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Paper 1? Paper 1…..

WANTED: dead or alive. An English literature student is disseminating the state secrets of the English Department Association (EDA). She is highly dangerous and should be handled with caution. The prize for catching her will be a guaranteed 7 on the final paper 1 exam.

Paper 1. The culprit and worst enemy of every IB student that takes a language subject. The pain of our lives, the fire of our hell. I know that just from reading the title you are already losing brain cells, but stay with me for one more minute because I promise that what I am going to say next is going to be helpful. Today, I will let you all in on all the different tips and tricks that will allow you to score a 7 on your paper 1 exam. Don’t believe me? Continue reading and try it out for yourself.

Tip number 1: Know exactly what you need to include in your paper to get full points.

When I say “know exactly what you need to include in your paper to get full points” I am really praying that you are not thinking about the introduction, body, conclusion hamburger that we saw in our early MYP years. I truly hope that you actually have something more detailed in mind. What I mean by this, is that you need to know exactly what different elements you need to include in your introduction, body and conclusion to gain you full marks in all of the criteria. If you can identify which elements will gain you which marks for each criterion it is even better. Since I know that if you are reading this you are an IB student and don't have the time or the brain cells to devise this plan out yourselves, I will do you the favor.

Criterion A : Understanding and interpretation

By now, I pray to god that you already know what criterion A entails, it is literally written in the title. The student must express their understanding regarding the piece of text they read and interpret it accordingly. This seems simple enough, but the real question is...How do you get to the top marks for this criteria? That is what I am going to be answering for you now. First and foremost, you need to demonstrate that you understand the most basic fundaments of the text and what is literally happening there. It seems insanely easy and even childlike, but it is guaranteed to gain you points in this criteria. However, this alone is not enough to get you into the top grading strand. To display your skills you must also elaborate upon what is implied in the text, or in other words, what the extract is actually about. Additionally you must interpret what you understand in your own original way. Remember that IB graders appreciate originality. These must also be well supported by quotes that were carefully selected and embedded in your writing. It is also important that your quotes are not too long, in order to maintain the fluidity of your sentence. Here is an example for reference: (this is an essay about Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”) “It reminds the reader at the very end of the poem that “a daybreak that’s wondrously clear” is yet to come.” If you manage to include all of the aforementioned elements you are guaranteed all 5 marks for your essay.

Criterion B : Appreciation of the writer’s choices

This criterion is usually viewed as the most challenging one, and although it is true that one requires a very analytical eye to be able to score well on this one, it is also true that this is a skill that can be trained and developed. This starts small by analyzing whatever artwork, play, movie, show, etc. that tickle your fancy. The more you train the act of picking apart a piece of work and analyzing beyond the surface, the better you get at it. For this strand it is important to note that IB examiners are looking for depth. Students that merely scratch the surface are going to be looking at the lower end of the grading boundary, whilst those that go in depth and properly explain their arguments and the effect of each linguistic device on the reader, will score higher. In this section examiners are looking to see that you know what you are talking about, so make sure to explicitly mention the name of the device you are elaborating upon. Always take into account that the essay is supposed to be analytical and not critical in nature so try and focus on the positive aspects of the writer's choices and what you feel worked well.

Criterion C - Organization and development

This criterion is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest. Meaning, that there are parts of the criteria that are easy marks thrown at you, whilst other parts are harder to achieve. In this case, the easy marks for this criterion is the way you organize your essay as in introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, but remember that to achieve higher marks you must go deeper. It can be helpful sometimes to have a structure defined within each paragraph. For example, each body paragraph should include your argument, your elaboration, your embedded evidence and the effect on the reader. I usually try to write them in this order, nevertheless this is to each their own.

Arguably, the harder part is making sure that the arguments build up to each other and to leave the best for last. A strategy that can help with achieving this goal is outlining a plan with your arguments and ordering them from weakest to strongest. Last but not least, one must make sure to never jump around within the essay. You should always be linking everything back to your main argument (or thesis statement), but never jump around between one point and another between paragraphs. This will just confuse your examiner and hinder the coherence of your essay. In order to construct a high quality thesis statement you need to go through the following steps: first, come up with a question (or use the guiding question that has been given to you), this question is meant to encompass the point that you are trying to get across. For example: “How does Mary Shelley portray the character of Victor Frankenstein?”. Then, you have to come up with an answer, this should be the point you are trying to make. You are fundamentally answering a “what?” question. Thirdly, you must elaborate upon how the writer achieves this. Usually in analytical essays it should be a specific literary device that aids the writer in achieving whatever point you are making. In essence a thesis statement aims to answer the basic how, what and why questions. What is your point? Why is this your point? How will you convince the reader to agree with it? (further reading on thesis statements is at the end of the article)

P.S. You need to try to have handwriting that is at the very least legible. Illegibility will not only detract marks from this criterion but from all of them.

