Text by Text or Theme by Theme

By Robyn Goyette

(Head of Humanities Team)


What’s the best structure for the IOA and Paper 2?

Both the IOA and Paper 2 assessment components share the same choices when it comes to structure, the text by text approach and the theme by theme approach. What’s the best structure for you? Let’s take a look!

Text by Text

The standard approach, the one most SL teachers advise their students to use, divides the structure into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction: answer the essay question.
  2. Text 1: support your answer with 2-3 talking points.
  3. Text 2: support your answer with 2-3 talking points.
  4. Conclusion: compare and contrast both texts.

The standard approach looks good—no, to be honest, it’s looks great—on paper. The reality, however, is that in practice some students barely have time to write the conclusion, which can be life shattering at the time because the conclusion is where you are expected to explain your “understanding of the similarities and differences” between your two texts, the whole point of the assessment. So, while the standard approach may look good on paper, in practice, it can turn out to be an anxious race for time for some students, if not many.

Theme by Theme

The non-standard approach, the one HL teachers advise their students to use, also divides the essay into 4 parts (note, added themes are optional as shown below):

  1. Introduction: answers the essay question.
  2. Theme 1: support for text 1, then for text 2, then compare and contrast
  3. Theme 2: support for text 1, then for text 2, then compare and contrast
  4. Conclusion: conclude.

The theme by theme approach places the compare and contrast portion of the essay after each thematic point. In this way, you have opportunity to explain each talking point thoroughly, affording you a better chance of scoring well if you happen to run out of time.

Text by text or theme by theme?

The best approach to structuring your IOA and Paper 2 is the one that affords you time enough to express your ideas thoroughly without having to scramble for time. Perhaps that’s text by text, perhaps it’s theme by theme. Choose the one that best suits your writing style.

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