5 Tips to Succeed on the IB IOC

By Steve Leech

(Test Prep (ACT/SAT/SSAT), and English Literature Tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

1. Know Thy Texts, Know Thy Writers

During the IB English Individual Oral Commentary (IOC), you will be presented with an excerpt from a text you have studied in class. It could be a short section of a novel or an entire poem. Either way, you should be generally familiar with it, so a thorough knowledge of your texts is kind of a big deal. You should be able to place the excerpt in a larger context. Ideally, you’ll be able to say “This is from Romeo & Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1, just before (SPOILERS!) Mercutio and Tybalt get stabbed right to death.” If you’re working with a poem, it’s a good idea to be able to connect the poems to larger themes and trends in the poet’s work. Ignoring Carol Ann Duffy’s feminism or Wilfred Owen’s pacifism, for example, would be big missteps.

Read more from Steve in his previous blog “IB English – A Brief Introduction to Postcolonial Theory”

2. Work Easier and Brainierlier

The IOC is an excellent testing ground for skills you’ll need for Paper 1 and Paper 2 further down the road, so use this opportunity to refine your study skills and approach to the task. You will have to do a timed analysis (as with both Papers) on an unseen (Paper 1) excerpt from a text you know (Paper 2). Yes, with the IOC the analysis is presented orally, but that means very little in terms of creating and organizing your analysis. By approaching the IOC as a testing ground for the later exams, we’re streamlining our whole process. Lessons learned now can greatly help improve scores later; advice for the later Papers can also improve studying now. All three of these assessments are focusing on timed analysis presented quickly and based on strong background knowledge. Having a strong foundation of common fundamentals goes a long way.

3. Explain Yourself

Red appleIs an apple a positive symbol or a negative one? It’s obviously a good one, right? I mean, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and we see students in books bringing apples to teachers, so apples must be good. Snow White, Alan Turing, and Adam & Eve, however, might disagree. Don’t assume, then, that your audience will automatically follow along with you. Explain your reasoning step-by-step, even if it might seem obvious to you. After all, the whole point of the assessment is for you to demonstrate your own understanding. Don’t leave chunks of that understanding out.

4. Embrace the Questions

At the end of the commentary, the teacher will spend a couple of minutes asking questions and having a discussion. Students’ natural reactions tend towards panic, but these questions are actually there to help out. Teachers will often ask students to revisit or expand on ideas that either weren’t fully explained or that touch on unique or interesting ideas. Believe it or not, the overwhelming majority of teachers have their students’ best interests at heart and will ask questions to showcase personal strengths or unique perspectives. When faced with an intimidating question, remember to explain yourself fully and consider why the teacher is asking about a particular aspect of the text; maybe he or she simply needs clarification, or maybe you’re onto a hot, fresh take.

 5. There’s a Cake Analogy in This Bit, But I Couldn’t Think of a Good Cake Pun or Anything

Cake Analogy IB English IOCEveryone who’s ever taken a timed test knows the impulse to leap into action and begin spraying ideas like water from a firehose. We want to be fast (and get the whole ordeal over with) at the expense of things like clarity and accuracy. This is a mistake. Organization is the difference between a delicious cake and a pile of hot, flour-y eggs, and no one wants to eat that. Most of your IOC analysis should come from previous studies of the text, which leaves plenty of time to work on your presentation on test day, so use it. Arrange your ideas in a way that makes sense for your audience. If foreshadowing sets up an ironic twist, then your audience needs to know about the foreshadowing first. Use a basic five-paragraph structure—it’s highly effective for the exam, also works as practice for Papers 1 and 2, and is easy to use. What more could you want?


Want to learn more about IOC, which is internally assessed for 15% of the final English grade? Come to our Talking to the IB IOC Seminar on Dec 2, 2017!

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