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IELTS Cue Card Sample Question – Describe a Time When You Tried to Do Something but Weren’t Successful

The IELTS Cue Card section is one of the parts of the IELTS Test that gives overwhelming stress and anxiety to those who have taken it.

And why is that?

It is because, for one, you are required to address a topic of which you might have very little knowledge. 

Secondly, you have very little time to prepare and lastly, you have to speak for a longer period, without questions coming from the examiner. But fret no more! 

In this post, we are giving you sample replies to the cue card topic ‘Describe a time when you tried to do something but weren’t successful.’ Please read on. 

What is the IELTS Cue Card Question?

In Task 2 of the IELTS Speaking Test, the examiner will hand you a cue card with a topic printed on it.

This card is called a cue card. It will also provide 3-5 bullet points outlining what you should cover in your speech.

You have one minute to plan and prepare, during which you may scribble down ideas on the given pen and paper.

You will have 1-2 minutes to speak about the subject.

The examiner will then ask you one or two questions about the topic that you have shared. This section lasts approximately 3-4 minutes in total.

How to Answer this Specific Question: “Describe a Time When You Tried to Do Something but Weren’t Successful”


Describe a Time When You Tried to Do Something but Weren’t Successful

Guidelines to answer this question

You should say:

  • When it was
  • What you did
  • Why it failed

and explain what and how you felt during that time.   

  • Recall a time when you tried doing something but failed. It could be something that happened just recently or something that occurred a long time ago. Just make sure that you have a good recollection of it so you will have a lot to share later on.  
  • The moment you have chosen something to discuss, stick to it. Remember that you do not have a lot of time to change the subject you have chosen. 
  • Start taking notes right away. State what you tried doing and when and where it happened. Explain why it was not successful and how you felt that day. Do not forget to include what you learned after that incident. 
  • Make sure that you maximize the time given to you. To save your time, do not write sentences. Simply put in keywords and sentences. 
  • Make use of advanced vocabulary. Utilize complicated grammatical structures as well. These two factors account for half of your marks in this section of the exam.
  • Be quick when writing down notes. However, make sure you will be able to comprehend what you have written later on. It is fine if the examiner could not recognize what you have written. Your grade is judged by the content and delivery of your speech, not by the quality of your handwriting.
  • You might look at your notes now and then. It is permissible. You will not be prevented from doing so by the examiner. After all, it is why you are given a pen and paper.

Sample Responses: “Describe a Time When You Tried to Do Something but Weren’t Successful”

Sample Response 1:

“Everybody strives for success, yet failure is unavoidable. I was about fourteen years old when it happened. My school hosted an annual festival with numerous competitions. But, because I couldn’t pick just one, I opted to participate in three of them: dance, painting, and craft. My friends and parents tried to persuade me that if I tried all of them, I wouldn’t be able to excel in any of them. But I didn’t allow anyone to get in the way of my desire.

I only had 14 days to prepare for all three while also attending my regular lessons. I made the decision to practice after school. Every day when I got home, I began practicing my dance. I was frequently too exhausted to walk, yet I continued to practice. Later, until midnight, I used to practice art and craft. My body became weaker during the day, and I was unable to concentrate on anything. When there were only 5 days to the competition, I decided to step up my preparation. 

I was overjoyed the night before the competition and fantasized about winning an award in all three categories. I didn’t realize it until I fell asleep. When I awoke, I realized I was surrounded by my parents and another unknown person. My parents later informed me that I had fainted from exhaustion and had a high temperature. I had to stay in my bed for a week and was not able to participate in the competitions. I told and promised myself that I would never do such a thing again and that I would perfect one skill before going on to the next.”

Follow-up Question 1:

How do you feel when you attempt to do something but do not succeed?


“At first, I felt disappointed and frustrated, which I think is understandable. It is normal to feel those things especially when you work hard. But after a while, I feel okay because I know that I can’t succeed at everything on the first try. In fact, I might have failed, but that does not mean that I didn’t learn.”

Follow-up Question 2: 

Do you think mistakes and failures help people to strive more? 


“In my opinion, I believe that mistakes and failures should make us try even more. For some people, that’s what they do. They do not stop trying until they finally become successful. And I admire them for doing so. However, some people, stop trying and give up so easily. I hope that should not happen but I understand those who give up trying, maybe they do lack the support that they require from the people around them.” 

Sample Response 2: 

“Well, I enjoy trying new things in order to gain new experiences. I’d like to share with you about a time when I attempted to bake a cake at home. It happened one Sunday, and I was bored at home. I was browsing YouTube videos when I came upon one of the famous chefs’ baking videos. He demonstrated how to make a chocolate cake in this video. I decided to give it a shot after seeing the video.

I went to the market to purchase all of the ingredients for this cake and immediately started baking while watching and following what was being done in the video. After about 40 minutes, I had what seemed like a delicious chocolate cake. I gathered my family and presented it to them so they could try it.  However, after the first taste, I noticed that the cake bun was not as fluffy as I had hoped.

I quickly opened the video and double-checked the processes and ingredient list. There, I discovered that the amount of baking soda I used was less than the exact amount required. I was feeling a little self-conscious in front of my family. My family, on the other hand, praised my efforts and urged me to try again the following week. Despite my disappointment, this event instilled in me a new sense of confidence to try something new.”

Follow-up Question 1:

What does success mean to you? 


“I think that success means differently to each and every one. For some, it simply means achieving the goal that they have set. But for me, it does not necessarily mean that way. I think that even if you are not able to achieve what you intend to achieve, as long as you learned something along that way, that can be considered success already.”

Follow-up Question 2: 

In your perspective, which is more important to be successful, opportunities or hard work? 


“I believe that working hard is the most crucial factor in achieving success. Even while the opportunity is important, it is not possible to obtain it without first putting in the effort. Let’s say you got your ideal job and took advantage of the opportunity to go there, but would you have gotten it without putting in the effort? No. So for me, hard work is more important.”

Vocabulary List for Answering this Question: Describe a Time When You Tried to Do Something but Weren’t Successful”

Below are some terms from the sample responses for the cue card topic Describe a time when you tried doing something but weren’t successful.’ with their definitions and example sentences for your reference. 

WordPart of SpeechDefinitionExample Usage of
the Word in a Sentence
attemptverbTo make an attempt to accomplish or complete anything, usually a difficult activity or action“In every attempt to convince her, I failed.”
browseverbTo go over something in a leisurely and informal manner“We went to an antique shop to browse some items.”
concentrateverbTo focus on a specific object or activityConcentrate on minor goals above large ones.”
demonstrateverbTo provide a hands-on demonstration and discussion of how a piece of equipment, activity, or craftsmanship operates or is performed“My seller will now demonstrate to you how the machine works.”
exhaustedadjectiveDrained of one’s mental or physical energies; extremely fatigued“We’re all exhausted from the trip.”
faintverbTo lose consciousness for a while because of a momentarily inadequate amount of oxygen in the brain“I almost faint when I saw the scene of the accident.” 
fluffyadjectiveLight and airy in texture“Mix and batter together with the sugar and butter until fluffy and creamy.”
frustratedadjectiveFeeling or expressing annoyance and distress, especially due to an inability to modify or achieve what“When things have gone against him, he became quite frustrated.”
instillverbTo gently but firmly implant an idea or mindset, particularly a desired one, in the mind of a person“We were able to instill the same mindset in every member of the team, resulting in pride and competence in that regard as well.”
persuadeverbTo persuade someone to do something by using logic or argument“I’m attempting to persuade her to abandon the attempt.”
self-consciousadjectiveFeeling too watchful of oneself, one’s looks, or one’s conduct“In my long dress, I felt a little self-conscious.”
step upphrasal verbTo amplify the quantity, pace, or intensity of something“As your strength increases, you may take on new difficulties and step up the intensity of your self-control training.”
striveverbTo put up a lot of effort to attain or gain somethingStrive to make each day a delightful and meaningful experience.”
unavoidableadjectiveImpossible to avoid, prevent, or dismiss“A collision was unavoidable given the conditions.”
urgeverbTo make an earnest or continuous effort to persuade someone to do something“The witnesses were seized by an uncontrollable urge to cry.”

Additional Reading — IELTS Speaking Cue Card Questions


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