How to answer the IELTS Cue card question?

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In your IELTS speaking exam, you will talk to a trained examiner and the whole conversation would be divided into three main parts:

Part 1: Introduction & General discussion
Part 2: Cue card
Part 3: Details discussion (mostly based on cue card topic)

Today we will closely discuss the 2nd part of the speaking exam i.e. Cue card. After the introduction part, the examiner would ask you to pick a cue card and talk about the topic. Following is a sample Cue Card question:

Describe an important letter that you received.

You should say:

who wrote it to you
what the letter was about
how you felt about the letter

And explain why it was important to you.

Note that a topic provided and 4 questions follow it. First three questions are specific (mostly “wh” questions) questions and the last one expects you to give details or reasons.

You will be given 1 minute to look at the cue card and to mentally prepare to talk about it. This one minute is crucial as you have to set up your mind during this time frame and then talk about it. the examiner would provide a pencil and papers to let you take some notes on the topic. You are strongly advised to take short notes and plan your answer.

Unless you think properly and take some notes in this 1 minute about your topic, you won’t be able to continue your speaking properly. You will need to talk for about 2-3 minutes.

Keep talking about the topic and cover all the question provided with the topic. Your fluency, vocabulary and speaking skills are observed and recorded. If you give to many pauses and mumble while talking, you are likely to get a poor band score. Keep in mind that, do not try to mimic any accent. Talk naturally and the tone you are comfortable at.

After you pick your cue card, look at the topic closely. If you are lucky, you will get a very familiar topic like: “Describe one of your family members”. You know your family members and all you need to do is pick one of them and then look at the 4 questions given below the topic. Think or write the answers to these questions, and start talking about the topic focusing on the questions.

On the contrary, if you are given with a topic you are not very familiar but can guess, take 20 seconds to arrange your answers. For example, if you are asked to talk about a movie that was made based on real event, you will need to do a quick brainstorm to think about a movie that you know was made based on a real event. Look at the questions below and write down keywords (short answers) of these questions.

In extreme cases, you might encounter a topic that needs you to use your imagination. For instance, if you are asked to talk about a city you want to visit in near future, you would instantly think about a city that you would like to talk about. For this, do not pick a city you know nothing about. Rather pick a city that you know about and say that this is the city you have planned to visit in the future.

Take the following cue card as an example and get ideas on how to prepare in the designated time (1 minute) for the cue card.

A speech that somebody delivered and you heard.

You should say:

  • who gave the speech
  • what the topic was
  • when you heard it

and explain why you liked/disliked the speech.

In 40 seconds take the note (preferably in written form on a paper) about the things you are going to talk about:

The assistant professor of our school scout team.

Name: Mathew Roger.
Occasion: On his farewell.
Topic: The importance of moral life + Values of life+ importance of honesty + family value + our responsibility to the mother nature and country.
When: About 3 years ago; on occasion of your farewell.
I liked it: I was touched by the topics, the way of presenting the topics, his great personality and knowledge + …

The reason it touched me: An attractive way of speaking + moral and important issues + I was young and I liked him + great tone and touchy presentation…

Taking those few notes would help you continue your speech without interruption. While talking you have enough points to talk about. If you have any confusion, do not hesitate to ask the examiner. You will not make any negative impression for asking questions.

Usually, the third part of the speaking test is the detailed discussion on the cue card topic. So you can expect some more detailed and complex question in this section after you are done with the cue card part.

Almost every cue card topic (also known as candidate task card) asks you to tell about yourself (someone you know, something you did, something you like/dislike, something from your past, something you plan to do in the future, your personal choices and so on. This is why it is a great idea to prepare to answer those questions before you take the test. You can pick a diary and write those topics and then add a few points on each topic. This will save you from tearing your hairs during the test when you cannot decide a city you have been to. Having a great IELTS score would open many doors of opportunities but for that, you need to work hard. Pick the diary and a pencil today to list down stuff about yourself and consider it a wise investment. Best of luck everyone.

8 thoughts on “How to answer the IELTS Cue card question?

  1. Do not immediately start answering the questions asked in cue card. Just try to built up the topic at first and then cover the points mentioned in the card. This will be helpful to overrun the time!

  2. It’s really a helpful site. I learned many things from it, so I hope you ill guide more. Thanks.

  3. Hello,
    My IELTS test will be on 12th January. I want to have speaking and writing clues.

  4. Well my mock test is coming nearer and I do have problem in speaking because of nervousness. I can’t recite the lines properly. I want some suggestions so that I could improve and overcome my nervousness.

    • Practice as much as possible! Try speaking to yourself in front of a mirror or you could talk with your siblings or friends to build up your confidence and when you are confident and have enough practice you will be able to speak fluently.

  5. I am very nervous. My test is on 8 March. I have problems in speaking. Please help me.

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