In the midst of this awful pandemic, it may be hard for many of you to remember crowded places. I live in the countryside and so I generally don’t visit many places that are full of people, but of course it is sensible for everyone to try to avoid such situations.

Still, for IELTS you might be asked to describe a crowded place you have visited. This is a cue card that may appear in part 2 of the speaking test. In today’s lesson, I am going to show you how to answer it fully and effectively.

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Cue Card: Describe a Crowded Place

It is impossible to predict IELTS cue cards but you can use old ones to practice because often they will be similar to ones that appear in the future. They can give you an idea of the topic or style of cue cards that you may encounter in your next test.

As such, let’s look at a cue card that has reportedly been used in IELTS exams in the past:

Describe a crowded place you have been to.

You should say:

– where the place is

– when you went there

– with whom you went there

and explain how you felt about this crowded place.

When you read your cue card, you should quickly analyse it:

  1. What do you have to talk about? A crowded place.
  2. Is it one you have been to before? Yes.

This might seem obvious, but it is easy to panic and overlook these things. You should not talk about a crowded place you want to visit or a place you have visited that is not crowded.

As for the bullet points, these are mere guidelines, but I generally recommend talking about them unless you are really confident in your abilities to describe things. They can help you to answer fluently for the required time.

Talking about Crowded Places

The first thing you should do is think of a crowded place. I lived in China for eight years, so I can think of many! It seems like almost everywhere there is crowded!

Once you have thought of that place, you should then start thinking about how to describe it. Don’t try to cram in any so-called advanced vocabulary. Instead, let the vocabulary arise organically from your description. This is more likely to be correct, natural, and appropriate.

However, there are definitely some words we can use to refer to crowded places:

  • Busy
  • Packed
  • Jammed
  • Full
  • Crammed
  • Bustling
  • Jam-packed
  • Teeming
  • Mobbed (v. informal)

Note that all of these words essentially mean “crowded” but they have slightly different connotations, so they can be used in different ways. Some of them mean “very crowded” and others mean “just a little crowded.” I have also marked one as very informal.

These are all things you need to think about and have control over in your IELTS test. You might be tempted at times to look up words in a thesaurus, but do be careful because the results aren’t always brilliant:


In this list, you can see various words that simply wouldn’t work. A busy train station, for example, could never be “populous” or “up to here.” To say that a place was “lousy with (certain people)” is a bit offensive and “sardined” is uncommon, informal, and kind of weird. As for SRO, I don’t even know what that means!

In the end, it is important to only use words that you understand and can confidently add to an answer in a grammatically and logically correct way. Accuracy is the most important thing.

Structuring your Answer

When giving your answer for IELTS speaking part 2, you should think a little about providing some sort of structure. Although it is not as important as it is in an essay, structure helps give descriptions more depth and can impress the examiner.

I like to think of my answers as stories. Even though you are not necessarily asked to tell a story, it can make it easier to give a good answer that 1) contains lots of appropriate detail, and 2) lasts for more than one minute.

In the sample answer below, I will tell a story rather than give a simple description. This will make my job easier and also make my answer more interesting and natural. I want to talk about a crowded bus station, but it is good to avoid the trap of a boring, predictable answer. In other words, don’t just say:

Today I want to talk about a crowded place I have visited. It is a bus station…

Instead, I’m going to talk about myself and my own experience. The story is fundamentally about me trying to go on holiday but having to navigate my way through a horrible, crowded bus station in China. By doing this, I will have many chances to give my feelings about the place and present lots of description.

This gives the answer a natural framework and also helps me to remember things. This is important! Let’s say I just want to give the usual boring answer. Well, I could easily run out of things to say. However, by telling my story, I can imagine or recall all the things I saw and then just talk about them. It also helps me to give a good start and finish to the story.

Sample Band 9 Answer – Describe a Crowded Place

I used to live in China, which is a very overpopulated place, so it seems that nearly everywhere is crowded. In particular, transportation hubs tend to be jam-packed with people almost all of the time, and that made travelling around the country very unpleasant. Unfortunately, I often had to go from one city to another, and that meant going through a train station, bus station, or airport.

In particular, I remember one journey I made to a remote mountain. Ironically, I wanted to escape the busy city, but that meant going through what was surely the most packed bus station in the world. When I arrived, I was so intimidated by the seething crowd that I wanted to leave. I just didn’t think that it was possible to get through it and find my bus.

The worst part was that I was already running slightly late. The big waiting room was crammed full of people and, because this was China, no one was queuing and everyone was just pushing and shoving to get ahead of each other. It was my worst nightmare. It was hot and filthy and no one seemed to care about anything except pushing to the front.

I was with two good friends and so it was important that we all got to the bus together, which made the challenge even greater, but somehow we managed to make our way through the tightly-packed mass of people and got to the bus just in time. It was a huge relief.

All in all, it was an adventure and I was glad to get on the bus and have a holiday, but honestly I was so put off by the whole experience that I would never do it again. I continuously felt on the brink of a panic attack and simply could not deal with the heaving crowd of very rude and aggressive people. I am glad to now live in a much more relaxed and pleasant environment.


Here are some of the phrases I used to show crowding:

  • overpopulated place
  • everywhere is crowded
  • jam-packed with people
  • busy city
  • the most packed bus station in the world
  • seething crowded
  • crammed full of people
  • tightly-packed mass of people
  • heaving crowd

These phrases can add a little colour and flair to the description. It is not important to use any particular words, but having ones that accurately and appropriately reflect the topic is definitely a great way to improve your score for Lexical Resource.