IELTS Cue Cards

IELTS Cue Cards: Topics And Guide On How To Frame Your Answers

It is natural to freak out a little while preparing for IELTS speaking cue cards. People may tell you to relax as it is just a speaking test. But easier said than done, right? Preparing for any English proficiency test can be quite challenging, and IELTS is no different.

The IELTS cue cards, also known as Candidate Task Cards, are the second part of the speaking test module that aims to test candidates on a host of skills, including the ability to think on one’s feet. In this part of the speaking test, you’ll be given precisely 1 minute to prepare on a particular topic, referred to as IELTS speaking cue cards. You’ll be given a pencil and paper to make notes. You will then be asked to talk on the topic continuously for 2 minutes until the examiner asks you to stop.

The examiner will then ask a question or two at the end that would be related to the topic that you just spoke on. The entire test lasts for 3 to 4 minutes, including the 1 minute given for preparation. To give you an idea, here is how a cue card looks like:

Describe a person that you think is very interesting. You should say:
  • Who this person is
  • How you met them
  • What they like to talk about
Explain why this person is very interesting.

The first sentence states the topic that you need to talk about. In this case “a person that you think is very interesting” is your topic. The bulleted points define the areas that you need to cover in your talk. However, it is not mandatory to stick to these points only. You can also use your personal experiences to continue to talk till the given time limit. The IELTS speaking cue cards test your ability to speak at length using good vocabulary, grammatical structures, fluency, and correct pronunciation.

To achieve an 8+ band score, you must speak fluently. However, at all times, your talk should stay relevant to the topic. You can also use idiomatic language along with good vocabulary. The examiners will also assess you on your intonation, connected discourse, and pace of speech.

Guidelines to Structure Your Speaking for IELTS Cue Cards

While appearing for the IELTS speaking part 2 cue cards, a couple of techniques can be adopted to demonstrate your speaking abilities. In addition to breathing right, wearing a smile, and showing confident body language, a crucial key to success is organising your thoughts correctly. Since you get a very short period to communicate your thoughts and ideas, you need to make the most of the time given to you to prepare your talk.

Mentioned below are few guidelines that you can follow to organise your talk for the IELTS speaking cue cards:

Decide Quickly

Sometimes you may end up with IELTS cue cards that will have topics difficult to talk about. In such cases, don’t think too hard, but go with the first thought and invent the details if needed. For e.g., if you need to speak about a person you admire most, don’t try to think for an honest answer. Just choose someone that first comes to your mind, else imagine such a person.

The examiner is more interested in assessing your language than judge you on the person you choose. What we want to say here is that decide your subject in the first few seconds and spend the rest of the minute working on your notes.

Make notes in your prep time

You are given a pencil and paper and a 1-minute prep time for a reason, i.e., to think about what you are going to say. So make the most of this time. Carefully read the topic and the cues. Now, do not try to write your answer word-by-word, you will only end up wasting time. Instead, write down 2 or 3 keywords against each cue so that it is easier for you to build upon those points by creating details.

This will be the opportunity to think about the content you will present. Therefore, remember that your choice of keywords will ensure a higher band score.

For. e.g., if we take the above-given topic “Describe a person that you think is very interesting”, do not write words like nice or fun. While there is nothing wrong with these words, they will not show your range of vocabulary. Whereas, words like charismatic, witty, or inspirational will impress the examiner as they are more complex.

Answer the 5W’s and 1H

The IELTS speaking cue cards try to ask the 5 W’s and 1 H, i.e. what, where, who, when, why, and how. Candidates usually try to quickly answer the what, when, who, or where, and after 30 seconds into their talk, they are left with nothing to say. Instead of simply trying to answer these questions, you must try to add details using phrases and ideas.

So, if we look at the above example, after answering the second cue on “how you met the person”, you can go on to speak on how many years back you met him. Something like “‘I’m not completely sure where we met, it could have been on the basketball court… yes that’s right, it was around 6 years ago when we were both playing basketball for the school team…”. So your keywords for this sentence could include phrases like “not completely sure”, “it could have been”, and “we were playing basketball.”

The how/why questions are more difficult to answer as they need more explanation. However, these questions also give you more opportunity to speak. So you need to invest more time thinking about these questions if you want to achieve a high band score. We will also discuss this later through sample cue card topics with answers.

Memorise a good opener

Before you begin your prep work for the cue card topics with answers, it is better to have a good opening statement in mind. Since starting your talk in such a high-tension environment can feel difficult, we would advise you to memorize a good opener. This is another point that will impress your examiner.

Instead of simply starting off as “I would like to talk about…”

A good example could be:

“Well, there are many interesting people I could talk about, but, I suppose the most interesting person that I have met would be……”

Paraphrase the topic

Another excellent way of showcasing your language proficiency is by paraphrasing the IELTS speaking cue card topics. What we mean is avoid using the exact words from the card as you begin to talk, instead, explain it in your own words.

For example, instead of saying “I am going to describe a beautiful place in India”, you can say

“I am going to talk about a spectacular snow-clad destination, which people in India consider as paradise on Earth.”

This way the examiner gets an idea of the range of your vocabulary and grammar which make up for 50% of your score.

