Idiom Practice for the CAT

Idiom Practice CAT

English idioms can be so fun and playful… but not on CAT Verbal. Here, idioms are serious business. So idiom practice for the CAT needs to be strategic.

Allow me to explain what I mean by “serious business.” On the CAT, you won’t see the kinds of funny, colorful idioms you might see in English learning classes. You won’t hear that it’s “Raining cats and dogs,” or that someone is “making a mountain out a molehill.” Instead, you’ll see highly formal academic vocabulary, used in poetic ways. The idioms in CAT Verbal are not likely to be heard in casual conversation. Instead, these are the kinds of tricky idioms you might see in an acadmeic journal article.

This is where strategy comes in. “Strategy?” you may ask? “Do you mean this is like a chess game?” In answer to your hypothetical question: yes. Understanding CAT idioms is like a strategic game. (Or a strategic war, if you take your studies very seriously!)

So let’s talk about the rules of the “decoding CAT idioms” game.

CAT Idiom Practice: Your Strategy Playbook

Idioms in CAT Verbal readings are a bit like Pokemon. You’ll encounter a lot of them, and ideally, you gotta catch them all. (Or at least, catch the meaning of as many idioms as possible.)

Your Guiding Strategy: Capture Idioms With Context

The first rule for good CAT idiom practice? Use context to “catch” your idioms. Every idiom in a passage will already be “trapped” within the context of the whole passage. Recognize clues in the context and you’ll catch the meaning of your idiom.

Let me give you an example. Below, I’ve reproduced a few lines from the most recent official CAT mock test online. The idiom is highlighted in bold. You may already know the meaning of the idiom, or you may not. Either way, try to find clues that point to the idiom’s meaning:

  • More often than not, such agents of resource-intensification are given preferential treatment by the state, through the grant of generous long leases over mineral or fish stocks, for example, or the provision of raw material at an enormously subsidized price. With the injustice so compounded, local communities at the receiving end of this process have no recourse except direct action, resisting both the state and outside exploiters through a variety of protest techniques.

So what does it mean to “be at the receiving end of” something? With the right strategies, the answer is right around the corner… or rather, right between two pieces of context. The passage talks about a community of people that are “on the receiving end” of a “process.” What process? Well, it’s a process that makes the communities want to resist and protest the government (“the state”) and others who are harming the community (“outside exploiters”). That’s the context that appears after the idiom. Next, let’s look at the context before the idiom.

Before the idiom, we see that certain “agents” are treated especially well by the government, and are allowed to use natural resources at a very low price. This sounds like a legal process, right? And this process hurts local communities, based on the context you saw after the idiom. This must be the process that local communities are “on the receiving end of.” So “to be on the receiving end of” must mean “to be affected by.” Idiom captured!

Applying This Strategy in Further Reading Practice

Idioms are an important part of CAT Verbal. And the Rachel’s first tip for CAT Verbal also applies here: read, read, read!

But don’t just read anything. Read highly academic CAT-like passages from websites such as Art & Letters Daily and The Atlantic. It’s also useful to read opinion pieces on news websites such as Time, CNN, or Al-Jazeera English. And movie reviews from sites such as Entertainment Weekly also have surprisingly advanced CAT-like vocabulary. And remember, idiom practice is a form of vocabulary practice. So you’ll want to read the same kinds of articles that help you build general CAT vocabulary. In fact, you can find links to additional recommended reading in our article on how to learn tricky CAT vocabulary.

As you do all of this reading, take the time to really look at idioms you don’t understand. Check the context and get a good guess at the idiom’s meaning. As you do this, your speed and skill will improve, until you’re ready for the final level of the CAT-idiom game: the test itself.

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