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Idioms for GMAT speaking

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GMAT speaking exam can be a stressful experience. Speaking in English to a person who is judging your every word can feel a little scary to say the least.

That’s why we advise you to use as many idioms and collocations as you can. This will make your English language sound a lot more natural and fluent.

Although idioms and collocations are both very much alike, there is a difference between the two:

Collocations can still hold the same meaning when the words are separated. Idioms lose the meaning if the words are split.

Take a look at some idioms for GMAT here:

What is an idiom?

In other words, an idiom is a group of words that creates a specific meaning about a subject. If that group is separated, the meaning is lost.

In this podcast tutorial we cover 14 different idioms. Some of them are good for describing people – a usual task in the GMAT Speaking Exam. Others are useful for describing interests and activities.

Listening to this podcast will help you understand when and how to use these expressions, and most importantly, how to pronounce them.

At the end of this article you will also find all of the idioms we mention with explanations and examples.

Practising idioms for GMAT speaking exam

To practise idioms you can try doing this mock GMAT speaking exam. You can time your answers and get a rough idea on how much time you get to answer a question.

If you would like more useful information to help you with your GMAT Speaking Exam, you can check out more speaking tips and mock GMAT speaking exams with band 9 answers.

Phrases to help you through your GMAT speaking exam

Use these with caution and only when appropriate. Although they are extremely useful, overuse could sound unnatural, scripted and memorised.

If I remember correctly it was…   

This is a great phrase to start talking about something in the past. You could use it quite easily in part 2 of the exam, when giving an example. It's also suitable for for use with part 3.

If my memory serves me well… 

This is similar to the phrase above. Phrases like these buy you a few seconds of "thinking time" so you can organise the rest of your answer.

I can’t remember exactly but I think it was… 

Another variation of the previous two. Using all three of the phrases instead of the same one three times will improve your lexical resource score.

Well to be totally honest I’ve never really thought about before…  

Another totally natural sounding native English speaker phrase. For band 9 delivery, remember the intonation and rhythm within this phrase. It starts higher, dips in the middle, then picks up at the end, like you would be asking a question.

I guess you could say...

Similar to the previous one, this is great when you might not be fully convinced with your own answer. For example, you are asked about a topic you have no idea about.

However, you want to show that you are thinking about this topic. This is totally fine and natural for the exam. Never forget, GMAT is a test of language, not intelligence.

It’s funny you should mention that because just yesterday… 

Use this when you want to convey (or make up) something coincendicial. Here the word "funny" is not connected to humour but more like odd or strange.

It's best to use this if there has been an actual coincidence or you can confidently "manufacture" one.

Well, I think nowadays it’s a difficult question because… 

This will most likely be useful for part 3, when you start getting more challenging questions and perhaps need a few seconds to prepare.

You would probably never use this in part 1.

Yes definitely, there are a few reasons for this, firstly….   and secondly… 

Use this to agree with the examiner and build out your answer. Be careful though, if you receive a question with options like this:

Do you think trust is declining or increasing in modern society?

You must choose one side and then adapt it into your answer:

Trust is definitely decreasing, there are a few reasons for this, firstly…. and secondly…

A list of idioms to help your GMAT speaking exam

1. Fresh as a daisy

Someone who is lively and attractive, in a clean, fresh way.

My sister has been travelling for almost 24 hours, and she’s still as fresh as a daisy.  

2. Couch potato

Spending too much time on the internet or watching TV.

My uncle is such a couch potato! He often spends his Saturdays watching American football on TV.  

3. Full of beans   

A person who is lively, active and healthy.

My 6 year old nephew is full of beans! He has more energy than three adults.

4. A bad egg

Someone who is untrustworthy.

Hey, Sue, I think your neighbour is a bad egg. He has these scary looking guys in black leather hanging around his place all the time.

5. Down to earth

Someone who is practical and realistic.

My aunt Karen is so down to earth. She can figure out any difficult situation, and offer a good solution.

6. Party pooper

A person who is gloomy, and having no fun at a social gathering.

Listen, my friend, I’m so sorry to be a party pooper, but I have to study for my GMAT speaking exam tomorrow.

7. Eager beaver

A person who is hardworking and enthusiastic.

My colleague drives me crazy! She is such an eager beaver that she always volunteers for overtime.

8. Ball in your court

It's your decision or responsibility to do something now.

Well, my friend, the ball’s in your court. I’ll wait for your decision.

9. Throw in the towel

Give up.

I’ve spent too much time on this project to throw in the towel now.

10. Get a head start

Start before all others.

Let’s get up early tomorrow to get a head start on our drive to Toronto.

11. Get a second wind

Have a burst of energy after tiring.

After having a coffee and a sandwich, he got his second wind, and finished painting the kitchen.

12. Jump the gun

Start too early.

I think I jumped the gun by buying my friends James and Susan a wedding gift. They just called off their engagement.

13. Give it my best shot

Try your hardest.

This test question is really tough! I’ll give it my best shot, and I’ll get some marks for doing my best.

14. On the ball

Ready and able.

Our department receptionist is really on the ball when it comes to fielding calls from annoyed students.

 For more help with your GMAT speaking, take a look at our online course and some more speaking tutorials here : 

Audio tutorial

Download the podcast here:

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