Secrets for success in the IB English Language and Literature exam

By Ben Pang

The English language and literature paper is coming up, so two tutors provide some insider tips

By Ben Pang |

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Exam season is here. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB) English language and literature exam starts on Monday, but you don’t need to be a bundle of nerves in the run up to the big day. Young Post asked two IB tutors, Cana Elite Education Centre’s Jamie Choy and NTK Academic Group’s Alex Yu for some smart tips on how to make your answers stand out.

Paper 1

The IB English A Language & Literature Paper One exam will be held on May 2. The higher level (HL) candidates will write a comparative commentary based on two unseen texts, whereas the standard level (SL) candidates will write a commentary on one unseen text.

Choy says structuring your essay systematically will impress your examiners. Each paragraph should follow the rule: points, evidence and explanation. This makes your arguments clearer. Candidates should write three main points. If an essay includes too many ideas, students will struggle to give an in-depth analysis.

The following elements should be included in your commentary: text types, writers’ purposes, target audience, visuals (e.g. typeface and font), stylistic features (e.g. imagery and tone), diction and syntax, themes and point of view.

Both HL and SL candidates are encouraged to spend 20 minutes reading the unseen texts and planning their answers before writing. It sounds like a long time, but considering this takes into account time to both understand the texts and plan answers, Choy and Yu agree that it’s not too long.

You also need to make sure the quotes you use support your points. The commentary is partially graded on your ability to give well-chosen examples.

Try not to blindly comment on anything you don’t understand. You don’t want to give the examiners an excuse to mark you down.

Students should develop a habit of reading different text types every day. Start by analysing advertisements. Try to figure out the messages behind them, and think about how language is used to persuade the audience.

Students should also be aware of current affairs like global politics or modern technology as Paper One mostly covers social issues.

Yu adds that misusing literary devices (e.g. motifs, metaphors and imagery) is also a common problem that limits a student’s ability to score well in Paper One.

Paper 2

The IB English A Language and Literature Paper Two exam will be held on May 3. Both HL and SL candidates will respond to one question from a choice of six and write an essay based on the literary texts studied.

Choy advises candidates to identify, analyse and evaluate the three most important elements of a literary text, including its themes, literary devices, and context.

Choy also recommends memorising quotes from the texts you have studied. Using quotes can show how well you understand the texts when analysing literary devices and the use of language.

Here is an example of using quotes effectively, based on the play Hedda Gabler by Henry Ibsen: Hedda’s penchant for duplicity is not immediately obvious. In Act One, Hedda’s blunder regarding Aunt Tesman’s bonnet seems innocuous until she [smiles] and confesses to Judge Brack that she actually “pretended to think that it was the servant’s”. Hedda makes an effort to maintain a respectable reputation, choosing to release her frustrations in more implicit but malicious ways.

This is a great example of using quotes in an integrated way to support your points.

While learning quotes is important, that doesn’t mean you should learn an essay. Yu says that a lot of students pre-write an essay and regurgitate it in the exam. But usually candidates who do this haven’t actually answered the question. Students who present an off-topic analysis are not likely to score high marks because it shows you do not really understand the texts.

High scores are given to candidates who provide an in-depth understanding of the texts studied, while answering the question at the same time. Sharing your opinions will impress your examiners, but your answers should always respond to the question.