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12 Back-to-School Idioms

If you’re studying English (or studying at an English-language college or university), the first term of the new school year will now have begun! At this time of year, you may also notice how many school-related idioms English speakers use in everyday conversation.

Here are 12 of the most popular idioms to do with school and learning. How many have you heard?

1. To get schooled

E.g. “James tried to argue with Lucy about Greek philosophy. He got schooled!”

This means that one person knew so much more about the subject, or was much better at a particular activity, that it made the other person look bad. Usually people use it when someone tried to show off or talk down to someone else, and then was embarrassed by how much that person knew.


2. Teacher’s pet

E.g. “Beth made a birthday cake for our professor today. She’s such a teacher’s pet.”

A teacher’s pet is the teacher’s favourite student. Usually it’s used to describe someone who tries very hard to get the teacher to like them.


3. School of hard knocks

E.g. “Emma learned how to fight in the school of hard knocks”

This means that a person had a difficult start in life and that taught them how to be tough and survive.


4. School of Life

E.g. “Where did you go to university?” “The School of Life”

This is a lighthearted way of saying that you didn’t go to university, but you feel that you learned everything you need to know from real life experience instead.


5. Hit the books

E.g. “I need to hit the books before my exam on Friday”

To study hard


6. “A” for effort

E.g. “It wasn’t quite what I asked for, but A for effort”

A humorous way of saying that something wasn’t very good, but the person tried really hard.


7. Skip class

E.g. “He’s skipped class three times this week – I think he’ll might get kicked out soon!”

To miss a class deliberately, without a good reason.


8. Learn something by heart

E.g. “You’ll need to learn these equations by heart for the test”

If you learn something by heart, you know it well enough to remember without looking at your notes.


9. Drop out

E.g. “She had to drop out of the course because of her illness:”

To quit your studies.


10. Put your thinking cap on

E.g. “You only have one more week to come up with a title for your dissertation, so put your thinking caps on now!”

To think about something deeply, or to try and think of a solution to a problem.


11. Teach someone a lesson

E.g. “Alex took so long to reply to Claire’s text that she got fed up and went on a date with Sam instead. That taught him a lesson!”

To punish someone for something they’ve done wrong, or to get revenge.


12. Pass with flying colours

E.g. “He was so worried about the presentation, but he passed with flying colours”

To do extremely well on an exam or test.


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