30 School Idioms: Educational Expressions You Should Enroll

In our day-to-day conversations, we often sprinkle our language with colorful expressions that stem from the realm of academics and learning. School idioms, as we call them, are not just a playful embellishment but serve as a shorthand for complex ideas or situations. These expressions draw from the shared experiences we have in educational settings, from the nervousness of ‘acing a test’ to the camaraderie of ‘putting our thinking caps on.’

What are School Idioms?

Idioms are a colorful part of the English language, often providing a spice to our conversations that would otherwise be missing. When we talk about school idioms, we’re referring to those specific phrases that have a special meaning within the context of education and learning. These idioms are not meant to be taken literally but instead express concepts in a figurative, more imaginative way.

  • Study or work late: “Burn the midnight oil”
  • Think seriously: “Put/get your thinking cap on”

30 School Idioms: Educational Expressions You Should Enroll in Your Vocabulary

List of School Idioms

Hit the books The school of hard knocks
Burn the midnight oil Teach someone a lesson
Pass with flying colors A for effort
Book smart Brain drain
Class clown Copycat
Learn the ropes Make the grade
Old school Play hooky
Read between the lines School’s out
Teacher’s pet Think outside the box
Top of the class Back to the drawing board
Cut class Get schooled
Hit the nail on the head In a class of one’s own
Learn by heart Not making the cut
On the honor roll Pull an all-nighter

School Idioms with Meaning, Usage, and Example

Hit the books

  • Meaning: To study hard or begin studying with great focus and intensity.
  • Usage in context: Typically used when students need to concentrate on their studies, often before an important exam.
  • Example: With her medical school entrance exam next month, she’s been hitting the books.

Burn the midnight oil

  • Meaning: To work late into the night or early morning hours; to study or work very late.
  • Usage in context: Often used to describe someone working hard, especially studying late at night.
  • Example: He had to burn the midnight oil to finish the report by the deadline.

Pass with flying colors

  • Meaning: To succeed at something easily and with a high score or an excellent result.
  • Usage in context: Commonly used for exams, tests, or challenging situations.
  • Example: She passed the bar exam with flying colors and was immediately offered a position at a prestigious law firm.

The school of hard knocks

  • Meaning: The experience gained from life’s difficulties and challenges, rather than through formal education.
  • Usage in context: Refers to practical knowledge and life lessons learned through difficult experiences.
  • Example: He didn’t go to college, but he’s learned a lot from the school of hard knocks.

Teach someone a lesson

  • Meaning: To punish or reprimand someone to correct their behavior.
  • Usage in context: Used when someone needs to be shown the consequences of their actions to prevent future misbehavior.
  • Example: The judge decided to teach the reckless driver a lesson by suspending his license.

A for effort

  • Meaning: Recognition for having tried hard to accomplish something, even if the result wasn’t successful.
  • Usage in context: It’s a way of praising someone’s attempt or determination.
  • Example: She didn’t win the competition, but she gets an A for effort for her dedication and practice.

Book smart

  • Meaning: Having knowledge obtained from books and formal education, rather than practical experience.
  • Usage in context: Often contrasted with “street smart” or practical knowledge.
  • Example: He’s very book smart, but sometimes he lacks common sense.

Brain drain

  • Meaning: The emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from a particular country or organization.
  • Usage in context: Often used to describe the loss of skilled intellectual and technical labor through the movement of such workers to a more favorable geographic, economic, or professional environment.

Example: The country is facing a serious brain drain as many of its best scientists move abroad for better opportunities.

Class clown

  • Meaning: A student who frequently acts up with humorous antics and is considered the funny one in the classroom.
  • Usage in context: Typically used to describe a student who seeks attention by making others laugh, sometimes to the detriment of discipline in the class.
  • Example: Mike was the class clown, always cracking jokes and pulling pranks to make his classmates laugh.


  • Meaning: Someone who copies another person’s work, style, behavior, or actions, often in a way that is not approved.
  • Usage in context: Usually used in a disapproving manner to describe someone who lacks originality.
  • Example: As soon as her fashion designs hit the market, a bunch of copycats started selling similar styles.

Learn the ropes

  • Meaning: To learn the basics or the details of how something is done; to become familiar with the procedures or rules of a particular task or environment.
  • Usage in context: Typically used when someone is new to a job or activity and is in the process of learning how to do it properly.
  • Example: It’ll take a few weeks for the new intern to learn the ropes, but she seems very capable.

Make the grade

  • Meaning: To achieve the required standard or to succeed.
  • Usage in context: Often used in academic or professional contexts to describe meeting the necessary criteria for success.
  • Example: With all his hard work and study, I’m confident he’ll make the grade and pass the final exam with flying colors.

Old school

  • Meaning: Adhering to traditional policies or practices; characteristic of an earlier era.
  • Usage in context: Often used to describe methods, styles, or values that are from an earlier time but still respected.
  • Example: He’s old school when it comes to business—believing a handshake is as good as a contract.

Play hooky

  • Meaning: To skip school, work, or another obligation without a valid reason, usually to do something more enjoyable.
  • Usage in context: Commonly used to describe the act of being absent without permission.
  • Example: The kids decided to play hooky and went to the amusement park instead of attending classes.

Read between the lines

  • Meaning: To understand the implicit or hidden meaning behind the explicit words or actions.
  • Usage in context: Often used to suggest that there’s a deeper or unspoken meaning that requires careful interpretation.
  • Example: The official statement was positive, but reading between the lines, it seems like some underlying issues haven’t been addressed.

School’s out

  • Meaning: Literally, it means the school day or term has ended, but it can also refer to the end of any period of work or responsibility.
  • Usage in context: This can be used to signify the start of a break, vacation, or the end of one’s educational career.
  • Example: School’s out for summer, and the students are excited for the holidays.

Teacher’s pet

  • Meaning: A student who is particularly favored by the teacher, is often viewed as receiving preferential treatment.
  • Usage in context: Sometimes used negatively to describe a student who is seen as seeking the teacher’s approval to an excessive degree.
  • Example: She always had her homework done and participated in class; some of her classmates called her the teacher’s pet.

Think outside the box

  • Meaning: To think creatively and differently, not limited by conventional or traditional ideas.
  • Usage in context: Encourages innovative thinking or approaching problems in new, inventive ways.
  • Example: We need some fresh ideas for this campaign, so try to think outside the box.

Top of the class

  • Meaning: The student with the highest grades in the class; the most academically successful member of a class.
  • Usage in context: Used to recognize academic excellence and superior performance in an educational setting.
  • Example: She consistently received the highest scores on her exams, which made her top of the class this semester.

Back to the drawing board

  • Meaning: To start over from the beginning after a failed attempt or when a plan does not work.
  • Usage in context: It’s used when someone needs to rethink a strategy or come up with a new approach to a problem.
  • Example: The product launch wasn’t successful, so it’s back to the drawing board for the development team.

Cut class

  • Meaning: To intentionally miss a class without a valid excuse.
  • Usage in context: Often used to describe the act of skipping school or a particular class without permission.
  • Example: Some students decided to cut class and go to the beach instead.

Get schooled

  • Meaning: To be taught a lesson, often in a humiliating way; to be defeated or outdone, usually in an educational manner.
  • Usage in context: Can be used in sports, games, debates, or any situation where someone is shown to be significantly less skilled or knowledgeable.
  • Example: He thought he was the best chess player in the club, but he got schooled by a newcomer.

Hit the nail on the head

  • Meaning: To describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem; to be exactly right about something.
  • Usage in context: Often used when someone has made a statement that perfectly describes the essence or truth of an issue.
  • Example: When she said the project failed because of poor planning, she hit the nail on the head.

In a class of one’s own

  • Meaning: To be unique or outstanding in some way; to be incomparable.
  • Usage in context: Used to describe someone or something so exceptional that it stands out from the rest.
  • Example: With her incredible voice and stage presence, she’s truly in a class of her own.

Learn by heart

  • Meaning: To memorize something completely; to know something so well that it can be written or recited without thinking.
  • Usage in context: Often used in the context of studying where rote memorization is required.
  • Example: He learned the poem by heart for the recitation competition.

Not making the cut

  • Meaning: To fail to be selected or included in a team or group; to not meet the required standard.
  • Usage in context: Often used in the context of auditions, sports teams, or any selection process where standards must be met.
  • Example: Despite her efforts, she did not cut the varsity soccer team.

On the honor roll

  • Meaning: A list of students recognized for achieving high grades or high marks in their coursework.
  • Usage in context: Typically used in educational settings to acknowledge students who have excelled academically.
  • Example: He worked hard all semester and was thrilled to find his name on the honor roll.

Pull an all-nighter

  • Meaning: To stay awake all night to study, work, or complete a task.
  • Usage in context: Common among students and professionals who need to meet a deadline or prepare for an exam.
  • Example: She had to pull an all-nighter to finish her thesis chapter on time.

School Idioms in Different Contexts

When we talk about school idioms, we’re referring to expressions that have evolved from the educational setting but are used in various aspects of daily life. Let’s explore how some common school idioms fit into different contexts.

In the Workplace

  • Teacher’s pet” is an idiom we might use to describe a colleague who is particularly favored by a supervisor, much like a student might be by a teacher.
  • The ball is in your court” is often used to signify that it’s someone else’s turn to take action or make a decision, similar to how one might be expected to answer a question in class.

In Social Situations

  • Learn the ropes” fits well when someone is new to a group or activity, and needs to understand the social norms or activities, just as a student learns new processes at school.
  • Copycat” might be used playfully among friends to point out someone imitating someone else, akin to a student copying another’s homework.

In Personal Growth

  • We often hear “Old school” to describe traditional methods or thinking, suggesting the way things were taught in the past.
  • A for effort” is a term we use to acknowledge someone’s hard work, even if the outcome isn’t perfect like a teacher commending a student’s attempt.

In Sports

  • Hit the books” is an idiom borrowed from school that we use when someone needs to study or learn about something intensely, akin to a student cramming for an exam.
  • Learn the ropes” is commonly used to describe the process of learning the basics of any new activity or job, just as one would learn the basics in a school subject.

In Relationships

  • Class clown” is an idiom that can be used to describe a person who is always seeking attention and making jokes, much like the funny student in school who always tries to make their classmates laugh.
  • Old school” refers to someone or something traditional or conservative in style or manner, similar to how one might refer to traditional methods of teaching or learning.

In Finance

  • Pass with flying colors” is an idiom used to describe something done with exceptional results, just like taking a test in school.
  • Book smart” is a term used to describe someone who has a lot of knowledge from studying rather than practical experience, similar to a student who excels academically but may not have real-world skills.

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