IELTS Cue Card: Describe a time you were sleepy but had to stay awake

IELTS Cue Card: Describe a time you were sleepy but had to stay awake


Describe a time you were sleepy but had to stay awake.
You should say:
  • When it happened
  • Why you were sleepy
  • Why you had to stay awake
And explain how you stayed awake.

Part 3:
  • When do people need to stay awake when they feel tired?
  • How do people stay awake when they are tired?
  • Why do people feel tired a lot nowadays?
  • What kinds of people are sleep deprived?

Part 2 — Sample Answer:

I think there have been quite a number of such instances, but one that comes to mind is a time I had to take an early morning flight to London.

Sometimes I have difficulty getting to sleep and would consider myself to be a night owl. Going to sleep before 3am is usually quite a challenge, and I knew that I was going to be really sleep deprived because of this early morning start.

Try as I might, I wasn’t able to get to sleep. I tried all the tricks including the cliché one that involves counting sheep.

I laid there for hours, tossing and turning and watching the clock as the hours rolled on.

Eventually I gave up and just accepted my fate. I finished packing the last few items I wanted to take on the trip and headed off to the airport.

The bright lights in the airport terminal kept me awake for a while, but as I was sitting at the gate waiting for boarding to begin, I started to feel drowsy as it was well past the usual time I’d go to bed, and I hadn’t slept a wink.

Knowing that I was likely to nod off if I stayed seated, I got up and wandered around, looking for the first coffee shop near the gate, or failing that a vending machine that would sell some kind of caffeinated drink. I was really afraid of falling asleep so deeply that I’d miss my flight and would have to fork out for another one later in the day.

There was a little coffee stand within spitting distance. I looked through the menu and picked the drink that seemed like it would have the best chance of keeping me awake until I could take a nap on the flight.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Instances (noun)
A particular event, situation, or fact.
Example: There have been several instances of violence at the school.

Comes to mind (phrase)
If you suddenly remember something or start to think about it, it is said to come to mind.
Example: They asked for my comments, but nothing came to mind.

Night owl (noun)
A person who prefers to be awake and active at night.
Example: My husband is a night own, but I like to be in bed before midnight.

Sleep deprived (adjective)
If you’re sleep deprived, you’re suffering from a lack of sleep.
Example: Students are often sleep deprived because they have to start their day so early.

Try as I might (idiom)
A phrase that’s used for saying that someone is making a great effort to do something, but still cannot do it.
Example: Try as I might, I can’t get to sleep before midnight.

Cliché (noun)
A phrase or idea that is boring because people use it a lot and it’s no longer original. This word is a French loanword and has an accent, which is unusual for words used in English. Note the French pronunciation of this word too.
Example: I know it’s cliché, but my wedding day was the happiest day of my life.

Tossing and turning (idiom)
If you toss and turn all night, sleep restlessly. You reposition yourself continuously in an attempt to fall asleep.
Example: Every night I toss and turn until just a few hours before I’m supposed to wake up.

Roll on (idiom)
It’s used with things like time that move on slowly and evenly, like a ball rolling along the ground.
Example: As the hours rolled on, I realized how difficult the task was.

Give up (phrasal verb)
To give up something is to stop doing something that you do regularly.
Example: His grandchild finally persuaded him to give up smoking.

Head off (phrasal verb)
If you head off you start a journey or leave a place.
Example: What time are you heading off?

Drowsy (adjective)
Feeling like you want to go to sleep. Often it’s used when it’s not the usual time to go to sleep.
Example: Some medicines make you feel drowsy.

Not slept a wink (idiom)
If you haven’t slept a wink you haven’t had any sleep.
Example: I wasn’t able to sleep a wink with all that noise outside.

Nod off (phrasal verb)
If you nod off, you go to sleep, especially when you didn’t intend to.
Example: After our busy day, we both sat and nodded off in front of the TV.

Failing that (idiom)
A way of saying what you intend to do if the first thing you try doesn’t work.
Example: You should get them to pay for the damage, but failing that, claim on your insurance.

Fork out (phrasal verb)
If you fork out for something, you pay an amount of money, especially unwillingly.
Example: I had to fork out for the table I damaged.

Within spitting distance (idiom)
If something is within spitting distance, it’s extremely close.
Example: My house is within spitting distance of the beach.

Part 3 — Sample Answers:

When do people need to stay awake when they feel tired?

There are many such occasions. One that comes to mind is a student that’s cramming for a test or desperately trying to finish an assignment before the deadline. A lot of students are overburdened with their coursework and struggle to keep up. They end up having to burn the midnight oil to get through everything and their sleep schedule suffers as a result.

A lot of professions require long and exhausting shifts. Doctors have long been required to work at times that would be considered unsociable by most. They often have to fight the urge to go to sleep in order to keep performing their duties.

There are other people, like myself, who have had to stay awake to make it on time for a flight and often I see a lot of sleepy passengers, either arriving or departing every time I fly.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Cramming (verb)
To study hard in order to learn a lot in a short period of time, especially for an examination.
Example: She spent all night cramming for the exam because she hadn’t started early enough.

Overburdened (adjective)
If you’re overburdened, you have too much to carry, contain, or deal with.
Example: The students at the high school were overburdened with homework.

Keep up (phrasal verb)
If you keep up, you make progress or learn at the same speed as someone or something.
Example: By studying hard she managed to keep up.

End up (phrasal verb)
If you end up somewhere, you go somewhere unexpected or unplanned. If you end up in a situation, it means something happened to you that you didn't expect.
Example A: I ended up in Rome for one more night because the flight was cancelled.
Example B: I ended up choosing to study computer science.
Example C: The cake ended up in the trash because it was bad.
Example D: She didn't want to end up like her father, so she moved to Paris.
Example E: The restaurant was too busy so we ended up going to a different one.

Burn the midnight oil (idiom)
If you burn the midnight oil, you work until very late at night. It comes from the idea of using an oil lamp.
Example: He regularly burns the midnight oil when he has to study for a test.

As a result (idiom)
It’s a phrase used to mean that something happened because of something else.
Example: He sprained his wrist and, as a result, will not be playing in the match on Sunday.

Unsociable (adjective)
If you work a job at which you have to work at unusual times of the day, so that you don’t have much time to spend with your family or friends, you’re said to be working an unsocial job or unsocial hours.
Example: I often work long unsociable hours.

Fight the urge (idiom)
If you fight the urge to do something, you resist the desire to do something that is very tempting or desirable.
Example: When I gave up smoking I really had to fight the urge to buy a pack.

How do people stay awake when they’re tired?

I think the first thing most people reach for is a caffeinated drink. Coffee and energy drinks are the most commonly consumed beverages, and it’s not unusual to see a cup of coffee in the hand of a tired person.

There are some people that just take caffeine pills instead if they don’t want to go to the trouble of drinking a hot coffee. Perhaps they think it’s more efficient or more effective. Personally I prefer energy drinks, but occasionally I have taken a caffeine pill if I didn’t have much time or the stores were closed.

Getting up and walking around is another common tactic to stay awake. I think this is only possible as a short term strategy, and only really useful if they’re trying to stay awake in an airport something similar, because it’s not possible to do any kind of desk work while wandering around.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Go to the trouble (idiom)
If you go to the trouble of doing something, it means you make an effort to do it.
Example: If the police had gone to the trouble of looking up his record, they would not have released him.

Tactic (noun)
A particular method or plan for achieving something.
Example: She often used the tactic of threatening to quit.

Why do people feel tired a lot nowadays?

A lot of people have spread themselves too thin and have too many commitments. As a consequence, they sacrifice sleep in order to stay on top of them all.

People nowadays also seem to have longer commutes. They’re often stuck in traffic or spend a significant amount of time riding in a crowded subway train in order to get to work. This means that they have to get up earlier than people in the past, and cut their sleep short as a consequence.

I think insomnia has been on the rise in recent years. People struggle to get to sleep when they should — myself included — because they’re playing with their phones instead of falling asleep. I think this is a very unhealthy habit, but in spite of ongoing education about this problem, people tend to turn a blind eye.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Spread yourself too thin (idiom)
If you try to do too many things at he same time, so that you can’t give enough time or attention to any of them, you are said to be spreading yourself too thin.
Example: I realized I’d been spreading myself too thin so I dropped two of my classes.

On top (idiom)
If you are on top, you’re in a situation where you are in control or winning.
Example: She came out on top in every race.

Cut something short (idiom)
If you cut something short you’re ending it unexpectedly or before its planned conclusion.
Example: Nobody was disappointed when the microphone came unplugged, cutting his boring speech short.

On the rise (idiom)
If something is on the rise it’s happening more frequently, or ascending in power, status, influence, etc.
Example: That small company has been on the rise for the last few years.

In spite of this (idiom)
It’s a phrase used for referring to a fact that makes something else surprising.
Example: In spite of his injury, he’s going to play football this weekend.

Turn a blind eye (idiom)
If you turn a blind eye you ignore something that you know is wrong. Often you know you should do something about it, but you don’t want to.
Example: We’re not supposed to park here, but the police often turn a blind eye.

What kinds of people are sleep deprived?

As mentioned before, anybody whose profession require them to work long hours. Doctors and nurses often work upwards of 12 hours in one shift without much of a break and combined with a long commute and they may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. They’ll fail to get enough sleep and will only be able to catch up on their days off.

New parents are often woken up frequently by their newborn. They’ll struggle to sleep through the night because of their baby’s crying, or perhaps they’re worrying about whether they’re okay.

There are others who struggle with insomnia and habitually find themselves sleeping an insufficient number of hours. These people often have to seek the help of a doctor or other medical professional in order to resolve the problem so they can function adequately at work or school.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Upwards of (adverb)
If a number is upwards of something it is at least that amount or more.
Example: The rescue plan is expected to cost at upwards of $10 million.

There aren’t enough hours in the day (phrase)
This phrase is used when you want to say there are too many things to do and there isn’t enough time to do it all.
Example: I’m behind at work. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

Catch up (phrasal verb)
If you catch up on something, you do something you didn’t have time to do earlier.
Example: She’s staying late at the office to catch up on some work.

Day off (noun)
A day when you do not work.
Example: I usually catch up with my housework on my days off.

Insomnia (noun)
A medical condition in which you have difficulty sleeping.
Example: He suffered from insomnia caused by stress at work.

Adequately (adverb)
Something is done adequately if it is done in a way that is good enough for a particular purpose.
Example: The program is adequately funded at this time.

How long will these questions be valid?

At least until the end of April 2020.
Three times a year the British Council changes many of the topics and questions they ask. Sometimes they decide to keep a topic for another four months, but oftentimes they decide to replace it. This one is very likely to be replaced with a new topic at the beginning of May 2020, but it won't be known for sure until then.

Just to let you know, there are 49 possible part 2/3 topics on the current exam. Sometimes there are more, sometimes there are less, and this number changes when the British Council updates the questions.

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Royaume-Uni
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I help students with two things: ✅ Day to day speaking practice ✅ IELTS speaking test preparation I correct everything and will help you learn where your mistakes are and how to fix them. I don't ignore your mistakes! I have all the current questions that can appear on the IELTS speaking test. Preparing with me won't be a waste of time, and you won't be practicing questions that are years out of date. I've helped hundreds of students get the score they want on the IELTS speaking test, which can be an incredibly difficult test sometimes. I can help make sure you're as prepared as possible for the questions that examiners can throw at you. Many of my students have commented that they've practiced the very same questions that appeared on the exam, and were happy to have thought through some tricky topics in advance. Let's get started! Book a class and I'll see you soon!
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