Avoid These Common Mistakes to Stay Ahead of IB English

By Karin Chun Taite

(Head of Academics and English Literature tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

The 2017 academic year is right around the corner, and it’s best to start off on the right foot. Stay on target by avoiding the following common mistakes that IB English students often fall into:


The More You Practice The Better You Get in IB English

It’s all too common for me to meet students who have left prepping for the IOP, IOC, or Paper 2 exam too late. Students tend to underestimate the necessary amount of time to prepare for each of these IB assessments which, collectively, make up 55% of your IB English mark.

– The IOP is probably the first assessment Lit students face in Year 1. It is a short oral presentation, but half of the marking criteria focus on presentation skills. Lang/Lit FOAs are also marked with a heavy focus on polished presentation. Students don’t realize how crucial it is to leave time for rehearsal to polish their performance in order to win all those delivery points. Practice!!

– The IOC is a much more challenging oral presentation in Year 2, and it requires students both to know their texts in minute detail and to practice argument construction and delivery under strictly timed conditions. This means you need to finish prepping the IOC texts in enough time to do practice passages. Trying to “wing” the IOC is not a winning strategy.

– Paper 2 is part of the final IB English exam, but it may also turn up as a mock test. Either way, like the IOC, Paper 2 requires both extremely detailed knowledge of the texts (and how they connect to each other) as well as timed practice at constructing and writing comparative arguments.

These three IB English assessments reward an investment in practice time. If that means working ahead of your school syllabus, I strongly recommend doing so to ensure you face these assessments fully prepared.


A girl is reading a difficult IB English Book

If you have texts with an older style of language (e.g. anything by Shakespeare), you need to allow time for your brain to accustom itself to this new reading experience. You will not be able to read older English texts with the same speed and accuracy you are accustomed to enjoying with modern texts. This means allocating extra time for reading. You will need to grapple with unfamiliar vocabulary, complex sentence structures, and the framework of editorial notes your text provides to help you bridge the gap between you and the text’s original audience. Reading No Fear Shakespeare is not sufficient – it’s a reasonable starting place to help you understand the gist of the text, but it is insufficient for the close reading analysis you will need (Shakespeare usually turns up as an IOC or Paper 2 text). Learn how to read older styles of English so you can engage with these texts at the level expected by IB teachers and examiners.

Read more on Karin’ previous blog “Introduction to Reading Shakespeare”


Get Feedback Use Feedback IB Egnlish

Do not assume that one draft cycle is sufficient if you want top marks for your essays. At the IB level, the ideas and arguments that get 7s in Written Assignments and Written Tasks are complex and nuanced. Lit students need to develop rigorous argument structures that unify multiple lines of analysis. Lang/Lit students need to balance demonstrating knowledge of a text with accurate emulation of text type conventions. Giving yourself the time to wrangle all these complex details means planning for more than one draft cycle. Take the time to receive and respond to feedback. Take the time to walk away from the project and come back with fresh eyes. Take the time to go back to your text to make sure your argument is bulletproof. Investing in the drafting process builds you a better essay.


Time to Plan you IB English

Before you even get to the draft cycles, though, remember that unclear thinking leads to unclear writing. Most of the essay problems I encounter can be solved with more rigorous and disciplined argument structure – and the place you fix structure problems is in the outline. More often than not, I have to take students back to the outline stage of their drafts to clarify what distinct points they want to make and what pieces of data go with which points. Save yourself a few draft cycles by getting your argument and flow sorted from the beginning. That doesn’t mean your first draft will be perfect, but it does mean that first draft will be a much stronger starting point for the drafting process.


Broken Chain

On a more granular level, the most common way English students lose points is by failing to fully explain the chain of logic that supports their arguments. This is the equivalent of “showing your work” when solving a math problem. It’s not enough, at the IB level, to identify an interesting aspect of the text and simply announce what you think it means. To gain full marks for an argument, you need to show, step by step, each link in the chain of your logic explaining HOW the textual element means what you say it means. Stop by The Edge if you need help with this; our English teachers have mini-strategies to guide you through this process of creating and explaining meaning.

There you have it. The IB years are stressful, and you need to be smart about how you allocate your resources. Stay ahead of IB English by avoiding common mistakes: get it right the first time!

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