12 Essential Idioms About School and Learning

With September coming, many of us are thinking about the end of summer and the start of a school year. And sure, it’s going to look different: new safety measures, Zoom classes, or homeschooling might be part of your future.

Whether you are a student or you just know one, school days are coming—no matter what that looks like. 

To get into the school mindset, here are some idioms that are all about thinking and learning!

1. A for effort

→ An expression used to show appreciation that someone has tried to do something, even if they weren’t successful

Wow, thanks for cooking this huge dinner! Even though everything is completely burnt, you get an A for effort!

2. To breeze through (something)

→ To complete or accomplish something easily

I breezed through secondary school but I found university a lot more difficult. 

3. To catch on

→ To begin to understand something, usually after a long time 

Algebra can be confusing at first, but once you catch on, it’s easy!

4. To cover a lot of ground

→ To review a lot of information or discuss many topics 

I thought the first day back at school would be easy, but the teacher covered a lot of ground!

5. To draw a blank

→ To fail to think of something (like a solution to a problem); to fail to remember something

Our assignment is to think of a new invention and present it to the class, but I’m drawing a blank.

6. To hit the books

→ To study

I’ve had some time to relax this summer, but now, it’s time to hit the books!

7. To learn (something) off by heart

→ To memorize something 

Before cell phones were invented, people had to learn phone numbers off by heart. 

8. To learn the ropes

→ To learn how to do a certain job or task

I got a part-time job! I have to go for training this weekend so I can learn the ropes.

9. To pass with flying colours

→ To pass a test or a class very successfully

I know you’re nervous about the exam, but you’ve been studying every day—you’ll pass with flying colours!

10. To pull an all-nighter

→ To stay up all night (usually to finish something)

My essay is due tomorrow and I haven’t even started. I’m going to have to pull an all-nighter!

11. To put (one’s) thinking cap on

→ To think seriously about something—often a solution to a problem

We need to come up with ideas to raise money for new computer lab equipment. Let’s put our thinking caps on!

12. To rack (one’s) brain

→ To think very hard, often to remember something

There’s a girl in my biology class who I recognize. I’ve been racking my brain, but I can’t remember where I’ve seen her before!


Try adding some of these expressions to your vocabulary. Even if you make a mistake the first time, you’ll get an A for effort!

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.