In the IELTS speaking test, you might be asked to describe an app. That is because apps have become a really common and important part of daily life for billions of people over the past 15 years. Today, we are going to look at the specific question: “Describe an app that you think is useful.”
In this lesson, I will show you how to analyse the cue card, plan your answer, pick some good language, and I will even show you my own sample band 9 answer to the question.
IELTS and Apps
First of all, let’s briefly discuss what apps are and how they appear in the IELTS test. The word “app” is short for “application” and it basically refers to a piece of software that you can download to your phone or computer. It could be a game, a service, or just about anything else.
Back when I was young (a long time ago!), we referred to these things as “programmes.” More specifically, we called them “computer programmes” because they only existed on computers. Nowadays, people have mobile phones and in 2007 Apple launched the iPhone, which really caused the word “app” to take off because of the App Store.
Since then, most other companies have switched to the term “app” and so we now commonly refer to any sort of computer programme or software as “an app.” For this reason, apps have become a really common part of daily life and thus have been integrated into the IELTS exam.
You might, for example, be asked in the speaking test, “What apps do you commonly use?” or “Is there any app you could not live without?” You might also see this tied together with “website”: “What app or website do you use the most?”
Of course, this could appear in the reading or listening test, too. As for writing, I suppose it is possible but I personally have not seen many. However, a few weeks ago I wrote a sample answer to a quite tricky IELTS task 2 question about mobile apps.
The Cue Card: Describe an App
In part 2 of the IELTS speaking test, you could be asked to describe an app. Again, this might be phrases “Describe an app or website…” but today we are not going to look into the website aspect. (I have a full post about how to describe a website.)
As you can see from this Google search, there are many possibilities for cue cards about describing an app. It is important to know that because some people think that there is a stockpile of 50 or 100 cue cards that are recycled. In fact, it is impossible to predict cue cards or memorise the different ones. Instead, you should prepare by learning IELTS speaking topics.
It is also important to remember that 99% of IELTS teachers (or website owners) cannot really speak English. They just pretend they can speak English so that they can make money from you. Look at this list of pages on Google:
These people think that you can have an app “in your phone.” 😡 Of course, anyone above IELTS band 7 would know that it should be “on your phone.” You can read my list of IELTS reviews here. This will warn you against some of the worst websites.
Today’s cue card is this:
Describe an app that you think is useful.
You should say:
– what it is
– why you use it
– when you first used it
and how it helps you in your daily life.
Analysing the Cue Card
Sometimes cue cards can be a little difficult to understand but I think this one is quite simple. The important parts are:
- Describe an app, not a website or any other aspect of technology (ie hardware)
- It should be useful, not fun or unhelpful
As you can see, it is pretty simple. Still, it is important to remember that in stressful situations we can make bad choices. People sometimes panic and think of something really strange. You might think of an app, then your brain thinks about phones, and then you describe a phone… This would not be the right thing to discuss.
As for the bullet points, these are suggested guidelines. You do not need to follow them exactly, but I do recommend that you discuss the things that they mention. This will help you to give a good, rounded answer.
Planning your Answer
Unlike IELTS writing, you do not really need a perfect structure in order to get a good score… but it helps! We don’t really teach IELTS speaking structures, but honestly they can be quite useful. Unfortunately, because each cue card can be so totally different from the others, it is hard to prepare this sort of thing, but you can mentally prepare a loose outline.
I am going to talk about Google Maps, which is an app that I have on my iPhone. I think it is really useful and so I will describe it. It is generally a good idea to pick the first thought that comes into your mind because you only have one minute to prepare.
In terms of structure, I would plan on saying something like this:
- Explain what Google Maps is by describing its main features
- Say why it is useful to me by giving more specific details (ie how it applies to my life)
- Mention how I first used it and perhaps say how I recently used it
For me, this seems like a logical pattern but obviously every person is different. Some might find it appropriate to talk about their first use at the beginning, but I find this might be a bit unnatural. Remember that you are not writing a formal essay here, so it’s kind of strange to say something like, “In 2005, I first used Google Maps…” It sounds very serious and is also a bit hard to prepare.
Making Notes about Apps
I often talk about making notes for IELTS cue cards on this website and my advice is always the same:
- Just write a few important words that will help you to remember useful vocabulary or a good structure.
If you try to write too much, you will surely run out of time. Instead, aim to write a few words or phrases that might guide you. Although you do not need to follow the cue card, when you combine it with these notes, it can really help you to stay focused and cover a range of points logically.
My notes might look something like this:
- satellite/street view
This probably wouldn’t mean much to anyone but me, but that is ok. The only purpose of these notes is to help me give a great answer, which I shall do below:
Sample Band 9 Answer
I suppose the most useful app for me is Google Maps because I use it almost every day. Certainly, I use it at least a few times a week. As the name suggests, it is an app that shows you maps of the world and it is made by Google.
Of course, it is not like old-fashioned paper maps. Google Maps allows you to see the usual road layout of towns and cities, but it also provides satellite imagery and even something called “street view,” which means that you can see the world from a 3D perspective. Let’s say I wanted to find a restaurant near my house. I could find it on the map, but not only that, I could also view it from the road so that I could see what the place looks like. I think it’s a pretty cool feature.
Google Maps is really helpful because you can find almost anything across most of the world. As long as you have WiFi or 4G, you can open the app and see what’s around you. I tend to use it whenever I’m planning on going out for dinner because one of its really brilliant features is the interactive element. The business can post its opening hours, a few photos, maybe a menu, and some other information, and customers can leave reviews. All of this is incredibly helpful in helping me make decisions. It’s not just restaurants, of course. Hotels, gyms, shops, garages, and most other kinds of business are listed on it.
I first used Google Maps long ago when it was much simpler and I thought it was amazing that I could see basic outlines of faraway countries, but nowadays I am still amazed by the amount of information available, and I use it very frequently. I even used it this morning when looking for a new place to have breakfast!
Notes on my Answer
As you can see, I have basically followed the structure that I listed above. This allowed me to present a natural and informative guide to the app that told the examiner everything they would expect to know without falling into the trap of presenting what feels like an unnatural or even memorised answer.
In terms of language, I have used some appropriate words and phrases for apps:
- made by Google
- allows you to see
- brilliant features
- interactive element
- open the app
Note in particular the verbs that I have used. These can be tricky because most English textbooks are not really up-to-date on how to speak about technology. You can learn some good technology vocabulary from this video:
Remember to keep your answer simple and mostly honest. Don’t try to dazzle the examiner with weird words that aren’t used correctly. This won’t help you at all. Just talk from the heart.
Finally, some words of advice on delivering a great IELTS speaking part 2 answer. This is true for any cue card: