Skip to content

English Paper 1 Essay Tips And Tricks

Are you taking IB English and need some help with your studying? No need to reread all the books and poems you covered in class! This study guide is for IB English A students (students in IB English A: literature SL/HL, IB English A: language and literature SL/HL, or IB English literature and performance SL) who are looking for additional guidance on writing their commentaries or essays.

I've compiled this IB English study guide using the best free materials available for this class. Use it to supplement your classwork and help you prepare for exams throughout the school year.

 

What’s Tested on the IB English Exams?

The IB English courses are unique from other IB classes in that they don't have a very rigid curriculum with exact topics to cover. Instead, your class (or most likely your teacher) is given the freedom to choose what works (from a list of prescribed authors and a list of prescribed literature in translation from IBO) to teach. The exams reflect that freedom.

On the exam for all English A courses, you’re asked to write an essay (or essays) that incorporates examples from the novels you read. You’re also asked to interpret text (typically poetry, though sometimes an excerpt from a book) that you read for the first time the day of the exam. The exact number of questions varies by the course, but the types of questions asked on each all fall into the two categories listed above.

 

What’s Offered in This Guide?

In this guide, I have compiled materials to help teach you how to interpret poetry and how to structure your essay/commentary. I've also provided notes on several books typically taught in IB English SL/HL. This should be all of the material you need to study for your IB exam and to study for your in-class exams. 

 

How to Interpret Poetry Guides

Many people struggle the most with the poetry material, and if you're one of those people, we have some resources specifically for making poetry questions easier. Here is a full explanation of how to interpret poetry for the IB exam with term definitions, descriptions of types of poems, and examples. This is another great resource with poetry terms defined on “flashcards”, and you can test yourself on the site by clicking play. Also, here are two additional step-by-step guides to analyzing poetry and planning and writing the commentary.

 

How to Write Your Essay Guide

If you're not sure how to write your essay, here's a guide to what you essay should look like for the IB English SL/HL papers. This guide gives advice on how you should structure your essay and what you should include in it. It also contains a few sample questions so you can get a better idea of the types of prompts you can expect to see.

 

 

IB English Book Notes

Based on the list of prescribed authors and literature from IBO, I picked some of the most popular books to teach and provided links to notes on those works. What's important to remember from these books is key moments, themes, motifs, and symbols, so you can discuss them on your in-class tests and the IB papers. 

 

 

The Best Study Practices for IB English

Hopefully, this guide will be an asset to you throughout the school year for in-class quizzes as well as at the end of the year for the IB exam. Taking practice tests is also important, and you should also look at our other article for access to FREE IB English past papers to help you familiarize yourself with the types of questions asked by the IBO (and I’m sure your teacher will ask similar questions on your quizzes).  

Make sure you're reading all of the novels and poetry assigned to you in class, and take detailed notes on them. This will help you remember key themes and plot points so you don't find yourself needing to reread a pile of books right before the exam.

Finally, keep up with the material you learn in class, and don't fall behind. Reading several novels the week before the IB exam won’t be much help. You need to have time and let the material sink in over the course of the class, so you’re able to remember it easily on the day of the IB exam.

 

What’s Next?

Want some more study materials for IB English? Our guide to IB English past papers has links to every free and official past IB English paper available!

Are you hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes? Learn about the IB courses offered online by reading our guide.

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score. 

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

This article is all about the dreaded IB English Paper 2 exam and some IB English Paper 2 tips that can help you stifle the dread you feel for it.

Some could argue that the IB English Paper 2 exam is tougher than Paper 1. In reality, it just depends on what you find difficult. Don’t worry. We’re gonna tackle this thing head on and hopefully you’ll get a better understanding of what it takes to ace it (or at least do well in).

This article is going to contain a couple of helpful IB English Paper 2 Tips that you can start applying in your past paper studies.

Furthermore, yes. This advice is for both HL and SL.

IB English Paper 2 Tips

It Helps If You Read The Books

Yup. Simple as that. Read. The. Books/Plays/Novels. It’s how you’re going to really know what you’re talking about in the English Paper 2 exam.

You can’t really expect to walk in there and think you’ll do well with half the knowledge on the books because you couldn’t be bothered to read it can you?

Furthermore, take down as many notes and mental notes of the content as you can. Probably the most important things to remember about your books/novels/plays that will help you out are the following:

  • Time period – When does the story take place? When was did the author write it? This is important because it can give you ideas about the cultural context of the story, which therefore makes for a better analyzed exam paper.
  • Main theme(s) – This is definitely important. The main thematic elements of the literary works you’ve studied should be remembered. I say ‘should’ not because it’s a requirement in the exam but because you’ll have SO much more to talk about in your writing. Your only worry might even end up being writing too much.
  • Background of the author – This one ties in very strongly with the first one ‘Time Period’. It begs the question “How does the author’s experiences affect his work?”. You definitely get bonus points if you show you’ve done research on the author and can find links between certain elements of the book/novel/play and the author.
  • Cultural References – Now don’t get confused with the first and third aspects. Think of the cultural references as a further analysis into the time period. Obviously different time periods will have different trends (just take a look at fashion in the 60’s and fashion now). You can use these to your advantage and make links between the contents of the story and the time period it is set in or was written in.

So those are just a few things you can focus on. SL, lucky for you guys you can afford to mention all 4 of those in a more general sense but HL?

Unfortunately, HL students are gonna have to be more Sherlock-y on their analysis as well as evaluation and be incredibly specific with any points you make.

Matter of fact that leads me to my next point in this IB English Paper 2 Tips article, which we will discuss after this short commercial break about quotes.

Quotes

Trust me when I say this, but you’re not going anywhere above a 5 without any quoting or references to specific lines in your literary texts.

Don’t even dream about it folks. Your quotes and specific references are your source of life in this exam and you need them.

I would personally recommend learning 6 or 7 quotes from each of your literary texts. It’s important that you’ve analyzed the metaphorical living life out of your quotes because it’s important that you know them inside out.

You can even make whole paragraphs based on one or two quotes. That’s how important they are, assuming you’re analysis is good of course.

HL students, while it’s important that you memorize quotes from all of your literary texts, you should also know that it’s not essential to mention the quotes of your third literary piece if you’ve written on the other two.

You just need to make a passing comment if you want to max out your grade potential. So for example, say I’m writing an English Paper 2 exam and I choose the two plays “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Death of a Salesman” with “A Doll’s House” as my third play (those are all real plays in case any of you are wondering…)

To squeeze in a reference to my third play, all I would need to do is something like this:

“Interestingly enough, Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” mirrors the literary qualities of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Death of a Salesman” as Ibsen portrays Torvald to be…..”

You’d write one short four line paragraph with that and that would be it. HL folks, that would literally be all you need to do to increase your chances of a level 7.

Structure

So moving on to the next point in this ever so increasingly long IB English Paper 2 tips post, which is structure. What every good essay needs is obviously a structure and this definitely doesn’t change for the English paper 2 exam.

Now let me just emphasize that I advise you NOT to use the same format as the paper 1 structure I suggested.

Why? Well because with Paper 1, we’re dealing with 4 texts, 2 of which we need to compare. Therefore it’s more accommodating for a a generic structure that gives some form of comparison between the texts. For Paper 2?

Uh-uh. Don’t even think about using that structure. You’d likely get a 5 if you’re lucky for SL but for HL? Nah using that structure is a sure way to screw up your grade big time.

Now that the doomsday warnings are over, lemme tell you how you’re gonna plan your essay for paper 2 and get a lovely, lovely level 6 or 7 (highly dependent on your analytical skills by the way). So. Paper 2’s structure is going to look something like this:

Introduction

This is where you give a brief overview of the story you’re analyzing. It’s got to be concise and ideally shouldn’t exceed 4 or 5 lines. You’ve got to get straight into it. No fancy, fluffy, sophisticated English vocabulary. Examiners see right through that trick like Superman’s X-Ray vision. Trust me. You won’t phase them or get higher grades.

Body Paragraphs

Now let me be clear, you need to be doing at least 2 of your literary texts so you’re going to need to have plenty prepared to talk about. HL, you get bonus points for including all 3 texts. Now. How your body paragraphs should go is as so:

Just briefly. It’s your analysis and evaluation that need more writing.

  • Analyse your point with evidence 

This is where you break down your point and start to show your masterful interpretation of the English language. REMEMBER. You HAVE to give proof. This is where your quotes come in. They act as support for your analysis.

  • Evaluate by bringing in a different or similar perspective 

By this I mean you bring in your second literary text. That’s perhaps the only way you’re going to get great grades especially you, HL people. A good way flow your evaluation would be something like this:

“Similarly, in ‘A Doll’s House’, we see Nora conforming to….”

or you could go

“On the other hand, Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ show’s a contrasting thematic point of view wherein….”

You get the idea. Make your ideas flow. Make points on all your plays and contrast them with one another.

This part of the essay should also be short and sweet. The introduction and conclusion parts of your essay are where you need to be spending the least time writing. Just make a concluding three or four line paragraph relating to the question you’ve answered.

BY THE WAY. Damn I can’t believe I’m mentioning this important point this late but REMEMBER to stick to the question. Don’t make the mistake of getting carried away. You’re answering ONE question and you need to make it obvious.

So for example (and I hope IB don’t sue me for this because I’m going to be quoting from the November 2015 Past Paper…):

“Discuss the pursuit of happiness in at least two works you have studied”

If you were answering the above question, you would make a reference to it throughout your analysis. So you could go something like this:

“The pursuit of happiness can be interpreted in “Death of a Salesman” as readers notice Arthur Miller’s utilization of anaphora in Act X, line Y, to portray the main protagonist, Willy Loman, as being…..”

That’s how you’d be telling the examiner that you know you’re answering the question.

For the concluding paragraph, you would do something simple such as:

“So to sum up the aforementioned points, Miller, Ibsen and Williams’ use of a mixture of thematic elements, stylistic features and structure clearly portray the pursuit of happiness as….”

That’s probably only a half decent example but you get the idea.

Liked this article? Here’s another one!

Simple Analyzing Strategy For IB English

 

 

Posted by Rhys McKenna in IB English