Unit 1: Understanding Speaking Test
Unit 3: Focus on Fluency & Coherence
Unit 3: Focus on Pronunciation
Unit 6: Focus on Lexical Resource
Unit 5: Focus on Grammatical Range & Accuracy

Part 2 Speaking Question

As soon as part 1 is done, part 2 of the speaking module begins. In IELTS Speaking Part 2, you will receive a “topic card(CUE CARD)” that contains a detailed, multi-part question. The topic card will have 3 or 4 bullet points to guide your talk. The topic will vary, but the format is always the same.

Describe a time when you gave someone a piece of advice.

You should say:
      to whom you gave the advice
      what the advice was
      whether that person took your advice
and explain why you gave the person that advice.
Sample part 2 question.
Parts of Cue CardContent by Parts
Part 1 →

Part 2 →

Part 3 →
Describe a time when you gave someone advice.

You should say:
      to whom you gave the advice
      what the advice was
      whether that person took your advice

and explain why you gave the person that advice.
Parts of speaking part 2

You are given a minute time to prepare your answer with pen and paper in case you want to take some notes or points. The examiner will stop you speaking after 2 minutes. You give that pen and paper back after you have finished your Part 2 talk. 

Findings of Part 2

In Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking Test you are given,

  • topic card
  • a pen and paper to make notes
  • 1 minute to prepare your talk
  • about 2 mins of your talk

Part 2 is often known as the ‘Long Turn’. This is a really important part of the Speaking Test. Why?

  1. This is the first chance for the examiner to sit back and really focus on how good your English is.
  2. It is your chance to really show off what you can do, without interruptions, for 2 minutes.
  3. By the end of Part 2, I expect the examiner will have a very good idea of your band – make sure it is a good one!

IELTS Speaking Part 2 – Advice

  • Your answer should be related to the topic. For example, for the above question, you should not talk about a meal which you enjoyed eating at a restaurant. You should speak about a market which you had pleasure visiting.
  • It is not necessary to cover all the bullet points. You can still get a band nine if you don’t cover all of them. Just make sure to stay on the topic. However, you will have more topic to talk to if you consider all points.
  • It is ok if the examiner stops you. It means you have talked for about two minutes. We recommend that you try to speak until the examiner stops you.
  • It is ok to make small grammatical mistakes. Even people who make a few mistakes can still get a band 9.

Answering Questions – Technique

We will show you an effective technique to do well in the IELTS Speaking Part 2. Taking some right notes in the given one minute is essential. It could help you to achieve a high score.

Let’s take a look at the same sample again, and provide you with a reliable method to answer the question.

  1. Although it is not necessary to cover all the bullet points, we recommend that you do so. It will help you to talk for two minutes.
  2. When taking notes, add more points about which you can talk. This could help you to have more points to talk so that you can speak for two minutes. For example, in this case, you can add some more points like:
    • With whom do you go there
    • How much time do you usually spend there
    • How much money do you spend there
    • What do you usually buy from there
    • When you are planning to visit the market again
  3. These bullet points could help you to keep speaking for two minutes. So, use the given and your noted bullet points.
  4. Start your speech with: “Today, I’m going to speak about” and tell about which you are going to talk. In this case, it would be: “Today, I’m going to speak about a market which I love visiting. The market is called Apple Market, and it’s located in London.” Then continue with the bullet points.
  5. Talk until the examiner stops you so that you can make sure that you have spoken enough.

How to Study? 

  1. Don’t only practice tests, but also try to improve your vocabulary and grammar. Each of them counts for 25% of the total score for the speaking task.
  2. Use the technique and do some practice tests. When doing the practice tests record and transcribe yourself. It is a great way to understand your mistakes and improve them.
  3. After each practice test, read your transcriptions and try to improve what you think you did badly.
  4. You need to get regular feedback to understand if you are improving your score. So, you need to do speaking sessions with someone who has a good understanding of the IELTS exam. He or she should give feedback on what you do correct, and what you do wrong so that you can work in particular areas.

Types of speaking cue cards

1. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe an EVENT IN THE PAST

Describe a time when the internet helped you to solve a problem

This is probably the most common type of cue card and one that you definitely have to be prepared for. The main problem for students here is using past tenses throughout the response. Even high-level students can drift from the past to the present if they are not careful (which is why I have never understood why people try to use the PPF method – I would advise any student to avoid talking about the past unless they have to!)

A clock sits inside an arrow to signify the past

I strongly recommend that when you practice this type of card, you record yourself and check your tenses. Are you always using past tenses to discuss the past, or do you forget and start using present tenses? Take particular care of simple verbs like “have” and “be” – these tend to be the ones that slip back into the present without students realising!

Top Tips for Past Cue Cards:

  1. Make sure you are always using past tenses to describe the past.
  2. Remember to give context at the start of your story – remember the examiner does not know you, so you might have to give extra details to make your narrative flow.
  3. Add details to your story to make it flow naturally and to fill the time – remember, you do not need to cover all of the bullets in your response, so just focus on the story you are telling.

2. IELTS Cue cards that ask you to describe a PERSON

Describe an interesting old person that you have met

Let’s imagine that you are in a cafe and a friend asks you to describe your Mum (or Dad or sister or any close family member). What would you automatically do? Well, I imagine that after you have told them their age and what they do, you might start to list adjectives to describe them: “They are funny / beautiful / kind / friendly / etc.”

A man with no face signifies an IELTS cue card about people

Adjectives are pretty much what everybody uses when they are asked to describe a person, and they are a GREAT thing to use in the speaking exam. The only problem is that you would need to list A LOT of adjectives to speak for two minutes! That’s why I recommend that every time you give an adjective to describe a person, you give a real life example to extend your answer. For example, rather than saying “My grandfather’s friend Kenny is really generous” (which will take you 10 seconds), you can say “My grandfather’s friend Kenny is generous. I remember once we were sitting in his home talking about cooking, and when I mentioned that I really loved making cakes, he gave me a recipe book for fat-free cakes. Another time ….” (which will take at least 20 seconds).

Top Tips for People Cue Cards: 

  1. Don’t rely only on adjectives.
  2. Give examples / anecdotes that will help you describe the person in detail.

3. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe a HABIT

Describe something that you do that helps you to relax

Habits are things that you usually do and, therefore, cue cards that ask about your habits will require you to answer using mostly the present simple. Although the present simple is often the first tense that we learn, I have noticed that my students in Pakistan / India have problems with this tense as they often use the present continuous instead. For example, rather than saying “I go for walks to relax” they will say “I am going for walks to relax“. If you recognise this problem, be careful! Try to stick to the present simple when you talk about things that are ALWAY true.

A woman sitting in a yoga position signifies an IELTS cue card about habits

Also, it can be hard to talk about one habit for two minutes. I mean, let’s imagine that what you do to relax is walk. Can you really talk about walking for two minutes? I mean, you can talk about where you walk and why you walk, but this is unlikely to last for more than 60 seconds. So, how can you extend your speech when you talk about habits?

Well, I would encourage you to tell the story of how you STARTED the habit, and also maybe a SPECIFIC EXAMPLE of your doing it  (i.e. a time you went on a really memorable walk). Obviously for specific examples, you will switch to the past tenses, so again be careful to make sure that you stay in the past! Finally, don’t be afraid of talking about TWO habits if you run out of things to say about the first!! This is always the best and easiest way to extend. All you have to say is “Another thing I do to relax is …” and then add a totally new habit.

Top Tips for Habit Cue Cards:

  1. Use the present simple to describe the habit itself.
  2. Tell the history of your habit or a specific example in the past to extend your speech.
  3. Describe two habits if you run out of ideas for the first.

4. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe an OBJECT

Describe a popular product which is made in the region you come from

The main problems that students face when describing an object is lexis – not many students have enough vocabulary to be able to describe their favourite shoes or a laptop for more than 30 seconds.

To resolve this issue, you either have to broaden your vocabulary (which is always a good idea) or learn how to talk about the personal meaning an item has for you, (which can be much easier than giving a physical description). For this example, I would focus on why the product is popular rather than an actual description of the product (which is hard!). Also, making comparisons can be a great way of making a simple description of a complicated product. For example, it is much easier to say “So, I’m going to describe a balalaika, which is a type of musical instrument a bit like a guitar” than it is to say “So, I’m going to describe a balalaika, which is a three-stringed musical instrument that has a triangular body and a fretted neck”!

An image of a mobile phone signifies an IELTS cue card about objects

Top Tips for Object Cue Cards

  1. Make sure you have the vocabulary to describe object cue card topics such as (i.e. screen, buttons, apps, crack, etc).
  2. It is often easier to make a comparison than to describe an unknown object (It is like a/an X).

5. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe a PLACE

Describe a place you remember going to that was full of colour

I think that cue cards that ask you to describe places are similar to those that ask you to describe objects – they are testing your VOCABULARY. You are going to struggle describing a building if you don’t know basic
words like ceiling, roof, wall, carpet, etc. In the same way, describing towns without knowing phrases like city centre, in the suburbs, on the coast, or close to the mountains is also going to be difficult. There are no real shortcuts here. I would recommend that you get hold of a good IELTS vocabulary book and really make sure that you have some good phrases to describe your local area.

