Today, we are going to look at an IELTS speaking part 2 cue card that asks you to describe a prize. More specifically, it will ask you to describe a prize you have won. In other words, it can’t just be any prize that you know, like a Nobel Prize or an Oscar.

As you probably know, there are many different things you could be asked to describe in IELTS speaking part 2, such as:

and so on.

A prize could be a trophy.

What would you call a “prize”? Well, the physical prize may be an object like a trophy, but we’re probably going to be describing an event or a memory.  

The Cue Card

First of all, let’s look at the cue card. Remember that there is no way of predicting what is going to be on an IELTS cue card. Even if you are prepared for a certain topic, you cannot know for sure exactly what the cue card will say. Perhaps you studied hard and prepared to describe a prize… but in the actual IELTS exam, the specific details on the cue card may be different from what you studied at home.

In other words, it is really important that you read the cue card carefully. Here is the one that we will examine today:

Describe a prize you have won.

You should say:

– what it is

– what you had to do to win it

– how many other competitors there were

and explain how you felt after winning it.

Analyzing the Cue Card

So what do we need to do exactly?

We need to:

  1. Talk about a prize.
    • Any prize? No. One that we have won.
  2. Give information about the prize.
  3. Explain how we won it.
  4. Say how many other competitors there were.
  5. Describe our feelings after we won the prize.

Remember that for IELTS speaking part 2 it is perfectly fine to go off-topic a little bit. This is very different from the writing exam, where you should always stay on-topic. You can aim to deal with each of the points on the cue card, but then add your own ideas as well. This will help to pad out your answer and make it more personal and detailed.


What if I Have Never Won a Prize?

Hmmm… This is a difficult part of IELTS speaking to deal with. Of course, not everyone has won a prize before… So how can you answer this sort of question? It seems unfair, right?

The marking criteria for IELTS speaking actually make no mention of Task Achievement/Task Response. In fact, according to the official IELTS website, you are only marked on four things:

  • Fluency and Coherence
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  • Pronunciation

So what does that mean in terms of giving your answer…?

I strongly recommend that you try to answer the question as fully as possible and stick as close to the cue card as you can. This will help you to structure a logical answer that uses an appropriate range of language.

Of course, if you have never won a prize before then there really only two things you can do:

  1. Talk about something else.
  2. Lie

Of those two things, I think talking about something else is easiest. In this case, you could possibly begin your speech by saying:

  • To be honest, this is a difficult question for me because I’ve actually never won a prize before. However, I competed in a competition about six years ago to win…

After this, you would talk about a time you almost won a prize. Now this is not ideal, of course, but if there is no category in the marking criteria for Task Response or Task Achievement, then how could the examiner mark you down?

(This raises the valid question of whether you ever need to talk about the content of the cue card. If the examiner is only listening to your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, then surely you could just talk about anything! However, my feeling is that you would be knocked down for vocabulary because in that case your speech is not directly on-topic, and therefore the language used would fall foul of certain rules regarding Lexical Resource. Still, it is an interesting point and I would love to hear from the British Council about this.)


As this is asking about something from your past, you will certainly need to use the past tenses to answer it fully. You probably won’t need all of them, but it is best to be familiar with each of the four aspects of the past tense in order to excel at IELTS.

(Hey, maybe you should get a copy of this book to help you learn more grammar for IELTS…)

grammar for ielts book cover

In terms of vocabulary, your first thought should be other ways of saying “prize”. Some synonyms (or very closely related words) include:

  • Award
  • Reward
  • Trophy
  • Medal
  • Accolade

If you won a physical trophy, there are certain words like “crown”, “plate”, or “shield” that may potentially apply, depending on what it looked like. Otherwise, you might talk about a “cash prize” or a “certificate”.

You also will need words such as “to win”, “to achieve”, and “to be victorious”.

Making Notes

Once you have decided what you would like to talk about, you should make a few notes. I have, in previous articles and videos, talked about how to make short, effective notes. Basically, you should not attempt to write down full sentences, but rather aim to note just a few key words. These may be words that will help you remember what to say, important words of vocabulary, or general ideas that might want to include in your speech.

As I would like to show you how to answer a question to which you don’t really have a perfect answer, I am going to pick something that I didn’t win. In other words, I will say that I have never won prize before, and instead answer with something very closely related.

My notes might say:

  • Explain
  • Competed but not victorious
  • Participation
  • Personal triumph

Sample Answer

I will talk about a time when I participated in an event that had prizes, but which I did not win. In order to make this relevant to the cue card, I will explain clearly to the examiner at the beginning of my speech that this question did not leave me with any possible direct answer, but I will do my best to answer it nonetheless.

Note: I have highlighted some useful vocabulary related to the topic.

my marathon medal
My marathon medal.

Before I begin to describe this situation, I must say that I’ve never actually won a prize before, and so this cue card doesn’t really apply to me in a direct way. However, I will still attempt to answer it as best I possibly can, given the circumstances.

I’d like to talk about a time when I competed in a marathon, even though I was not victorious. This was about four years ago, and I had decided that even though I had no experience in running, I would attempt to train for a marathon in about six months. It was obviously a huge challenge, but I dedicated myself to it, running almost every day.

When the day of the marathon arrived, I still wasn’t sure if I could finish it. I had gotten injured at some point and my training had really declined, but I still wanted to give it my best shot. For me, on a personal level, just finishing the marathon would be a tremendous victory.

I started running and completed the half marathon quite easily, but soon after it became really tiring. I persevered and finally stumbled across the finishing line in about 5 hours. If you know anything about marathons, you’ll know that’s not a good time! But I was still proud of myself, and it felt like a major personal triumph.

I got a medal at the end, which I suppose was a sort of prize, even though there were hundreds of people who finished ahead of me. Afterwards, I felt really proud of myself but I was in a lot of pain for about four days as my feet and legs recovered from the exertion.

Further Advice

When you are given the cue card, you only have one minute to prepare your answer. Don’t panic if it seems difficult. Make a quick choice, think carefully about how to explain yourself, and then speak slowly but confidently. Even if your answer is not exactly what the cue card demanded, you will still be able to dazzle the examiner with your excellent English skills.