Criterion D - Language

Oh language….Why do you have to be so hard to ace? If no matter what you do you can’t increase your grade in language this section is for you. Before I elaborate upon which words you should use I am first going to list the ones you absolutely shouldn’t under any circumstances. These include, but are not limited to: show, like (as a filler word), good, bad, happy, sad, thing(s), I, me. These are the specific words that examiners see over and over again and already have their eyes peeled for, so trust me when I say you do not want to be using them. The second you see yourself writing or even thinking about them, cross the word out. Now, you may be wondering, what words am I supposed to use instead? For that I have two carefully devised lists that will help you out in all future writing endeavors.

As for the word “me” and “I” you should always substitute it for “us” or “the reader”, it makes the essay seem more professional, thus refining your language. Does this mean that I have to write as though I have swallowed a whole dictionary and a thesaurus? Absolutely not. It just means that you should write with the highest degree of accuracy and variety you can muster. But there is no need to over complicate yourself as this can also lead to a deduction of points due to lack of readability. If this is your problem, try to lay your sentences out in layman terms and add extra words only where you see that they would actually add something to the sentence.

Tip 2: Time management

In the paper 1 exam HL students have 2h15min to write two essays whilst SL students have 1h15min to write one. Needless to say, it is quite a short amount of time considering everything that has to be written. That is why it is extremely important to manage your time properly. In this case, I will not be telling you a specific strategy to implement because every student has a different way of managing their time that works best for them. The only thing that matters is that you have enough time to write and read over (at least once) your essay. If time management is something that you struggle with I recommend spending about 15-20 minutes on the plan that way the rest of the time you have left flows more efficiently. Since you only have a limited amount of time for the essay, planning has to be quick, but having a plan is still very important to get top grades. However, the way that you devise your plan is very particular to each person, so...manage your time as you best see fit!

Tip 3: Memorize or rather learn literary devices, poetry devices, play devices, etc.

You might have wanted to throw your computer away when reading the word memorize, but stick with me for one second. Knowing the different literary devices and their meanings will ensure that when it comes to the time of the test it will be easy to use these sophisticated words and gain marks in criteria A, B and D (the holy trinity). So, I would have to say it is worth a try. Needless to say, you do not have to know ALL of them, but it is intelligent to have a variety that way you have options when choosing what to analyse when you receive your unseen text. Lastly, it is important to know the difference between the four types of text in literature which are drama, poetry, fiction and non-fiction (these last two both fall under the category of prose) and for language and literature they would be article, image etc. Knowing the difference between these will help you analyze them with the proper devices in mind, therefore gaining you extra points in criteria A as it demonstrates that you are able to understand the difference between the types of text. Below is an example of dramatic devices:

Tip 3: Read

Out of all of the tricks, this one might be the easiest and most straightforward: READ! It is as simple as that. It is scientifically proven that reading betters your brain capacity as well as your vocabulary, so read. It is really going to bolster your criteria D marks if you can subconsciously and slowly amplify your language.

Tip 4: Annotate your text

This one is pretty straightforward, if you have it available to you, annotate your text. It is a tool that is going to help you insurmountably as it is going to allow you to visualize and better organize your ideas. You can also implement a technique called “close reading” where you read the text with as much attention to detail as possible and try to pick up the miniscule aspects that cannot be perceived upon first reading.

Tip 5 (last tip I promise) : Read over your essay at least once

After spending over an excruciating hour writing an essay that has killed every single brain cell in your head, the absolute last thing you want to do is read over what you have just done, however it is extremely necessary. Along the way, as our brains get tired and we lose concentration, we make silly mistakes, and these could cost you criteria D and C marks. So even though it is hard for you and it is something you don’t want to do, I highly recommend you read over your essay at least once.

Good luck all in your paper 1 exams! You are going to kill it!

Further resources to access:

Past paper 1s for practice:

Different types of text in lang & lit:

Drama paper 1 practice, example, and points:

Thesis generator:

How to write a thesis statement:


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