Top Tips for Place Cue Cards

  1. I only have one – make sure that you have enough lexis to describe towns / cities / buildings (sorry!).

6. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe a HYPOTHETICAL DESIRE

Describe an outdoor sport you would like to try

These types of cue cards can confuse weaker students. This question is NOT asking what you LIKE doing (i.e. something you already do) but what you WOULD LIKE TO DO (i.e. something you dream about doing in the future). So, if you had the cue card in the example, you would need to describe an outdoor sport that you have NEVER TRIED but would like to one day.

The outline of a head with a dream cloud signifies an IELTS cue card about hypothetical situations

In other words, this type of card is testing to see if you can talk hypothetically, which can be hard. I have found that students often struggle to fill the two minutes when they are given a hypothetical card because they are talking about an experience they have NOT had yet (which is much harder than talking about a true memory). To help you extend your talk, I would roughly follow a plan like this:

  • React to the question i.e. have you thought about this before? Why not?
  • Reason – i.e. why have you chosen the thing you will discuss?
  • Evaluate i.e. how realistic is it that you will actually do this thing one day?

Top Tips for Hypothetical Cue Cards

  1. Recognise that the card is asking you to describe an experience you have never had!
  2. Extend your speech using the three steps above.
  3. Talk about TWO ideas if you need to fill more time (i.e. a second sport that you would like to try).

7. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe a FAVOURITE THING

Describe a book that you enjoyed reading

A red heart filled with smaller icons sits on a yellow background. The images inside the heart represent the common topic that students are asked to discuss in IELTS speaking Part 2. In particular, questions that start with the expression "Describe your favourite".

I have written a whole blog post about the difficulty of describing your favourite things (and what to do to make it easier) so I recommend you go there to read about this in more detail! However, in short, the main problem is coming up with your favourite book or film on the spot. Also, this is the only card where telling the truth is not always the best idea. The plots of some films are much easier to describe than others! For example, I love the film Fight Club, but I don’t think that I could summarise the plot easily in two minutes. On the other hand, I absolutely hate the film Titanic, but it is pretty easy to summarise (as long as you know the word iceberg!). My point is that you should think not just about the truth, but what you can actually describe!

Top Tips for Favourite Cue Cards

  1. Think about and practice these cards before the exam (read my blog post for more details) to make sure that you are able to describe your “favourites”.
  2. Again, don’t be afraid to describe more than one favourite if you need to speak for longer.

8. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe a CULTURAL EVENT / ITEM

Describe a food that is eaten at a special time in your country

As a examiner, I love these questions as it gives me a chance to sit back and find out something interesting about the culture of the student I am testing. However, I have noticed that students often struggle when describing their own culture because they need to use words that don’t have an English translation (or they do, but the student has no idea what that translation is!).

An image of a Thai temple signifies an IELTS cue card about culture

My advice here would be “Don’t try to translate”! In Russia (where I am currently teaching), many people have a house in the country called a “dacha”. There is literally no translation for this word, so trying to find one is a waste of time. Instead of pausing to search for a translation (which will affect your score for Fluency and Coherence), just tell the examiner the word in your local language. For example, “Every weekend I go to stay in my friend’s house in the country. I don’t know what the word is in English, but we call it a “dacha“. This is 100% fine and much more natural than trying to give me a translation!

Also, even if the examiner is from your country, it is totally fine to explain the local tradition to them as if they have never heard of it before (even though that might seem strange!).

Top Tips for Favourite Cue Cards

  1. Don’t worry about using words from your native language to describe cultural items if you don’t know the translation – just explain clearly what it is!
  2. Even if your examiner is from your country, pretend that they have never heard of the event / item so that you can describe it fully.

9. IELTS Cue Cards that ask you to describe something CRAZY

Describe something useful you learned in a maths lessons at primary school

The image of a cat's face with its tongue out signifies an IELTS cue card about crazy topics

In every exam pack, there are one or two questions that I call the “crazy questions”. These are questions that don’t fall into any of the above categories and are totally unpredictable! If you get one of these questions, my advice is to take a deep breath, and answer the question as best you can.

First of all, the examiner will be aware that the topic is strange, so will be impressed with anything you give as an answer! Also, it is totally fine to start your two minutes by explaining why you find this particular topic strange / difficult! For example, here you could definitely start by saying “Well, I am forty-three years old, so it is a bit of a struggle remembering anything that I learned at primary school. I also hate maths, so it is probably the worst subject you could have asked me about. However, what I do remember is …”  This would not only sound natural, but it would also take about 20 seconds of the time!!!

Top Tips for Crazy Cue Cards

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Start your two minutes by explaining why you think the topic is difficult.
  3. Do your best to address the card as fully as you can – the examiner knows that it is a hard question, so just do your best!

