she hadn’t prepared properly.
  6. Cat got your tongue? Used to ask someone (in order to embarrass them) if they don’t have a reply/comeback. I just saw you steal my sandwich from the fridge. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?
  7. Crying wolf:To seek attention/ask for help when one doesn’t need it. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a popular story that teaches us not to lie, so that others believe us when we really need help.
  1. Cut someone some slack: To give someone a break and not judge them harshly. Can’t you cut me some slack? I’ve been stressed out all week!
  2. Down for the count:When someone is exhausted and can’t go on.  Sorry, but I can’t go to the wedding. I’m down for the count after working all day.
  3. Draw the line:To stop something or someone from going too far. When my beliefs are compromised, this is where I draw the line.
  4. Easier said than done:Not as easy as it seems. Some things are easier said than done.
  5. Every cloud has a silver lining:Finding the good in bad situations. Even though she got mugged, she remembered she still had her health, so every cloud has a silver lining!
  6. Finding a needle in a haystack:Something is impossible to find. Trying to find a stable job in this city is like finding a needle in a haystack.
  7. Fish out of water:Alienation; being out of place; an outcast. Jane felt like a fish out of water at her new workplace.
  8. Get something off your chest:To vent; to rant about something to feel lighter. If I don’t get this off my chest, I feel like I’m going to choke.
  9. Give it a whirl:To try something. I’ve never gone kite-boarding, but I’m prepared to give it a whirl!
  10. Go down in flames: To fail miserably and suddenly. The politician got caught in a scandal, and before he knew it, his career went down in flames!
  11. Go the extra mile:To push past limits and make an extra effort; to work harder. The football player always goes the extra mile by coaching his teammates.
  12. Hang in there: To be patient; to wait and bear with things. I know things are difficult right now but hang in there, it’ll get better.
  13. In the fast lane:A life full of adventure and excitement. Christina quit her job as a psychiatrist because she wanted to live in the fast lane and travel.
  14. In the nick of time:Almost too late. When Ashley found out about the old lady’s home being set up for auction, she bought it for her. She made it in the nick of time!
  15. Let the cat out of the bag:Tell a secret. We can get through this if you keep it a secret and don’t let the cat out of the bag!
  16. You rock: Telling someone they are great.You’re awesome! You rock! Thanks for letting me borrow your car!
  17. Lose your marbles:To go insane; get really angry. When Dad bought another ticket to the baseball game, Mom lost her marbles and tore it apart.
  18. Once in a blue moon:It snows in our city, once in a blue moon.
  19. Plain as day:Obvious; clear. It’s plain as day that you haven’t prepared for the TOEFL exam, so why don’t you just admit it?
  20. Tip of the iceberg:A small visible part of the problem. Jane throwing a tantrum is just the tip of the iceberg. She gets aggressive as well.

There are hundreds of idioms but these are a great way to start. You can also check out our online TOEFL preparation course to help you prepare properly for the exam. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, feel free to browse through our website!

uMasterExam aims to support students appearing for their TOEFL iBT by helping them gain access to a number of essential preparation resources.

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