Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic: Effort



break your back

If you break your back to do something, you work extremely hard to try to do it.

These days you have to break your back to make a business work.

burn the candle at both ends

If you burn the candle at both ends, you try to do too much, regularly going to bed late and getting up early in the morning.

Frank seemed to delight in burning the candle at both ends. No matter how late he stayed out, he was up at five o’clock the next morning to study.

cut corners

If you cut corners, you save time, money, or effort by not following the correct procedure or rules for doing something.

He accused his manager of trying to save money by cutting corners on staff training.

not do things by halves

If you do not do things by halves, you always do things very well and thoroughly or in an extreme way.

Kim and Christopher Dunn are not a couple to do things by halves. When it came to furnishing their new home, they decided to completely redecorate the whole house.

NOTE: You can also say that someone does not do anything by halves.

Joe never did anything by halves. He regularly worked 12-hour days, was always in training for the next marathon and in his spare time, built his own house.

do your level best

If you do your level best to do something, you try as hard as you can to do it.

The President told American troops that he would do his level best to bring them home soon.

go all out

If you go all out, you try as hard as possible to achieve something.

If I had the choice over again, I would go all out for a degree in the sciences and specialize in teaching.

go the extra mile

If you go the extra mile, you make a special effort to do or achieve something.

I discovered that going the extra mile has always been a feature of successful people.

NOTE: This expression is variable, for example you can replace go with travel and mile with yard.

We will travel the extra mile to arrive at peace.

He will be remembered for his willingness to go the extra yard to help people.

land on your feet or fall on your feet

If someone lands on their feet or falls on their feet, they find themselves in a good situation by luck.

NOTE: This may refer to the belief that when a cat falls, it always lands on its feet without hurting itself.

Everything I want, she’s got: a good marriage, a good home, nice children. While I struggle through life, she always lands on her feet.

not lift a finger or not raise a finger

If someone does not lift a finger or does not raise a finger to do something or to help someone, they do not do anything.

NOTE: This expression is used to criticize people for not doing anything.

This Chancellor refuses to lift a finger to help working men and women.

What kind of people accept his kind of behaviour without raising a finger to prevent it?

make a meal of something or make a meal out of something

If someone makes a meal of something or makes a meal out of it, they spend too much time or energy on it. [mainly BRITISH]

He’s only been asked to write a brief essay but he’s making such a meal of it.

pull your socks up

If someone tells you to pull your socks up, they want you to improve your behaviour or work. [BRITISH]

If he wants to continue in the job he’ll have to pull his socks up.

pull your weight

If you pull your weight, you work as hard as everyone else who is involved in the same task or activity.

I felt that John wasn’t pulling his weight around the house and asked him to do a bit more of the cleaning.

work your fingers to the bone

If you work your fingers to the bone, you work extremely hard.

I have washed, cooked, fetched and carried all my life. I work my fingers to the bone in this house.

work your socks off

If you work your socks off, you work extremely hard. [INFORMAL]

They worked their socks off to make the business succeed.

NOTE: You can use this expression with many other verbs, especially verbs related to performing such as dance, act and play. In each case, it means ‘a lot’ or ‘very well’.

I danced my socks off last night.

Capper is currently playing his socks off for his team.

Also check : IELTS Vocabulary


Exercise 1

Complete the sentences with the words in the box.

candle              socks               corners             fingers            socks

halves              finger               feet

  1. Don’t try to cut___________ as you’ll only be making work for yourself later on.
  2. He has fallen on his ___________ with this new job – he’ll earn a fortune.
  3. Her boss told her she’d have to pull her ___________ up.
  4. You are burning the ___________ at both ends if you only sleep for five hours a night.
  5. As he never did things by ___________ , he was soon exhausted.
  6. I do all the cleaning. She never lifts a ___________ to help.
  7. I work my ___________ off for eleven months of the year. I deserve a month’s holiday.
  8. My grandmother had to work her ___________ to the bone in the kitchen with no electrical appliances.

Exercise 2

Complete the sentences. Choose the best answers.

  1. I ___________ to answer all their questions.

a did my level best      b worked my fingers to the bone        c pulled my weight

  1. The President is determined to ___________ for peace.

a pull his socks up       b make a meal             c go the extra mile

  1. We cannot afford to carry members who are not ___________

a doing things by halves         b making a meal of it              c pulling their weight

  1. If you know what you really want, you should ___________ to get it.

a pull your weight                   b go all out                  c pull your socks up

  1. She ___________ in order to send her children to school.

a cut corners                b worked her fingers to the bone        c made a meal of it

  1. When you’re ___________ trying to start a business, it will take every minute you have.

a breaking your back               b raising a finger         c pulling your socks up

Exercise 3

Re-order the phrases to make sentences. Add punctuation where necessary.

