4 TOEFL and 27 GMAT Idioms

How might idioms surface on the TOEFL and GMAT? Let’s look.

On TOEFL, in the listening section, you may hear idioms. Or, you could use idiomatic expressions on the speaking and writing sections–only if you can use them naturally and correctly. Using no idiom is better than using the wrong idiom. Get to know four idioms that have come up.

  1. “I’m broke.”  Be broke = not having money (used when one can’t afford to pay)
  2. “I’m in the black.” In the black = profitable (financially break-even)
  3. “The school was in the red.” In the red = unprofitable; operating at a loss
  4. “She’s in over her head.” In over one’s head = is deeply involved (has issues)

On GMAT, you’ll be tested on idioms in a different manner.

GMAT places idioms in the verbal section in sentence correction questions. Those types of questions give a sentence that has an underlined part and makes you choose between replacements for the part that’s underlined.

On questions with idioms, usually there’s an idiom that’s used incorrectly in the sentence and a grammar rule that’s broken. Look for the correct answer that has proper grammar and correct idiom.

Three principal errors:

  1. An incorrect preposition with an idiom
  2. Improper comparison
  3. Correlative conjunctions (Correlatives are a pair of short words or phrases though separated in a sentence such as either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also, rather/or.)

1. Idioms with prepositions:

Many of the idioms on GMAT have the wrong preposition (i.e. of, from, to, at, for, with) in the phrase. Pay close attention to both the use of the idiom and the grammar for errors.

Process of choosing the correct answer:

First, use process of elimination to catch grammar errors; after that, narrow down the multiple choices in the answers and look at the idiom errors to choose what makes sense.

2. Incorrect comparison:

Review comparison rules (more) how to compare things to each other, and be sure to look out for superlatives (the most) when 3+ items are compared. Often, incorrect phrases are listed in the comparison. Look for clues in a response such as a word like “more” to identify the error or proper usage.

The most common patterns that you’ll notice are the following:

  • compared to X, Y, (Compared to the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty is bigger.)
  • X more than Y (You study more intensively than she does) or a comparative adverb phrase (You study more productively than her,) Joe follows (verb + direct object) basketball +more closely than Matt does.
  • X is different from Y, (X/Y most often are replaced with nouns)
  • in contrast to X, Y (In contrast to Obama, Trump is a Tweeter.)

3. Analyze Correlatives:

  • Either x or y {join two nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or clauses}
  • Neither x nor y {join two nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or clauses}

 

  • Both x and y               (yes x/yes y)       {for GMAT, often in parallel verb phrases, infinitives (both to come and to go), participial phrase, gerund (both coming and going)}             [not for linking independent clauses]
  • Not x but y (no x/yes y)
  • Not only x but also y (yes x expected/yes y additional) [Mozart was not only a renowned pianist, but also a phenomenal composer.]
  • Not just x but also y (yes x expected/yes y additional)
  • Not so much x as y (yes x less so/y yes more in degree of comparison)      {for GMAT, used for nouns, infinitives, gerunds, prepositional phrases}   [format: subject + do not so much + prepositional phrase x as prepositional phrase y]     [Obama is remembered not so much for his campaign, “Change,” as for his terms as President.]                   idiom: be remembered for

  • Between x and y {x and y are nouns or gerunds [-ing] on GMAT}               [The names Great Britain and the United Kingdom are often used interchangeably, however, there is a difference between GB and the UK.]              GMAT idioms: difference between, distinction between or distinguish between x and y.  [Atheists do not distinguish between being skeptical about God and disbelieving.

 

  • Just as x, so y {to connect two independent clauses}    [Just as Shakespeare was the greatest British poet, so Edgar Allan Poe was the best American poet.]

 

  • For every x, y (nouns) {idiom used in economic, math, political contexts}            [For every $100. spent locally on business, $60 will stay in the community. For every vote Newsom wins in Northern California, he’ll lose two votes in Southern California.]

27 Common GMAT Idioms

Study these not only for the meaning of the examples but also for the correct usage in context.

1. A debate over A debate over the ingredients in the dish went on and on.
2. Account for The grocer accounted for 270 items on the shelves.
3. Accuse of The assailant was accused of murder.
4. Acquaint with (someone or something) He is acquainted with Robert Frost and poetry.
5. A means to (something i.e. an end) The money-saving App is only a means to an end, financial freedom.
6. A responsibility to (someone) The new mother has a responsibility to nurse the baby every few hours.
7. A result of (something) The champion’s win is a result of his dedication to practice.
8. Ability to The quadriplegic has no ability to walk.
9. Act as The headmaster hired a substitute to act as teacher when the instructor was out with a virus.
10. Act like Teens act like there’s no tomorrow.
11. Afflicted with (something) He was afflicted with a pinched nerve in his spine.
12. Agree on (something) Let’s agree on resolving the issue.
13. Agree to (something) We agreed to the fund-raising campaign.
14. Agree with (someone) The mother agreed with her son on politics.
15. Aid in Athletic coaches aid in being a role model for sportsmanship.
16. Aim at something Be sure to aim at the bullseye to reach your target.
17. Aim to do something Aim to reach your objective before the end of the year.
18. Allow for The bus can’t allow for restroom breaks.
19. Amount to Elon Musk amounted to becoming a significant leader.
20. Appear to The star appeared to be too skinny in the movie role.
21. Are in danger of The glaciers are in danger of melting.
22. Argue with The police argued with the pedestrian over jaywalking.
23. As/as I am as productive as she is.
24. Ask for The team leader asked for support on the legwork.
25. Associate with We associate cranberries with Thanksgiving.
26. Attend to (someone) The grandson attended to his grandmother in the hospital.
27. Attribute x to y We can attribute heart disease in part to obesity.

