Common Idioms to Improve your IELTS Score – Topic : Memory and Mind


Memory and Mind

Cross your mind

If something crosses your mind, you suddenly think of it.

It crossed my mind that she might be lying about her age.

Bear/keep something in mind

If you tell someone to bear something in mind or keep something in mind, you are reminding or warning them about something important which they should remember.

There are a few general rules to bear In mind when selecting plants.

Keep in mind that some places are more dangerous than others for women travelling alone.

Food for thought

If something gives you food for thought, it makes you think very hard about an issue.

This Italian trip gave us all much food for thought.

Have a memory like an elephant

to be very good at remembering things

My best friend has a memory like an elephant. She can easily remember everything she has read. 

A gut reaction

A gut reaction is a reaction that you have immediately and strongly, without thinking about something or being aware of your reasons.

NOTE: The gut is the tube inside the body through which food passes while it is being digested.

My immediate gut reaction was to never write again.

Slip sb’s memory/mind

to be forgotten

I forgot that I had a meeting with my partner yesterday. It completely slipped my mind.

Lose the plot

If someone loses the plot, they become confused or crazy, or no longer know how to deal with a situation. [INFORMAL]

Note : A plot is the sequence of events in a story.

Vikram’s working so many hours that he’s losing the plot – he’s making mistakes and keeps falling asleep on the job.


Lose your train of thought

If you forget what you were saying, for example after a disturbance or interruption, you lose your train of thought.

Now where was I? I’m afraid I’ve lost my train of thought.

Miles away

If someone is miles away, they are completely unaware of what is happening or of what someone is saying, because they are thinking deeply about something else.miles away

You didn’t hear a word I said, did you? You were miles away.

A mind like a sieve

If you have a mind like a sieve or a brain like a sieve, you have a bad memory and often forget things.

He’s lost his keys again – he’s got a mind like a sieve.

NOTE: You can use brain instead of mind and you can say is like a sieve instead of have.

He lost his car keys but admitted that his brain was like a sieve.

Off the top of your head

If you say that you are commenting on something off the top of your head, you mean that what you are about to say is an immediate reaction and is not a carefully considered opinion, and so it might not be correct. [SPOKEN]

I can’t remember off the top of my head which plan they used, but it certainly wasn’t this one.

Trip/walk down memory lane

an occasion when people remember or talk about things that happened in the past

My grandmother spends more time walking down memory lane these days than talking about the present.

Off your head

If you say that someone is off their head or out of their head, you mean that they are very strange, foolish, or dangerous. [BRITISH, INFORMAL]

It’s like working in a war zone. You must be off your head to live in that area.

On the tip of your tongue

  1. If a remark or question is on the tip of your tongue, you want to say it, but stop yourself.

It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him he’d have to ask Charlie. But I said nothing.

  1. If something such as a word, answer, or name is on the tip of your tongue, you know it and can almost remember it, but not quite.

I know this, no, no, don’t tell me … oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue!

Jog someone’s memory

When you help someone to remember something they have forgotten, you jog their memory.

My grandfather didn’t remember how to log in his facebook account. Therefore, I had to jog his memory.

Out of your mind

  1. If you say that someone is out of their mind, you mean that they are crazy or stupid. [INFORMAL]

You spent five hundred pounds on a jacket! Are you out of your mind?

  1. If you are out of your mind with worry, grief, fear, etc., you are extremely worried, sad, afraid, etc.

She’s out of her mind with worry; her husband left the hotel yesterday and hasn’t been seen since.

NOTE: You can also say that someone is going out of their mind.

I was so sure that was what she said. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going out of my mind.

We have a lot of problems in our family. I’m going out of my mind with the worry of it all.

Rack your brain

If you rack your brain, you think very hard about something or try very hard to remember it.

They asked me for fresh ideas, so I racked my brain, but couldn’t come up with anything.

NOTE: You can also say rack your brains.

Alma racked her brains for something to say.

NOTE: The old-fashioned spelling wrack is occasionally used instead of rack in this expression.

Bob was wracking his brain, trying to think where he had seen the man before.

Ring a bell

If something rings a bell, it is slightly familiar to you and you know you have heard it before, but you do not remember it fully.

The name rings a bell but I can’t think where I’ve heard it.

Also check :


Exercise 1

Complete the sentences with the words in the box. Some of the sentences have more than one answer.

head                mind                brain                thought            brains

1          Do you have the memory of an elephant or a ___________ like a sieve?

2          You are mad. Totally, completely and utterly off your ___________ .

3          He was behaving as if he was out of his ___________.

4          The previous chapters will already have given you plenty of food for ___________ .

5          Off the top of your ___________ , what do you know about Vitamin C?

6          Rack your ___________ and tell me everything you now about him.

Exercise 2

Decide if the following sentences are true (T) or false (F).

