English Paper 1 Essay Tips

Today’s advice is related to the IB English Paper 1 exam. Gave you shudders didn’t it?

Maybe I’m weird but in all honesty, the English exams really weren’t too stressful compared to the other exams I did. Just my personal opinion.

Also, it’s probably because English is my first language…BUT. Nevertheless, hopefully today’s tip will help you. With IB exams (or mocks) just around the corner, it’s a better time than ever to get a head start on your studying

So today’s advice is hopefully really going to help both SL and HL students in their IB English Paper 1 final exam (and Paper 2).

I did HL myself so the techniques I used when doing these exams worked for me. Hopefully they’ll work for you too. Fingers crossed.

IB English Paper 1, here we go. Let’s get you guys prepped.

Read, and read your IB English Paper 1 Texts Carefully

With IB English Paper 1, it’s all about textual analysis. You want to really immerse yourself in the paper and get your brain cranking out good questions and analysis.

That’s why you have to read. You have 4 texts, A, B, C, and D, to read and you need to compare and contrast them.

That’s not to mean compare A and D. No.

You need to choose between A and B or C and D. Not in any other order. Hopefully when you’re reading this, you’ll have plenty of time to practice the advice I’m giving.

If not, don’t fret. Panicking never helps.

So. Back to my point. First thing you’re gonna want to do when you flip over that big ol’ scary exam paper is allocate 30 minutes of reading time for yourself (20 if you’re doing the SL English Paper 1 exam).

Now look. It’s a 2 hour exam (an hour and a half for the SL English Paper 1) and no way are you going to get through that exam with a decent grade without prep.

During these 30 minutes, you need to be scribbling furiously on the texts. Bring highlighters with you or just underline or circle anything important.

Oh, and before I go on, you need to decide what you want to analyse. You can have a quick skim read and decide which to analyse more thoroughly or do a quick analysis of both sets of texts and then make a decision. It’s up to you.

Done with reading? Time to analyze

Here’s where the real fun begins.

Remember when I told you to highlight and circle anything important? You know like literary devices, thematic idea, tone of the writer, possible audience appeal, stylistic devices (which are the same as literary devices), and structure of the text?

Yeah well now you gotta analyse it all bit by bit. You realistically have about 15 (about 10 or so for SL) minutes by now.

If you’ve practiced past papers, which I highly suggest you do if you’re reading this ahead of the exam period, then 15 minutes (again, 10 for SL) should be enough time.

When you’re analyzing, remember it’s a comparison between the other text. So while you’re analyzing both texts, remember to ask yourself “Ok but how does this compare to the other text?”. This has to translate into your writing.

You need to make it clear that you’re comparing and contrasting.

How you do it is up to you. What I used to do was write a whole paragraph on a point I had on a text and then in the next paragraph, start with “On the other hand, Text C tends to portray….” or if they were similar I’d go “Similarly, the author of Text D parallels Text C through the use of…..”

Another way I used to approach comparisons between texts was dedicate about half a paragraph for each text. With both methods though, you’re going to need to make sure you have a balance.

So basically each paragraph has to be of similar length to each other unless you have your points in the same paragraph. Then you have to make sure you have enough sentences dedicated to each point about the Texts.

Plan Out Your IB English Paper 1 exam response

I’m sorry to say but with your current time constraints, you’re gonna need to do a bit of multitasking and plan your way to that level 7.

While you analyze, your brain should be working overtime to try to paint some similarities and differences between the two texts.

Your essay obviously needs structure and you need to know how to do it. Here’s a good way of doing it. I used to write my paragraphs according to the following structure:

Audience/Purpose – Who is the author writing to and what is the purpose of them doing so?

Content/Theme – What’s actually in the text? Is there a theme you can detect?

Tone/Mood – What is the author’s tone? What kind of mood is he/she writing about?

Style – What kind of style do they write with? Formal, informal? Iambic pentameter or blank verse?

Structure – How does the author structure the text? Is there anything visually appealing? Images? Diagrams?

For each of these, I would write either two paragraphs, one point for each text. If I was rushing, I might squeeze both points into one paragraph. I would HIGHLY recommend you do the same.

SL students, you guys will benefit enormously if you follow what I’m saying. This is all the stuff that got me an overall level 7 in HL English. HL. Of course I’m saying that it’ll help given that you thoroughly practice these techniques. So it’s up to you really

So yeah. