21 idioms about exams every student should know

Idioms about examsSeeing as a large number of schoolchildren in the UK are currently in the midst of external exams – whether that’s GCSEs, AS levels or A2s – a blog post covering idioms about exams seemed to be the obvious contender for the next in my series.

As you would expect, most of the sayings in this list are focused around effort, success or failure.

For those of you like me who are interested in the etymology behind the idioms, I’ve also included some links to more information.

English idioms about exams: studying and results

Ace a test = obtain a very high score or an excellent result

Bone up on = study hard, usually in preparation for a test

Burn the candle at both ends = stay up late into the night and then get up early next day to carry on working

Burn the midnight oil = work late into the night

Come up trumps (or turn up trumps) = unexpectedly produce just what’s needed at the last moment

Dead cert = something that’s certain to happen or be achieved

Draw a blank = fail in attempts to remember something

Hit the books = begin to study hard

In a brown study = daydreaming or deeply contemplative

In the bag = virtually guaranteed; success assured (derived from the ‘game bags’ used to collect small game on hunting trips)

Keep your nose to the grindstone = apply yourself conscientiously to your work

Knuckle down = focus on a project or a task

Learn something off by heart = learn something in such a way that you can say it from memory

Make a pig’s ear of = botch something up; make a complete mess of something

Make the grade = be satisfactory and of an expected level

Idioms about examsMoment of truth = critical or decisive time when you find out if your efforts have succeeded (i.e. results day)

On course for = likely to achieve something

Pass with flying colours = do very well in a test or exam

Rise to the occasion = manage to do something successfully in difficult circumstances

Sail through = succeed in doing something without difficulty.

Study animal = someone who studies hard (the opposite of a party animal)

If you enjoyed this collection of idioms about exams, you might also be interested in my post on school idioms.

Over to you

As usual, I learnt a couple of new idioms while putting this list together. I certainly hadn’t heard of “in a brown study” or a “study animal” before.

How about you? Any phrases here that were new to you? Or any idioms about exams that you think should be added to the list?

(students image courtesy of Ambro via Freedigitalphotos.net)

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6 comments on “21 idioms about exams every student should know
  1. Gil Pedraza says:

    perfect they were really usefull, what about. to be a bookworm or copycat? those are good 2!!

    • I’m glad you found them useful! The two idioms you mentioned are both covered in my School Idioms post, which is linked to near the end of this one, as they’re more general rather than specifically about exams.

  2. Furbabe says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bryan says:

    If you are a native speaker, and you “learned a couple of idioms” when putting this list together, then maybe don’t include them, because that probably means they are far less common than the average student needs to know. Teaching students phrases from the 1940s has marginal utility.

    • Like most native English speakers I come across new words & phrases on a daily basis. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re outdated or uncommon. My blog posts aren’t specifically aimed at those who are learning English; they’re written for anyone with an interest in the English language – whether as a native speaker or a student. So I like to share what I discover during my research (often with links for more info) & people can then decide for themselves if it’s interesting or useful. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

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