Lessons in Speaking – Cue Card – 1

Why does IELTS exam ask you a cue card question? Have you ever wondered?

What purpose does this serve?

If you know the reason behind this, your response to this question will change radically. Imagine a situation that you’re in a western country where English is the primary medium of communication. You’re invited to a party where you meet scores of native speakers. Are you proficient enough to communicate with them? Can you talk to a stranger in the English language? More importantly, can you carry out a fairly intelligent conversation? Can you communicate the message?

Imagine yourself in this situation and you will see the rationale behind the cue card question. This is exactly what the cue card tests.

Now, there are TWO ways to communicate with any person. One is the bland, mechanical way. Another is a human way. Let me explain each of the ways.

1. A bland, mechanical way is the one in which all replies are given as if you are a machine. For example, if someone asks you “When did you buy this smartphone?” Your reply is “I bought this smartphone year ago.” That’s a boring way to communicate with someone. In fact, this sends a message that you’re not ready to communicate with that person and want to close the conversation as soon as possible. YOU WILL SCORE LESS THAN 7 FOR THESE ANSWERS.

90 percent students speak in this manner and this is precisely the reason they are unable to score more than 6.5 bands.

2. The second way is more artistic, more human. A human way to communicate is one in which you create a story around each answer. So, a human way to answer the question raised above is “Well, my sister gifted me this phone a year ago. I really love this device.

The HUMAN way fetches more bands in the IELTS exam.

I asked a question a question above: “Can you carry out a fairly intelligent conversation?” Well, I’m sure you’ve understood the meaning of a ‘fairly intelligent conversation’. Let me elaborate on this point a bit more.

A fairly intelligent conversation has two primary characteristics:

  • It is built around a story (sister, gift, a year ago, really love). It is not mechanical (a year old).

  • It does not close the conversation. There are open ends that encourage the examiner to ask more. Note that the answer “Well, my sister gifted me this phone a year ago. I really love this device” raises several questions – about your siblings, about other things you love, about why you love this device. The conversation is not closed.

In fact, you can channelize the communication in the desired direction if you are proficient in this tool. Remember, this is YOUR chosen direction. Not the examiner’s. But this is topic for another day.


Can you implement the above tool to this cue card? Create a one or two sentence story around questions 1 and 2.

Talk about something that you would like to get replaced. Please say

– What is it?
– How old is it?
– Why do you want to replace it?

Once you’ve brainstormed the points, click here to read my answer. You will notice the story element in each point.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series.

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