Tips for IELTS Speaking Part 2

Now you know all the basic information about IELTS Speaking part 2. Now it’s time for some tips.

1. Make notes before you talk

The examiner will give you one minute to prepare your talk. You should write down some notes. Write down a list of words related to what you want to say, or draw a mind map. If you have to think about what to say when you’re talking, you will not be able to think about your language, so you are more likely to make grammatical mistakes. It’s also very common for candidates to panic when they are talking, and forget what to say; if you have notes, you won’t forget what to say if you panic.

MOST candidates don’t do this well. They write just 2 or 3 things on the paper, and they spend most of the preparation time thinking about what to say. The problem with this approach is that as soon as they start speaking, they forget what to say! SO MAKE DETAILED NOTES! Practise making notes as part of your preparation for the speaking test.

2. Memorise a good opener

Starting your talk is difficult, so memorise an opening phrase.

Here are some good examples:

  • “I’d like to talk about…”
  • “Well, there are many _________ I could talk about, but I suppose the __________ I’ve experienced/had is/was….”

(The second example will help you get a better score than the others because the language is more advanced, but use the first example if the second sentence is too difficult to remember.)

For example, if your topic is “describe your favourite teacher”, you could say:

  • “I’d like to talk about my favourite teacher.”
  • “Well, there are many good teachers who I could talk about, but I suppose the favourite teacher I’ve had was…”

If your topic is “describe a beautiful place to visit in your country”, you could say

  • “I’d like to talk about a beautiful place in my country.”
  • “Well, there are many beautiful places which I could talk about, but I suppose the most beautiful place I’ve been to is….”

A good opener will impress the examiner, but the next tip will impress him even more…

3. Paraphrase the topic

When referring to the topic, don’t use the words from the topic card. Instead, use your own words. This is called paraphrasing.

So, if the topic is “describe a beautiful place to visit in your country” don’t say:

“I’m going to describe a beautiful place to visit in China.”

Instead, say, for example:

“I’m going to talk about a stunning destination, which people can travel to in the north-east of China.”

Paraphrasing lets you show the examiner how much vocabulary and grammar you know. In the paraphrase above, I changed “place” to “destination” and changed the adjective “beautiful” to “stunning“. I also used a relative clause “which people can travel to…”. I also added in some extra information: “the north-east of China.” Remember, together, grammar and vocabulary make up 50% of your marks, so it is very important to use a wide range of grammar and vocabulary.

4. Keep talking

Try to keep talking…and talking…and talking. Don’t worry about the time. The examiner will stop you after 2 minutes.

5. Don’t speak too quickly

Try to speak at a steady, natural pace. DO NOT speak too quickly – this will hold down your band score for pronunciation. Also, don’t speak too slowly. This will hold down your band score for Fluency and Coherence.

6. Decide what to talk about quickly (Lie if you need to!)

Sometimes it’s difficult to think of something to talk about. Let’s say you have to talk about your favourite teacher. Remember you have a minute to prepare your talk.

The wrong way: spend your preparation time thinking about who your favourite teacher was.

Was it Mr Smith? Or was it Mrs Jones? What was Mrs Jones like? She was quite interesting, but Mr Smith was quite kind. Oh, but what about Miss Brown, she was quite nice. I’ll talk about her…..

Finally, with only 10 seconds before you must talk, you suddenly remember Mr Black.

Oh, Mr Black. I remember! Yes, he was fantastic! I’ll talk about him!

But now you have to start talking!

The right way: choose a nice teacher you had. Any nice teacher will do. Then write down some words to describe him, and maybe some words to help you describe a story about him that you remember.

Being honest is not one of the assessment criteria. The examiner doesn’t care who your favourite teacher was. The examiner only cares about the language you use in your talk, your pronunciation and your fluency and coherence.

In fact, you could even lie. You could invent an amazing teacher to talk about. However, it is better to think of someone or something from your own experience because it’s usually easier to talk about, but if you can’t think of something to talk about from your own experience, invent it.

The key thing is to decide what to talk about in the first few seconds, then make notes about it.

If you don’t understand a word on the topic card or your task, you can ask the examiner to explain. But, don’t just say “I don’t understand.” Instead, use some more advanced phrases.

For example, you could say:

7. Ask for clarification

  • “By…., do you mean…..?”
  • “If I understand correctly, it means that….”
  • “So, in other words, I should….”
  • “So, is it ok if I talk about…?”

If you ask for clarification using good language, you may really impress your examiner!

IMPORTANT: ask for clarification quickly. Ask BEFORE the examiner writes down the time for the start of the 1-minute preparation. Otherwise, the clarification will be included in the 1 minute preparation time.