1          If something crosses your mind, you forget about it.

2          If something rings a bell, it reminds you of something.

3          If you have a gut reaction to something, you have spent a long time thinking about it.

4          If you say something off the top of your head, you are very strange and dangerous.

5          If something is food for thought, it makes you think.

6          If you are racking your brain, you aren’t thinking very hard.

Exercise 3

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

  1. ‘Do you know anyone called Frascati?’-‘Well the name ___________.’

a racks my brains                     b rings a bell                c is miles away

  1. ‘Dr Barth, what is the greatest single thought that ever ___________ ?’

a rang a bell                             b racked your brains                c crossed your mind

  1. ‘You don’t know anyone else who might be free?’-‘Not ___________ , no.’

a on the tip of my tongue        b crossing my mind                 c off the top of my head

  1. I’m just trying to remember his name; it’s ___________ .

a racking my brains                 b on the tip of my tongue       c crossing my mind

  1. ‘Did you ask me a question? I’m sorry, I was ___________ .’

a miles away                            b out of my mind                    c ringing a bell

  1. Someone mentioned this point recently and I’m ___________ to think who it was.

a out of my mind                    b racking my brains                 c bearing it in mind

Exercise 4

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

1          Business has been very bad and the management seem to have racked the plot.

2          You can withdraw money at other banks but bear in thought that they might charge a handling fee.

3          You are off your mind if you think I’ll help you commit a crime!

4          Off the top of his mind, he couldn’t think of an excuse she would believe.

5          The after-dinner speaker provided us with plenty of thought food.

6          Her name was on the top of my tongue, but I just couldn’t get it.

7          Personally, I trust my gut action to tell me when I’m right.

8          It crossed my head that I hadn’t heard the children for a while.

Exercise 5

Choose the most appropriate thing A – H to say in each situation 1-8.

  1. Someone gives you a useful tip for your next trip abroad.
  2. You’re telling someone about a thought-provoking talk you’ve just heard.
  3. A friend has just told you about an extreme sport he wants to try and you think it’s too dangerous.
  4. You’re trying hard to remember the answer to a quiz question.
  5. A friend has mentioned someone’s name and asked you if you know that person. You aren’t sure but the name sounds familiar.
  6. You realize that you haven’t been listening to something a friend has been telling you, because you were thinking about something else.
  7. You have to explain why you burst out laughing when you saw your photo in the paper.
  8. Someone asks you if you have ever thought about working abroad.

A It has crossed my mind.

B You’re out of your mind!

C It’s on the tip of my tongue.

D The name rings a bell.

E Sorry, I was miles away.

F It’s certainly given me food for thought.

G Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.

H It was just a gut reaction.

Exercise 6

Complete the table with idioms from this unit.

Remembering and forgetting1 ________________________________

2 ________________________________

3 ________________________________

4 ________________________________

5 ________________________________

thinking1 ________________________________

2 ________________________________

3 ________________________________

4 ________________________________

not thinking logically1 ________________________________

2 ________________________________

3 ________________________________

4 ________________________________

Your turn!

Have you had trouble remembering something in the last few days? Use the idioms from this unit to describe your experience. For example:

I couldn’t remember the Italian word for butterfly yesterday although it was on the tip of my tongue.

Sometimes I have a mind like a sieve and by the afternoon, I can’t recall anything from my morning lessons.

Answer Key

Exercise 1

1          brain OR mind                       2          head

3          mind                                        4          thought

5          head                                        6          brain OR brains

Exercise 2

1          F

2          T

3          F 

4          F

5          T

6          F 

 Exercise 3

1          b

2          c

3          c 

4          b

5          a

6          b 

 Exercise 4

1          lost the plot

2          bear in mind

3          off your head OR out of your mind

4          Off the top of his head

5          food for thought

6          on the tip of my tongue

7          gut reaction

8          crossed mv mind

Exercise 5

1          G

2          F

3          B

4          C

5          D

6          E

7          H

8          A

 Exercise 6

Possible answers

remembering and forgettinga mind/brain like a sieve

ring a bell

bear/keep something mind

off the top of your head

on the tip of your tongue

thinkingfood for thought

rack your brain(s)

cross your mind

miles away

not thinking logicallya gut reaction

lose the plot

off/out of your head

out of your mind

Written By

Nafia Zuhana is an experienced content writer and IELTS Trainer. Currently, she is guiding students who are appearing for IELTS General and Academic exams through With an 8.5 score herself, she trains and provides test takers with strategies, tips, and nuances on how to crack the IELTS Exam. She holds a degree in Master of Arts – Creative Writing, Oxford Brookes University, UK. She has worked with The Hindu for over a year as an English language trainer.

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