IELTS speaking cue card tips: how to make notes for part 2

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What notes should I make for IELTS speaking part 2?

This is a very important question because learning how to prepare your answer in the one-minute preparation time can help you to achieve a high band score. Many IELTS teachers simply tell their students that they need to write as much as possible in that one minute, but this is not particularly helpful and can cause great stress, as you start panicking about not having written enough. In this article, I will show you that you do not have to write much, it’s about the quality of your words, not the quantity. I will also look at what you can do to try to achieve a high band score.

Key points in this article are:

Understanding the cue card in IELTS speaking part 2

Developing your ideas

Expanding the questions and answers

Understanding the cue card in IELTS speaking part 2

The first thing that you need to do is look at the structure of the cue card. It is divided into three parts. Take a look at this IELTS speaking part 2 topic.

Talk about an older person you admire

You should say:

who this person is

how long you have known him/her

what qualities he/she has

And why you admire him/her

Let’s take a look at these three parts:

Part 1 – The topic

This basically means the subject you are going to talk about. For example, it could be a book, a film, a meal or in this case a person - Talk about an older person you admire. There are many topics connected with people so it is a useful topic to look at, as the vocabulary here could be used in many IELTS ‘Talk about a person who…’ speaking topics.

It is important to remember that:

It is always going to be a general topic – not an academic topic, it is not a test of your knowledge

It will be about something personal to you – something you have done, someone you know

Part 2 – Describing the topic

This part focuses on the three questions:

who this person is

how long you have known him/her

what qualities he/she has

In this part the questions are always asking what, when, who or where and they require you to give detailed information. The mistake many candidates make here is to simply answer these three questions and after about thirty seconds they cannot think of anything else to say. It is important that you add detail to these questions so for example, you could talk about how you met this person.

Part 3 – Answering the ‘how/why’ question

This is often the hardest part because here you have to explain and explaining is harder than describing. In this topic, you need to explain ‘why you admire him/her’.

This part gives you the opportunity to say more, as explanations are usually longer than descriptions, however they are often harder. This requires more thinking on your part, but done well can help you to achieve a high band score.

Ok, so now I understand the cue card, how do I make notes?

I’ll start by telling you what not to do and unfortunately it’s the thing that the majority of IELTS candidates tend to do…

DO NOT TRY TO WRITE YOUR ANSWER WORD FOR WORD!!!

As soon as the IELTS examiner says ‘Your one minute starts now’, many candidates start writing…

‘The person I am going to talk about today is my friend. His name is Mike and I have known him for seven years.’

Then the voice of the IELTS examiner says:

‘Please can you start speaking now please.’

A look of fear appears on the candidate’s face because they are thinking ‘oh no, I haven’t got enough to say. They start reading what they have written and ten seconds later… silence and panic!

SILENCE GETS YOU NOTHING IN IELTS SPEAKING!!!

What should you do?

Only make notes that are going to get you a high band score

I have seen candidates write the words ‘nice’ or ‘fun’ – that’s fine if you want IELTS 5.0, but if you are aiming for higher, then you need to write words that are going to impress the IELTS examiner.

And remember…

You only have one minute

So this means, realistically you can only write five or six words/phrases. ‘That’s not enough’, you are probably thinking, well it’s what you do with the words that is important.

My notes for answering the topic ‘Talk about a person you admire… would be:

A born leader

Entrepreneurial skill

Determined

Charismatic, charming

Well-respected

Inspirational/a positive role model

These words/phrases are all going to impress the IELTS examiner because they are much more complex than ‘nice’ or ‘fun’.

Practise using more detailed notes

Instead of just writing down words, you could also try thinking of more detailed phrases/ideas so for example for the question ‘how long have you known him/her’, the tendency is to answer this by saying I’ve known him for 6 years, but again this is not going to impress the IELTS examiner.

Something like I’m not entirely sure when we met, it could have been about seven years ago… yes that’s right, it was when we were both playing football for the school team… is much longer, more detailed and contains much more complex language that you need for IELTS 6.5 and above. The notes that you would write down might be:

I’m not entirely sure…

…it could have been

…we were both playing football

Remember that IELTS Speaking is not a test of knowledge, it is a test of communication so the more language you can use to communicate, the same way you would in your native language, the more it will impress the IELTS examiner. Don’t just sit there like a robot answering the questions!

Answering the ‘reason’ question – that tricky last question on the cue card

The last part of the cue card is the ‘how/why’ question and it is the part where you should have the most to say. It is, however, the most difficult part. You need to think of a few words/phrases that you can use in this part e.g. inspirational, a positive role model.

So with these five/six words/phrases that you have written down, what do you do?

You expand them!

Look at this sample answer for this part 2 speaking topic and note how the words/phrases above have been expanded:

Talk about an older person you admire

You should say:

who this person is

how long you have known him/her

what qualities he/she has

And why you admire him/her

Right, well the person that I’m going to talk about today is my friend, Mike. He’s a very close friend of mine and someone I admire greatly (here I am adding some extra detail to who he is).

I’m not entirely sure when we met, it could have been about seven years ago… yes that’s right, it was when we were both playing football for the school team… (here I avoid saying ‘I’ve known him for…’ and make the answer longer and more detailed)

We’re both mad about football so it was this shared love of the sport that got us talking (here I am adding some extra detail about our friendship). Since leaving school, Mike has set up his own company and has become a very wealthy man.

He is a born leader (now I am starting to talk about the qualities), you could see this when he was younger… he was the captain of the football team and head boy in our year (and I am adding extra detail to describe this quality), so it’s hardly surprising that he is now running his own company.

Another reason though is his entrepreneurial skill (another quality). He set up an online company with very little money, he doesn’t have a billionaire father like Donald Trump! At first, he faced lots of difficulties, but he was very determined (another quality) and his determination (here I’m adding another word from the same word family to show the examiner my flexible use of language) paid off and he now has an incredibly successful company.

In addition to his skills, he has great qualities such as charisma and charm (more qualities). He is the most charming and charismatic (here again I’m using words from the same word family to show the examiner my flexible use of language) man I’ve ever met. '

Why do I admire him? (here I am focusing back on the cue card to prepare myself to answer this question and by asking the question I am giving myself some extra thinking time). Well, there are a number of reasons… (this is a useful way to remind yourself to not just say one thing)

Firstly (using this helps with your band score for cohesion and coherence), he is a well-respected businessman and has gained the respect of all his employees. Moreover (using this helps with your band score for cohesion and coherence), setting up a business in a recession is also inspirational and the fact that he never gave up despite some difficulties in the early period, makes him such a positive role model. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to achieve what he has in such a short time, but he has inspired me to try so you can see why I have so much admiration for him.

So you can see that from the list of complex words/phrases that I wrote down for my notes, I have expanded these words/phrases into a detailed answer that will score highly in this part of the IELTS speaking test. What I would recommend is looking at some IELTS speaking part 2 topics and trying to write down five or six complex words/phrases that would impress an IELTS examiner and then adding detail to these to expand you answer. Good luck!

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