Last week, I posted a series of sample answers to writing task 2 questions from Cambridge IELTS 17. Today, I will give you my answer to a speaking part 2 question from that same book. It asks you to describe a big city you would like to visit.

In this article, we will analyse the cue card, plan our answer, and then see how to give a band 9 response to it.

Table of Contents

The Cue Card: Describe a Big City

Here’s the cue card that appears in Cambridge IELTS 17:

Describe a big city you would like to visit.

You should say:

– which big city you would like to visit

– how you would travel there

– what you would do there

and explain why you would like to visit this big city.

I think that this is quite straightforward, so there isn’t much to analyse. However, due to the stress of the exam, people often make silly mistakes, so let’s go over what you need to do and say.

Most importantly, the place you describe must be:

  1. a big city (ie not a small city or a big town)
  2. somewhere you want to visit (ie not somewhere you enjoyed visiting in the past)

This probably seems very easy, but it’s important to answer the question properly and not to overlook important details by reading the cue card too quickly.

Aside from those points, you should also aim to answer the bullet points. This is a bit less important and you can certainly answer them in any order, but it is worth trying to talk about each of them, even if briefly.

Planning your Answer

When you are given the cue card, you will have one minute to prepare your response and then you should speak for between one and two minutes. That means you don’t have much preparation time.

You need to quickly pick a big city to talk about. Don’t weigh the various options or you will waste time. Just pick one and think about how to describe it.

You then need to think about what you want to say. The bullet points can help you here. In this case, you will think about how you would travel there, what you would do, and why you would like to visit this city.

Again, you don’t need to answer these in the same order as the bullet points appear. You can also put two bullet points together if needed. I think that “what you would do” and “what you want to go” are basically interlinked.

a guide to how to answer an ielts cue card

Vocabulary for Describing Cities

You don’t really need to go into a lot of technical detail about cities, but it would be useful to know some vocabulary for describing them. Here are some words and phrases that might help you:

ArchitectureThe design of buildings.
DistrictAn area of a city. Some cities have clearly defined districts: “the entertainment district,” for example.
DiverseIn the context of a city, this usually means a mix of people, but you could also talk about “diverse building styles.”
DowntownGenerally, the middle or busiest part of a city.
Green space(s)Places where there is greenery – ie parks.
InfrastructureThe various parts of a city required for people to live.
Mass transit systemA means for moving large numbers of people around.
MegacityA city with more than 10 million inhabitants.
NeighbourhoodA part of a city.
Public transportAll the various forms of transport (bus, tram, train, etc.) used for moving people around an urban area.
Shopping centreA place where you can find various shops under one roof. (In American English, this is usually called a “mall.”)
SuburbsThe residential areas on the edge of the city.

Of course, this is just a small list and the actual vocabulary that you use will be entirely dependent upon what city you want to talk about. For example, you’d need different language to talk about Tokyo, Beijing, Venice, and Paris. It is a good idea to always be specific and not just use generic vocabulary.

You can learn some vocabulary about buildings and architecture here.

My Sample Band 9 Answer

To be honest, I’m not really a “big-city person,” but the one that springs to mind is Tokyo, which of course is the capital of Japan. I’ve actually been there before, but it’s so vast that I would love to go back and see more of it and the surrounding areas.

Tokyo is fascinating because it’s such a vast and diverse city, and, like much of Japan, it is modern almost to the point of being futuristic. It is unlike any other city in the world and even each of its districts has a totally unique feel.

If I went back to Tokyo, I would fly in because I don’t live in Japan. There are at least two airports that I know of and from there you can use the mass transit system to get into the middle of the city… although actually Tokyo is so big that maybe it doesn’t really have a centre.

In the city itself, there are loads of fascinating places to see, such as the Meiji Shrine and the Shinjuku Gardens. There’s also nearby Mount Fuji, which would make for an excellent day trip.

Of course, Tokyo is a huge draw for foodies like myself. There probably isn’t a city in the world with the quality and diversity of food that you can find in Tokyo. There are also pubs with their own interesting characteristics, which covers nightlife as well.

Altogether, I would love to go back to Tokyo and explore this incredible city further.

a photo of mount fuji, near tokyo
This is a photo I took of Mount Fuji when I visited five years ago. ☺️


I started with the phrase “big-city person.” We sometimes use expressions like this to denote liking something. For example, “I’m a cat person” or “I’m not really a dog person.” It refers to liking or not liking those things that come before the word “person.”

Other useful language here included:

  • springs to mind  
  • surrounding areas
  • vast and diverse city
  • futuristic
  • day trip
  • a huge draw
  • nightlife

Note that I mentioned having been to Tokyo before, but this does not pose a problem because the cue card did not say anything about a prior visit. I also explained clearly that, although I had been before, I want to go back. That’s the most important thing.

I felt that the bullet points weren’t massively helpful because the first could be answered in a second and the last two points are basically the same thing. As for how you get there, it’s not exactly something you could talk about at length. Instead, I just focused on what I would do and how I would get there.

Finally, I ended with a small and natural summary. This is a really useful structure and is better than just suddenly stopping in the middle of a thought! You can learn more about how to answer part 2 speaking questions here: