Misunderstanding the IELTS Speaking Cue Card

What happens if you misunderstand or misread your IELTS cue card in Speaking Part 2? Does it mean you will get a lower score? How do the band scores relate to this?

Examples of Misunderstood IELTS Speaking Cue Cards

Below are some cue card topics and examples of how it is possible to misread or misunderstood them:

  1. A piece of equipment you use at home
    1. You talk about a tennis racket or football.
  2. A time someone helped you
    1. You talk about a time when you helped your friend.
  3. A foreign food you would like to eat
    1. You talk about a foreign food you don’t like.
  4. An achievement you celebrated
    1. You talk about your mother’s 60th birthday party.
  5. Something you borrowed
    1. You talk about an item you gave to a friend.
  6. An interesting old person
    1. You talk about someone who is 40 years old.
  7. A type of weather you like
    1. You talk about the sports you enjoy playing when it’s hot.
  8. A film you like
    1. You talk about a sport you enjoy.

All the examples above are from IELTS candidates who went slightly off topic and either didn’t read the cue card properly or misunderstood the topic. 

The Impact of Misreading the IELTS Cue Card

Question to you: Which of the examples given above for the IELTS cue cards in speaking part 2 might be a problem or are they all ok? 

Click below to reveal the answer:


OK. Get ready to read and become more informed. There is no quick answer, only detailed explanations.

As you can see from the examples listed above on this page, all of them go off topic slightly. The reason being that someone in the test was so nervous that they misunderstood or didn’t read the cue card properly. It happens a lot in the speaking test.

There is NO marking criterion called Task Achievement in IELTS Speaking. Task Achievement or Task Response is part of the Writing Test marking, not part of the Speaking test marking. In Speaking, you are marked on:

  • Fluency
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Pronunciation

Only your spoken English matters. 

So, with the examples listed above, all examples from 1 to 7 are fine. The candidate has understood the main topic and stayed on the main topic. But they have missed specific details. In example 1, the topic is equipment and the specific detail is equipment in the home. In this case, the candidate didn’t read the card properly and only talked about equipment, missing any mention of “home”. This is not a problem. You won’t lose marks because of this. The examiner might draw your attention to this or might not. In number 5, the candidate has misunderstood the word “borrow” and talked about “lend”. This is very small vocabulary error and won’t have a big impact on your score for vocabulary. Even number 6 is fine. Some people think that being 40 years old is old, while others think that only 70 years and above is old. We all have different understandings of age and it’s ok.

However, the problem is number 8. In this situation the candidate hasn’t misread the cue card and hasn’t misunderstood it either. A film is 100% different to a sport. Even people with only simple English know the difference between a film and a sport. This candidate has actually changed the topic completely. This could be a serious problem. If the examiner thinks you have changed the topic because you prefer a different one that you prepared at home or one you have memorised, you might have your entire talk discounted. It won’t result in minus points because there are no minus points, but your talk might be seen as invalid and not counted towards your marks. You can’t change the topic and you can’t memorise answers. 

Basically, if you misread the cue card, don’t worry about it. Keep talking. No matter the mistake, your talk will count towards your marks. Each word and sentence you say in the test will count towards your marks. But never try to completely change the topic on the cue card.

I hope this gives you more insight into how your talk in IELTS Speaking part 2 is marked.


All the best



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  1. Hi Liz,
    I wanted to ask a question about the points written on the cue card.
    Is it necessary to speak about the points, written on the cue card, in an order?
    Or, can we pick up any random point from the card and just go through each of them in any order?

    • The prompts are suggested content for your talk. They are useful to use but often need supplementary information to expand your talk. The prompts are put in a logical order by IELTS. There is no rule to say you can’t alter that order. But why alter what is already logical. Having coherence (which is part of logical order of information and making things clear for the listener) is part of the Fluency marking criterion, so it’s is important. My advice would be change the order if you wish, but don’t change it if the order is perfectly logical to something that is less logical. For example, talking about recent holiday (where you went, who you went with, what you did there and why you enjoyed it), it is illogical to talk about why you enjoyed it before talking about where it was and who you went with. So, IELTS will always place the order very logically for you and I wouldn’t recommending trying to fix something that isn’t broken, unless you have a much more logical suggestion.

  2. hi liz
    I want to ask that ….the question was , acomplaint once I have made but satisfied by the result, and I gave an answer about the time I was confused to make a decision and finaly decide and get good results ….. I gave this answer because I thought the qoustions meaning was that….I did not know till I came home and find out that I was wrong….what do you think will be my result.? will my examiner consider it?

    • I think you know the answer to this query because you have read the page above which explains that misunderstandings of the cue card won’t affect your score. This page was written to help people understanding this.

  3. Andrei Pop says

    Hi Liz,

    Yesterday in my speaking part 2 I had to describe a tradition in a my country, but unfortunately, I misread the question and I described a tradiționale in another country (I also mentioned previously that it is not my country). How is this going to Affect my mark?

    • It won’t affect your score at all. It’s common to slightly misread the cue card – both the examiner and IELTS know this. Understanding and stay on point isn’t marked in the speaking test. Anyway, you stuck close to the main topic which was “a tradition” and that’s the most important thing. Relax. Good luck with your results 🙂

    • Harry Mithera says

      I was told to answer a cue card based on a thing that i complained of and finally succeded.

      But I spoke about going to an amusement park, complaining to my friends how unsafe it was, and later found it to be good after experiencing it.

      However, I think that I was supposed to answer about a complaint that i filed, through which I was benefitted and got good result.

      Am I safe here?

      • Of course, it’s fine. Just because you have a different interpretation of the cue card, won’t alter your score. The problem comes if you changed the topic to “your favourite movie” because you prepared that topic at home. So, as long as your talk was logically connected to the cue card, it’s all fine. So, don’t worry at all. I actually like your interpretation 🙂

        • Harry Mithera says

          Really! I have my other tests tomorrow, and I cant express how relieved I am from your reply.

          • Relax. Focus on tomorrow and enter the test room with confidence. Fingers crossed for you 🙂

  4. Nishi says

    Hi this is Nishi
    My cue card topic was -describe a person whom you would like to study or work with
    In that I spoke
    I am the person who generally do not like to study in groups bcas I feel like it always ends up in distraction however today I would like to talk about one person her name is Shivani she was my schoolmate and lives in my neighbourhood.She was a very confident child and instilled values of determination dedication and discpline in me !
    Like I described how she helped me in mathematics when I was weak!!!!
    But by the time I was about what i wanted to study with her she stopped me!!!!
    And further asked me that are you still in touch with her?
    To which I replied that Yes definitely she is my bestftiend and currently resides in Canada where I am planning to go for my further studies I would definitely be in contact with her
    Do you think I went wrong in my task?

    • It doesn’t sound as though anything is wrong. There are no wrong answers. Each cue card is a chance to showcase your fluency and other aspects of English language. As long as you are talking around the main topic “working/studying with others”, it’s all fine.

      • Farzana says

        Liz, my cue card was decribe a complaint you made. but suddenly I went blind in the speaking part. I just spoke about an issue with my students. I told completely differnt story as I didnt get the word. Mistakenly I asked the examiner to explain the word complain. he adviced me focus on the cue card. So what may lead to this? I am too worried right now.

        • You won’t be marked down for not understanding a word on the card. Task Response, Task Achievement and understanding are not part of the marking criteria for speaking. The examiner couldn’t explain the word to you because that is not allowed in part 2. You will be marked on the language you produced in your talk, not on the talk itself. As you asked for the meaning of the word, it was obvious to the examiner that you weren’t speaking off topic because you wanted to change the topic for something you prepared earlier, but that you were doing your best to stay as close to the topic as you could. So, don’t worry.

  5. hey Liz it was my speaking exam the previous where in cue card i was suppose to talk about when i forgot about an appointment instead i talked about when i missed an appointment i was too nervous. I got to know about that after the examiner emphasized it in the end. will it affect my score i am nervous about that 🥲

  6. Ismot Ara says

    Hello, mam. Today was my speaking test. My cue card was “Describe a novel story particularly interesting to you”. I got very nervous and instead of telling a novel story, I spoke about a normal story “Unity is strength”. But I have covered all the questions. Will this lead to poor grade?

    • AS explained above, it doesn’t affect your score to slightly misunderstand the cue card as long as you are close to the main topic.

      • Miriam says

        Hello liz
        For the novel question , what if I don’t read novels . How should I answer on this question . Thank you

        • Always speak directly and plainly. If you don’t read novels, you can say “I don’t actually read novels because ……… So, I’m going to talk about another type of book which I prefer.” You will still be staying within the topic of books.

  7. Digvijay Prajapati says

    Hello Ma’am
    I had a cue card of a place that you have visited and recommended other as good living place, but I spoke famous place that I have visited.’
    Will I get a low score in speaking?

    • It really depends if this was a misunderstanding or if you changed the cue card intentionally. Please read the page above about this.

  8. Elizabeth Acheampong says

    A piece of equipment you use at home

  9. Abeda Sultana says

    Hey Liz ma’am… Today I got my IELTS result. It was a overall band 7.0 with a speaking of 7.0…In my journey, you’re site was an integral part.Thanks for your blogs.❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  10. Joycelyn says

    I think an equipment you use at home is a problem

  11. Doreen says

    The answers are not related to the the question, hence candidates maybe marked down

  12. Blessing says

    They were not okay
    ma.They answered the questions wrongly.

  13. Amazu Victoria says

    Non should be a problem

  14. Akhmat says

    1. Piece of equipment you use at home
    4. An achievement you celebrated.
    It’s hard to understand before saying something. Why shoud someone tell about his/her mother’s birthday paty instead his own. Or it’s clear many people wouldn’t play tennis or football at home because of no conditions.

  15. Safo-Okyere Reginald says

    A piece of equipment you use at home

  16. None of the questions above will pose any problem if one takes time to understand clearly before speaking.

  17. Osman says

    5 because miss understand borrowed mening

  18. Success james says

    I think that getting the question right will be a better option

  19. Ajibola says

    I think the candidate will be marked down for task achievement

  20. Fatimah says

    I think if we speak well, we may score the fluency, grammar, and vocabulary, but the score is still impacted, because it shows that we could not comprehend the question. We may have a chance to correct ourselves if we realise we went off track, and explained our mistakes. This might be assessed as high communication skills.

  21. Anfisa says

    4, 5, 7 and 8 will most likely cause a problem but I believe if you speak fluent enough without mistakes then it will make everything up because your grade will not depend on only your misunderstanding or misreading.

  22. Zinny Promise says

    I don’t think it really matters what counts is how you construct your sentence grammar, pronunciations, coherence, cohesion and fluency.

  23. Caroline Phiri says

    A piece of equipment you use at home

  24. Edith says

    There isnt task achievement,which has already place the individual on a high risk,but with a soft -heart examiner,he or she may draw the attention of the person on time.

  25. Florish says

    I don’t think it really matters

  26. Asmita says

    In my opinion all the above examples are wrong


    I think it’s depend upon the examiner might be he/she gives them band score becuase it is not general knowlege test it is only language test they want to check their skill not a knowlegde so from my perspective he/she will definitely get good band score if they speak but little or more out of track . I am agarily waiting for mam answer

    • Muhammad Naim says

      Agree with this statement ” it’s language Test ” not a General Knowledge exame, And in language text examiner will check skills of language rather than knowledge.

  28. Nneka says

    I think the response in No.1 Cue Card is Okay.
    The rest, i wouldn’t say the answers align with the Cue Card, especially No. 6.

    No.6 should be someone around 70+ at least. 40yrs of age isn’t old.

  29. I think only question 6 might be a problem otherwise the rest are OK, depending on the age of the person answering the question .

  30. Webster says

    They are all okay, since speaking part2 is there for the examiner to way the vocabulary of a student. It doesn’t matter how you answer the question but how you construct sentences grammar.

  31. Puspita Ningrum says

    It will only effect the Task response. However, there is still probability the candidate get high score in pronunciation, coherence cohesion and fluency.

  32. Faith says

    As far as my opinion is concerned, it’s ok to speak off topic slightly, but not completely. If done completely the examiner may conclude the candidate is unable to comprehend or process the English term used.

  33. B Ami says

    I talked about prizes in part 3 when she asked me how pride effects children growth 😀 after few back and forth , I realized that its pride not prize then I said are we talking about pride? i am sorry I thought its prize but by that time it was almost end of part3 . I thought I ruined it but for my surprise I got 7

    • B Ami says

      And my understanding is that the moment you realize you are answering wrong, talk about it that you misunderstood, it may give you points for proper communication for your own correction

  34. Olivia says

    Hello Liz. I think the candidate will score low in task achievement.

  35. It does not matter
    You will score just as well as if you had answered the question correctly

  36. Ghadeer says

    I think all the answers might be correct,if the test taker introduced or started his answer by …we’ll I did not get a chance to borrow anything but I can tell you when my friend borrowed…..

    So all the mentioned statements could be part of the answers.

  37. All the questions are problematic to me. I’m even confused.

  38. PIYALI DAS says

    yes that might be a problem but as soon as I realise that I am going in a wrong path we have to try to correct it so that continuation may not break out.

  39. Munisa says

    Hey Liz.
    I hope you safe 😃. I reckon all of them are ok for understanding.

  40. Okolo, Chekwubechukwu Helen says

    All of the questions were not answered correctly. In each of the questions, the candidate deviated.

  41. Grace Boateng Agyenim says

    A type of weather you like

  42. Liton Sarkar says

    All the examples above are wrong.

  43. Muhammad Naim says

    You talk about a sport you Enjoy is the correct….

  44. Sobia says

    I think question 5 will be an issue for the candidate because the rest of the questions indicate a typo or neglect at the candidate’s end, while in pt 5, it looks like the candidate did not know the meaning of “borrow” and confused it with the antonym; “Lend”

  45. Samantha Fouche says

    I think you’ll get a lower score for not answering the question correctly, although good vocabulary and grammar will still count in your favour.

  46. Elizabeth says

    A piece of equipment you use at home

  47. The examiner will foam at the mouth.

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