In today’s lesson, we are going to look at a few different IELTS speaking cue cards about people who helped you. Essentially they are all about the same thing: describe a helpful person. However, there are different ways that this could be expressed, and these may change your answer slightly.
*Remember to always pay close attention to the cue card so that you can fulfill the criteria for Task Response.
Below I’m going to show you how to analyze the question, make suitable notes, and then give my own sample answer to a cue card. I’ll also make a few notes on appropriate language for this sort of task.
In IELTS speaking part 2, you are often asked to describe a person. In this case, we are going to focus on a helpful person, or someone who has helped you.
You will be given a cue card by the examiner. You should read it and spend 1 minute thinking about your answer. It is a good idea to make some notes to help you speak because you will need to speak for between 1 and 2 minutes.
Make sure that you pay attention to the exact wording of the question, as well as the points that the cue card states.
Here is one possible cue card:
Describe a person you have worked or studied with that was very helpful.
You should say:
who he/she was
how you met him/her
what he/she did to help you
and say what you learned from the experience.
Let’s think for a moment what you need to do here.
- You must describe someone who helped you. (Although this is not stated in the first line, it is stipulated in bullet point #3.)
- Can it be any person who helped you? No! It must be someone who you worked or studied with.
- You must give some explanation of who the person was – ie their relationship to you, and a little background – and also how you met them.
- Importantly, you should state how they helped you.
- Finally, you must give some information about what you learned.
It is very important that you address all these points, and particularly pay attention to #1 and #2 from my list above. If you missed either of these, you would score quite poorly.
Other Versions of the Question
As I mentioned above, it is possible to have very similar topics. However, remember that although some of them might be the same question phrased differently, others might be a similar but distinct question! If this was the case, you would need to give a totally different answer.
Here are some similar cue cards:
- Describe a person who helped you
- Describe a time when someone helped you
- Describe a time when you helped someone
- Describe a very helpful person who you know
There are more possibilities, but let’s just take a moment to consider why these might be treated differently from the previous example (Describe a person you have worked or studied with that was very helpful).
Firstly, “Describe a person who helped you” is essentially the same, except there is no limitation to work or study. In other words, this could be your friend or a family member.
Next, the two middle questions are not about describing a person… they are about describing the time/event/situation. Here, you would focus on the actual act of help rather than the person who helped you. This is really important!
Finally, this question is quite similar to the first, except that the person must be “very helpful”. In the first example, maybe your annoying brother helped you one time. However, here it must be a continually helpful person.
Once you have analyzed the question, you need to think about your answer quickly. Remember that you only have one minute to prepare. It is a good idea to make some notes on the paper that is provided, but you shouldn’t spend too much time doing it. Remember to never attempt to write a whole sentence, or else this will take up all of your time.
The secret to good note-taking is only writing one or two words that will remind you of something important. This could be useful vocabulary, an important point, the structure of your speech, a difficult phrase, etc.
Thinking about the first cue card that we looked at (Describe a person you have worked or studied with that was very helpful), I would make the following notes:
Professional yet approachable
These notes probably mean very little to you, but that’s ok. These are words that I thought of when brainstorming the question with my own personal experiences. I was thinking about a colleague of mine called Tim, whose position was head teacher at a school where I worked many years ago. His role was sort of a supervisory one, monitoring all the other teachers. Describing him as a person, I would say he was professional yet approachable, and I found him helpful because he was non-judgmental when giving advice.
All of the words I wrote in my notes were examples of good vocabulary, yet they helped me to structure my speech so that I wouldn’t forget what to say. Between looking at these and looking at the cue card, I would easily be able to speak for 1-2 minutes.
It is of course very important that I wrote these quickly, without wasting any time.
My Sample Answer
This is what I would say to describe a helpful person:
About ten years ago, as a young, inexperienced teacher, I worked with a man called Tim. He was my colleague but he was also the head teacher of this school, and so he was sort of a supervisor to the other teachers working there. Technically, Tim was our boss, but he didn’t act like a traditional boss. He was professional yet approachable, so you always felt that you could talk to him about things.
I first met Tim when he offered me a job at his school, and from that moment on we got along very well. Tim was a really helpful guy, and he was always happy to share his experience with the less experienced teachers like me. He was non-judgmental, so you didn’t worry about doing something wrong. If you made a mistake at work, Tim would quietly help you make a change so that you didn’t do it that way again.
I remember one time I was teaching a big class and Tim had to observe my teaching methods. This was a very stressful situation for me, but Tim was really helpful. He watched unobtrusively and then at the end of the lesson he gave me lots of useful advice. He didn’t criticize me in any way; instead, he simply told me ways I could improve.
I believe that Tim’s advice helped me to become a much better teacher, and years later I am still incredibly grateful to him for mentoring me.
Here is a video version of this answer. You listen to me read it aloud if that helps to to understand it better.
Note how I used grammar in order to establish the time of the events that occurred in my story. As this is about something that happened in the past, I use past simple for events that occurred once or were generally true in the past. For descriptions of a person, you use this tense:
- He was non-judgmental
- Tim was really helpful
- Tim was a really helpful guy
I also used a conditional clause to bring some complexity in. I used the past “If…, would…” conditional construction:
- If you made a mistake at work, Tim would quietly help you make a change…
At the end of my speech, I bring the listener into the present effects of Tim’s helpfulness by using the present simple: “I believe…” and “I am still…”
In terms of vocabulary, my speech is quite simple. I have highlighted in bold some of the less common vocabulary, but there is nothing especially rare or difficult. In fact, as I often tell my students, there is no need in the IELTS exam to use very complicated vocabulary. It is far better to use simple vocabulary correctly.
When talking about people for IELTS, you can try to mention their character traits and use adjectives to describe a person in terms of their personality rather than their physical appearance. Avoid boring language and focus on using interesting and insightful adjectives.
Remember to keep calm in your speaking exam and treat the examiner like a normal person. It is very easy to get nervous and worried before the exam, but these nerves can ruin your band score. Try practicing with a friend before your exam, or find a speaking partner to help you.
Getting enough practice is essential not just to improve your speaking skill, but to get over those feelings of anxiety that can negatively affect your score. If you want professional help, check out my practice speaking test service. It’s the best way to boost your score.