9 Best Tips for Picture Description on the Duolingo English Test

9 Best Tips for Picture Description on the Duolingo English Test
New York, New York. Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis / Unsplash
🇧🇷
Clique aqui para uma versão deste artigo em português
🇯🇵
日本語バージョンはこちら

There are 2 kinds of picture description questions on the Duolingo English Test. In one, you have to speak and in the other, you have to write. Both count toward your Production subscore, which, on average, is the most difficult subscore for test takers.

Improving at picture description questions is a great way to raise your score! In this article, we’re going to look closely at each of them and we’re going to cover the tips and tricks that will get you the highest marks.

👉 We also have an entire video on our YouTube channel that teaches you the best strategy for describing an image!

Table of Contents

The Speaking Picture Description Question

This question is officially called “Speak About the Photo.” It looks like this:

Example of a “Speak About the Photo” question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a “Speak About the Photo” question from the Duolingo English Test

You will have 20 seconds to study the image, then you will have 90 seconds to speak about it.

You will only be able to record yourself 1 time! So, if you make a mistake, don’t panic. Stay calm and just keep speaking.

There is only one “Speak About the Photo” question on the test.

👉 For an in-depth look at this question type, check out: "Speak About the Photo" - Guide to Duolingo English Test Question

The Writing Picture Description Question

This question is officially called “Write About the Picture” and it looks like this:

Example of a "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test

For this question, you won’t have any time to study the image before you write. You simply have 1 minute to write.

Another difference is that you will see this question 3 times on the test, while the speaking version you will see only once.

👉 To learn more, check out: “Write About the Photo” - Guide to Duolingo English Test Question

9 Best Tips for Picture Description

1. Study the image carefully

The image will be quite small on the test. Make sure you look at it closely to notice all important details.

2. Focus on your grammar

Simple grammar mistakes lose you a lot points. So, avoiding them is the easiest way to raise your score!

3. Vary your sentence structure

A simple sentence is one that starts with the subject and the verb. In picture description questions, people tend to start their sentences with “I see” or “There is.” These are simple sentences with low grammatical complexity that will result in lower scores.

The easiest way to use fewer simple sentences and increase the grammatical complexity of your responses is to use connecting words. These are words that connect two ideas together and result in longer, more complex sentences.

Here is a list of connecting words, with examples:

  • And: I like ice cream, and I like cake.
  • But: I like cake, but I don’t like chocolate.
  • So: I want to be successful, so I work hard.
  • Yet: The test was difficult, yet I passed.
  • However: We want to get pizza. However, the restaurant is closed today.
  • Which: We played soccer, which is my favorite sport.
  • Because: I’m tired because I played 2 soccer matches yesterday.
  • Therefore: I didn’t study for the test. Therefore, I got a bad score.
  • Moreover: I like walking to school because I get some exercise. Moreover, I get to spend more time outside.
  • In fact: I love the beach. In fact, it’s my favorite place in the world.
  • For example: There are many great cities in the world. For example, Paris has great food and museums.
  • First, second, third: I prefer the mountains to the beach. First, the mountains are closer to my house. Second, there are fewer people in the mountains. Third, the air is cleaner.
  • In addition to: Learning new languages opens up many doors in addition to being fun to learn.

It’s important that you use these connecting words correctly. Otherwise, your writing will get worse, not better.

You should find the translation of these connecting words in your native language. This will allow you to understand how they should be used.

4. Use synonyms

Here is a list of commonly-used words with some synonyms.

Good

  • Great: Stronger than “good”
  • Terrific: Stronger than “great”
  • Tasty: Use “tasty” instead of “good” when describing food
  • Enjoyable: Use “enjoyable” instead of “good” when describing an experience or place

Bad

  • Terrible: Stronger than “bad”
  • Miserable: Stronger than “terrible”
  • Unpleasant: Use “unpleasant” instead of “bad” when describing an experience

Important

  • Noteworthy: Use “noteworthy” to describe a detail or person worth knowing about
  • Prominent: Use “prominent” to describe a person, company, or some entity that is well-known or powerful
  • Crucial, essential, critical: These all convey the idea that something is necessary

Like

  • Love: Stronger than “like”
  • Adore: Stronger than “love”
  • Enjoy: Use “enjoy” to describe food, places, or experiences

Small

  • Tiny: Smaller than “small”
  • Insignificant: Use “insignificant” to describe something that doesn’t matter

Large

  • Huge: Larger than “large”
  • Enormous: Larger than “large”
  • Sizable: An almost direct synonym for “large”

👉 Arno’s Vocabulary Builder is a great way to improve your vocabulary. We give you study cards that have definitions, examples, and pronunciation guides. Click here to create your free account.

5. Speak and write for the entire time

The length of your response is one of the aspects that Duolingo evaluates you on. Although you only have to write at least 1 sentence and speak for at least 30 seconds, you should write and speak for the entire time. Making your responses longer is an easy way to raise your score.

Each question is timed on its own. Answering some questions quickly will not give you more time on other questions.

For the written picture description questions, you should try to write over 30 words and ideally over 50.

6. Use the “5 W’s” strategy to structure your response

Duolingo recommends that you, “Try to go beyond simple labeling and describe the image in detail.” (Source) “Simple labeling” means just pointing out objects that you see in a photo.

The 5 W’s strategy will help you describe pictures in detail:

  1. What is happening in this photo?
  2. Who is doing what?
  3. Where are they doing it?
  4. When are they doing it?
  5. Why are they doing it?

On picture description questions, you want to ask yourself these questions. If you do this, it will be a lot easier to come up with ideas to write/speak about. This allows you to focus on writing/speaking well and getting a high score.

☝️ You don’t necessarily have to answer the 5 W’s questions in order or answer every one. The questions are meant to help you think of things to talk about.