Use linking/connecting words

Using words like firstly, secondly, so, therefore, because, next, finally, etc. help the examiner to understand that you are making different points, giving a reason, addressing a notion, or concluding your thought. Using such words work well in giving a structure to your talk and allows the listener to follow your ideas. So make sure to include a few in your talk.

Don’t Speak, Tell!

The IELTS speaking test begins with a normal conversation between the candidate and the examiner. And you must try to maintain the same comfort in the IELTS speaking part 2 cue cards as well. Most of the candidates tend to get nervous and go into a monologue rather than talking to the examiner. Now we are not telling you to ask for prompts from the examiner, but to imagine yourself speaking to a friend and frame your talk accordingly. The use of facial expressions, friendly body language, and hand gestures will also play a role here. Speak with the intent of telling something to the examiner and wanting them to understand.

Maintain fluency but don’t rush

Fluency does not mean you have to speak fast. It is about taking time to think and then speaking clearly. Not only will it help you to achieve a better band score but you will also be able to speak for more than 2 minutes. However, also avoid going too slow or it will bring down your score on fluency and coherence.

Correct Your Mistakes

It is human to make mistakes no matter how prepared you are with your IELTS speaking cue cards. When such a situation arises, pause for a second, correct your mistake by speaking the same sentence again, and then continue to the next point. Doing so will show the examiner that you recognise your mistake and know your grammar and vocabulary.

Keep talking

Try to keep talking without worrying about the time. Even if you have nothing concrete left to say, try to plugging in a personal story to keep the momentum. Remember it is better to speak something on the IELTS cue cards than to speak nothing at all.

Sample IELTS Speaking Cue Card Topics with Answers

A good way to practice is to go through previous cue card topics with answers. This will give you an idea of the language that will ensure a higher band score in the IELTS speaking cue cards.

Sample Topic

  • You did some volunteer work in the past. Describe it
  • what type of volunteer work was it?
  • where it was
  • why did you volunteer for it?
  • explain how you felt about it

Model Answer:

Well, there are many volunteering works that I have been involved in and all of them have been very gratifying experiences. But today I would like to talk about one of the best experiences of my life. Indeed, this is a great topic, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about it.

So, the volunteer work I want to talk about today was at an animal shelter that works extensively to provide medical help to the injured strays and to take care of the old and abandoned pets.

Before that, I was actively involved in other volunteering tasks such as collecting excess food from restaurants and distributing it to the needy and going to the local old age home to spend time with the elder. Honestly, I knew nothing about how the NGOs are working to help the speechless, until that point.

It happened during my one-month stay at a cousin’s home in New Delhi. I was taking a stroll nearby and came across a flyover. From far away, I could hear several dogs barking loudly from under the bridge. Feeling inquisitive, I decided to go closer and explore. On reaching the place, I saw a dog clinic with a signboard that read “Friendicoes clinic cum animal shelter.”

Watching the volunteers treating ailing dogs and cats with so much love and care, struck an emotional chord with me. At that very moment, I decided to take up volunteer work at the animal shelter.

Firstly, because I am an ardent animal lover, and secondly, because I wanted to do something productive during my one-month stay in Delhi. I took the blind dogs for walks in the park, fed the orphaned kitten, and pacified the terrified animals who were in the clinic getting IVs.

The whole experience was very fulfilling, mainly because I was able to provide love and care to the animals rejected by society as strays and the old ones left on the streets to fend for themselves. Besides, it also gave me an opportunity to understand how the NGOs operate and what are the animal laws of the country. Lastly, I just want to say that I am glad I took a walk on that road, else I would have never discovered this amazing place.

IELTS Speaking Cue Card Topics

The IELTS speaking cue card topics could be related to almost anything, and it is difficult to mention all of them here. However, to begin your preparations, these topics can broadly be classified under the following categories:

  • People
  • Life events
  • Places
  • Hobbies
  • Activities
  • Habits
  • Goals and ambitions
  • Things

You can begin by focusing on each one of these at a time and then diversify to improve your skills for IELTS speaking part 2 cue cards.

More Tips for IELTS Speaking Cue Cards

  • Practice speaking with a stopwatch for at least 3 to 4 minutes at length. This will get you in the habit of speaking continuously, making it easier to talk for the 2-minute duration.
  • While it is ok to think before you speak, avoid pausing too much, or you will end up using a lot of filler words, phrases or sound which will lead to a reduction in your score.
  • You can expand your talk to include points that have not been asked in the cues. However, try to keep them relevant to the topic.
  • Try to exude confidence even if you feel nervous. Slouching, nervous leg shake, slumping, etc., are signs of low confidence. Even though everyone gets anxious being in that place, but you must try to train yourself to overcome those nerves.
  • Take deep breaths to calm yourself down. Center yourself, clear your mind, and start talking.
  • Make sure that you understand the topic very well. Some students tend to jump the gun and end up speaking something totally irrelevant.
  • Keep the flow of keywords in your mind so that you can maintain fluency. Also, write the keywords clearly so that they get imprinted in your mind.
  • It may happen that the examiner will be looking at your paper while you are making notes. Do not get intimidated and focus on the task at hand.
  • Remember that the cue cards have familiar topics that you can relate to in some or another way. So try to use ideas from your personal experiences so that you feel comfortable and confident while speaking on it.