20 English idioms about success to raise the bar on your writing and take you on the road to victory on your exams

  • From ‘go the extra mile’ to ‘move mountains’, show off the fruits of your labour with these phrases about hard work and success
  • Putting in blood, sweat and tears is not all it takes – it’s just as important to work smart, too
Yanni Chow |

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We all know it’s no easy feat being a student – long hours of poring over books, not to mention the hundreds of essays to churn out. Here are some idioms to remind you why it’s all worth it at the end of the day when you finally have a taste of sweet success.

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1. Be on a roll

Meaning: To experience a prolonged spell of success or good luck

Example: The award-winning young cellist is on a roll sweeping up accolades in every competition.

2. Bend over backwards

Meaning: Make every effort to achieve something, especially to be fair or helpful

Example: I learned from my dad to bend over backwards to help those in need.

3. Blood, sweat and tears

Meaning: Extremely hard work; unrelenting effort

Example: He is pouring in his blood, sweat and tears to get a PhD.

It takes blood, sweat and tears (and a lot of determination) to turn dreams into reality. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Burning the candle at both ends

Meaning: To do more than one ought to; to overextend oneself

Example: My uncle’s doctor said his illness was brought on by stress and recommended that he stop burning the candle at both ends.

5. Get cracking

Meaning: Act quickly and decisively

Example: You better get cracking for the internship interview tomorrow.

6. Go into overdrive

Meaning: To begin to work very hard; to perform intensely or very well

Example: When the publishing deadline was moved up a week, we had to go into overdrive to get all of the articles done on time.

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7. Go the extra mile

Meaning: Make a special effort to achieve something

Example: We go the extra mile to look after the elderly because they have contributed so much to society, and we want to thank them with our services.

8. Hang in there

Meaning: Remain persistent and determined in difficult circumstances

Example: I know you have gone through a lot of difficulties, but hang in there – things can only improve from here.

9. Hit the books

Meaning: To begin to study in a serious and determined way

Example: I have to hit the books this weekend – I have two exams next week.

It’s time to burn the midnight oil! Photo: Shutterstock

10. Hit the jackpot

Meaning: Have great or unexpected success, especially in making a lot of money quickly

Example: JK Rowling hit the jackpot with her hugely successful Harry Potter series.

11. Jump through hoops

Meaning: Go through an elaborate or complicated procedure to achieve an objective

Example: We had to jump through a lot of hoops to get funding to develop our app – nobody gives away money without making you work for it.

12. Keep one’s nose to the grindstone

Meaning: Work hard and continuously

Example: Determined to become a doctor, she kept her nose to the grindstone all through secondary school and university.

13. Kill two birds with one stone

Meaning: Achieve two aims at once

Example: Getting enough sleep kills two birds with one stone – you rest your body and help your mind remember what it has learned.

14. Make a comeback

Meaning: Achieve success after retirement or failure

Example: The fencer expressed confidence that he would make his comeback after undergoing surgery for his injury.

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15. Make the cut

Meaning: To succeed at something or meet a requirement; to be chosen out of a field of candidates or possibilities

Example: I am sorry you did not make the cut this year, but maybe you can apply again next year!

16. Move mountains

Meaning: to do something that seems impossible, particularly when love or a particular belief makes you feel determined to succeed

Example: I believe if we all work together, our passion can move mountains and create a better future.

17. Raise the bar

Meaning: To set a higher standard for other people to follow

Example: The Olympian plans to raise the bar for other athletes by setting a new world record.

Water idioms to freshen up your writing

18. Stay the course

Meaning: Pursue a difficult task to the end

Example: We’ll succeed in the end if we just stay the course.

19. Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Meaning: Determination will overcome any obstacle

Example: I know it will be difficult for us to win this game, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

20. Work your fingers to the bone

Meaning: Work very hard

Example: We lived in a tiny flat and had no money, so my mother had to work her fingers to the bone every day to feed our family.

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