Let me illustrate with an example.

Example of a "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test

Like I said, the images are quite small! Here is the image enlarged:

Enlarged picture from the example of a "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test
  1. What is happening in this photo? ⇒ A man and a boy are walking down the sidewalk.
  2. Who is doing what? ⇒ The two are having a conversation. The man is smiling.
  3. Where are they doing it? ⇒ They are on a sidewalk in a town or a city.
  4. When are they doing it? ⇒ They boy has a backpack, while the man has a satchel. Perhaps it is the morning and the man is going to work and the boy is going to school. There are leaves on the ground and they’re wearing sweaters, so it appears to be autumn.
  5. Why are they doing it? ⇒ Perhaps the man is the boy’s father, so he is dropping his son off at school on his way to work.

This would be the full response:

In this photo, there are 2 people walking down the sidewalk, a man and a boy. They are having a conversation and appear to be having a good time, because the man is smiling. It appears to be autumn because they are wearing sweaters and there are leaves on the ground. Both have bags. The man has a satchel while the boy has a backpack. Perhaps the man is the boy’s father, and he is dropping his son off at school on his way to work.

7. For writing questions, save time to review your response

Writing and editing are 2 separate processes.

When you are writing, you are just getting your ideas out. When you edit, you are cleaning up your writing. If you try to do both at the same time, you won’t do either well!

For the written picture description questions, you should spend ~50 seconds writing and ~10 seconds editing.

While you are editing, focus on fixing the obvious, easy things. Look for typos and other obvious mistakes. Don’t get stuck trying to make one thing perfect.

8. For speaking questions, slow down and enunciate

When we get stressed or nervous, we naturally speak more quickly. But, you need to train yourself to slow down. This will give you time to pronounce words well. This will help you do well on the aspect “Fluency & acoustic features”.

Slowing down also makes it easier to speak for the entire time!

9. Practice and get feedback

The best way to improve your writing and speaking is to get feedback. This is why we built Arno.

With Arno, you can practice an unlimited number of picture description questions for free. With paid credits, you can also get instant scoring and feedback on your grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation 🤩

Just click below to create your free account and start practicing in just a few seconds.

"Try Now" call to action for Arno

Example Picture Description Questions (with High-Scoring Responses)

Let’s now look at 6 examples of writing and speaking picture description questions. All these responses are very high scoring, at least 130 out of 160 points.

(All of these examples were taken from Arno.)

Example 1

Example of a writing picture description from the Duolingo English Test

Response

In this photo, I see a picture of a man wearing a mask. He is on the sidewalk and all around him people are walking. Everyone appears to be wearing masks as well, so this could be a picture taken during the Covid-19 pandemic. The man’s mask is amusing because it makes him look like a shark that has a big smile. Additionally, the man has big, curly hair, and he is wearing glasses and a tee shirt.

Example 2

Example of a writing picture description from the Duolingo English Test

Response

In this photo, there is a teenage girl lighting candles in a slice of cake. Instead of using a match or a lighter, she is using another candle, which is a clever method. There is another hand in the photo holding a candle, and it looks like this person is waiting for the teenager to finish lighting the candles on her side. Presumably, they are celebrating someone’s birthday.

Example 3

Example of a writing picture description from the Duolingo English Test

Response

This photo shows a small, cute animal in a tree. I believe that the animal depicted is a red panda, although I’m not sure. It could be another kind of mammal, but one that I don’t believe is native to North America, where I live. The animal seems scared because it is cowering against the branch, like it is trying to hide from a predator.

Example 4

Example of a speaking picture description from the Duolingo English Test

Response

I see in this photo a musician, specifically a rock star. He is playing a yellow guitar and singing into a microphone. Behind him is another musician who appears to be playing another guitar, or maybe a bass guitar. The other musician is in dark green light while the singer is brightly illuminated, indicating that he is in the spotlight. The stage they are playing on appears to be quite large, so they must be quite a successful band.

Example 5

Example of a speaking picture description from the Duolingo English Test

Response

This photo shows a dance crew performing in a town square or some open space like that. They are all wearing matching white tee shirts, but it is impossible to see what is written on the tee shirts. All but one of the dancers are wearing black jeans. Maybe he found it too hot for jeans! Behind them is some kind of display or booth. Maybe the dance crew is raising awareness around an issue or they are trying to sell something.

Example 6

Example of a speaking picture description from the Duolingo English Test

Response

In this photo, we see a woman golfer. She has just finished hitting the ball, and she is following through with her swing and watching the flight of her ball. Her attire suggests that she is a serious player. She is wearing a glove to give her better grip on her golf club, and she is wearing a visor to keep the sun out of her eyes. There also appears to be a scorebook in her back pocket, which is what professional golfers do.

When you practice with Arno, you will get instant scoring and feedback on your response like this:

Screenshot showing how Arno gives you instant, detailed feedback.
Arno gives you instant, detailed feedback.

You can replay your response to hear how you sound. You can also get a pronunciation assessment.

Screenshot showing how Arno gives you feedback on your pronuniciation.
Arno gives you feedback on your pronuniciation.

Arno gives you feedback on your grammar and vocabulary as well as a full, rewritten version that will score highly.

To see it for yourself, just click here to create your free account and start practicing!

Conclusion

Here are the top tips to improve your scores on picture description questions:

  1. Study the image carefully
  2. Focus on your grammar
  3. Vary your sentence structure
  4. Use synonyms
  5. Speak and write for the entire time
  6. Use the “5 W’s” strategy to structure your response
  7. For writing questions, save time to review your response
  8. For speaking questions, slow down and enunciate
  9. Practice and get feedback

The best way to practice with feedback is Arno. Just click below to create your free account and you’ll be practicing in seconds!

"Try Now" call to action for Arno