To improve your grasp of TOEFL and GMAT idioms, look up more examples of the idioms in this post. For TOEFL, find ten idioms you can use well and memorize them. You could work one naturally into one of your speaking tasks (or independent writing task.)

Keep reading every day since the best way to learn idioms either for TOEFL or GMAT is to understand them in context.

Paraphrase Power on TOEFL Writing

 

A super common issue on the TOEFL integrated writing section is copying words from the text.

Why is this a bad idea?

The poor habit of copying—any kind of copying, such as a few groups of words or just one sentence will hurt your writing score. Sometimes, you may feel like it’s time-consuming or it poses a risk from potential incorrect wording to write your own words in a paraphrase. However, coming up with a paraphrase from the original source in which you may have improper wording is not going to hurt your score as much as copying.

3 Techniques to Rephrase

Let’s go in-depth how to restate the original source sentence with these techniques:        1) changing word order (moving words or phrases around in the sentence)                            2) modifying word forms (changing a noun to a verb or vice versa)                                              3) finding a synonym (adjusting a word/phrase to something similar)

Sample

Original sentence from text:

Humpback whales migrate long distances.

Techniques:

  1. Changing word order:

Choose one or two words to move to a different place in the sentence, and then make sure the sentence keeps the same meaning. Hint: you may need to add a verb.

Paraphrase:

Humpback whales go long distances to migrate.

Notice the three words moved in changing word order were these: migrate long distances.

In this case, moving the verb migrate and placing that idea at the end of the sentence as an infinitive to migrate necessitates adding a new verb go to be grammatically correct.

  1. Changing word form:

Paraphrase:

Humpback whales go long distances for migration.

In this case, moving the verb migrate and placing that concept at the end as a gerund (-ing form) following a preposition (for) in for migration (a prepositional phrase) necessitates adding a new verb, go.

In these techniques of changing the order of the words or modifying word form, the verb form of migrate was changed using the root base “migrat” converting first, into an infinitive (to + verb), and next, into a gerund (-ing) following a preposition in the phrase.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but you’ll need to keep the same meaning as the original.

  1. Changing a word to a synonym or words to synonyms:

Paraphrase:

Humpback whales migrate a far distance.

  • The original word long was replaced with the synonym,
  • The original plural word “distances” was adjusted to singular form distance, dropping the plural -s at the end of the word.

With these two minor word changes, one to a similar word, and another to a plural/singular change, a quick proper rephrase has been created.

Now, you try to paraphrase from another phrase below. Use techniques #1, #2, or #3 above.

Original phrase:

In the case of the humpback whales, we may have found the answer: they may be navigating by the stars, much as early human sailors did.

Practice your paraphrasing.

 

 

OK, let’s do a comparison. We can analyze a paraphrased sample to compare to your practice written response.

Possible paraphrase:

We might have discovered a reason, for in the case of these whales, they used stars to navigate just like early sailors.

Which techniques were used to rephrase in the sentence above? Can you point out technique 1, 2, or 3?

 

Word order                       in the case of whales was moved from the beginning to the middle

Word (verb) form          navigating changed to navigate using the root “navigat” from                                                              an -ing verb ending to an infinitive with to + verb.

Word to synonym         found replaced by discovered; may altered to might

Yes, speed and accuracy are essential in paraphrasing! First, you don’t want to waste time thinking too much when writing since you’ll be in a time crunch. Second, you’ll need to have a similar meaning to the original source. That’s why practicing your rephrasing is valuable to improve your skill. With time using any of these techniques, you’ll be faster and more accurate. If you feel like you are rephrasing too slowly, one of the fastest ways to change the word form or synonym quickly is to look at the main verb or any verb form in the original and adjust the main verb or other verb forms. Let’s take a closer look at how this works quickly.

Original:

Humpback whales seem to be intelligent enough to use stars to navigate by.  

Try your hand at paraphrasing the above sentence by adjusting verbs or verb forms.

Your paraphrase practice:

 

Sample Paraphrases:

Humpback whales are intelligent enough using stars for navigation.

Humpback whales are intelligent enough navigating by stars.

 

If you still find it a challenge to speedily change a verb, then change an adjective or a noun.

Alternative Paraphrase:

Humpback whales seem to be smart enough to use constellations to navigate by.

 

After you’re familiar practicing these techniques to paraphrase better and faster, you may be considering how does re-phrasing influence your integrated writing task result. Be confident that proper paraphrasing does positively impact your score…just as copying lowers it.

When you are short on time, remember that your paraphrase does not have to be perfect like the original writing in the passage, which was written by a professional.

To sum up, if you make it a habit to practice paraphrasing words or phrases from the original text, it will lead to better habits of faster thinking and writing in the language. In both tasks of the writing section, it’s important that you are comfortable writing your own words. In an upcoming post, we’ll analyze how to paraphrase the prompt properly in the independent task.

Finally, if you stay calm and focused, your paraphrasing will improve with practice. Before you know it, you’ll ace your paraphrasing technique on TOEFL writing and in professional business interactions.