1 for another win / to go all out / after last week’s triumph / the team are ready

2 who have to / there are millions of people / just to stay alive / work their fingers to the bone

3 play our socks off if / we will / we want to beat them / have to

4 it’s better not / by cutting corners / things cheaply / to try to do

5 a bit of trouble / but it looks like he’ll / he had / land on his feet

6 a story like this / just love to / make a meal of / the newspapers

Exercise 4

Match idioms A-F with situations 1-6.

  1. Jim is complaining about how hard it has been to keep his business going.
  2. Sara’s boss is explaining to her that she shouldn’t try to get a job done by leaving out certain parts of the task.
  3. Jill is complaining about her flat-mate, who is lazy and does no housework.
  4. Edward is congratulating a friend who has just got a promotion and a new flat, in the same week.
  5. A teacher is telling a student not to spend too long on a question that doesn’t demand more than a few sentences as an answer.
  6. The coach is persuading his team to make an enormous effort to win the game.
A Make the essential points but don’t make a meal of it.

B You’ve really landed on your feet this time!

C I’ve been working my socks off for the past two years.

D We’re playing well, but we need to go all out this time.

E It’s no good trying to cut corners.

F She doesn’t lift a finger.

Exercise 5

Use sentences A-H to answer questions 1-8.

1          Who didn’t deliver his work on time?

2          Who worked hard to earn more than usual?

3          Who was really unhelpful?

4          Who doesn’t get enough sleep?

5          Who spent too much time and energy on his homework?

6          Who didn’t want to be late?

7          Who needs to work harder at school?

A Ellana didn’t raise a finger when everyone else was tidying up.

B George decided it wasn’t worth breaking his back to meet the deadline.

C Kiri’s report said she must pull her socks up.

D Jean worked his socks off to save up for a holiday.

 E Anton did his level best to arrive early.

F Anna will always go the extra mile to make people feel welcome.

G Kaz made a meal out of writing three sentences in English.

H Helen has been burning the candle at both ends recently.

Exercise 6

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

1          I’ve been breaking my fingers to get this work done on time.

2          She’s really lucky, she seems to have landed on her back again.

3          There’s no point in eating a meal of this issue.

4          If you aren’t prepared to go the extra corner, you won’t get the top grade.

5          He’s so lazy. He doesn’t lift a bone.

6          I’m exhausted. I’ve been working my weight off at the office today.

7          If everyone pulls their fingers they’ll get a fair reward for what they do.

8          Jimmy admitted that he never did anything by half.

Your turn!

Think about how much effort you put into things. Use the idioms in this unit to describe anything you or any of your friends have done recently. For example:

Mercedes and I fell on our feet when we were upgraded to first class on our journey home.

I went the extra mile and ended up with a really good grade.


Exercise 1

1          corners

2          feet

3          socks

4          candle

5          halves

6          finger

7          socks

8          fingers

Exercise 2

l a        3 c       5 b

2 c       4 b       6 a

Exercise 3

1          After last week’s triumph, the team are ready to go all out for another win. OR The team are ready to go all out for another win after last week’s triumph.

2          There are millions of people who have to work their fingers to the bone just to stay alive.

3          We will have to play our socks off if we want to beat them. OR If we want to beat them we will have to play our socks off.

4          It’s better not to try to do things cheaply by cutting corners.

5          He had a bit of trouble but it looks like he’ll land on his feet.

6          The newspapers just love to make a meal of a story like this.

Exercise 4                  

1 C      4 B

2 E       5 A

3 F       6 D

Exercise 5

1          George

2          Jean

3          Ellana

4          Helen

5          Kaz

6          Anton

7          Kiri

8          Anna

Exercise 6

1          breaking my back

2          landed on her feet

3          making a meal

4          go the extra mile

5          lift a finger

6          working my socks off

7          pulls their weight

8          never did anything by halves

Written By

Syed Monif is a professional content marketer and IELTS Trainer by day, and a bookworm by night, and sometimes during the day too! He currently works on creating extremely user-friendly and engaging content for the online portal His work involves creating and editing content while making sure they're super interesting and easy to read! And also as a master procrastinator, right now he's probably googling something so arbitrary like 'How rich is Scrooge McDuck?' without realizing that his lunch break is almost over.

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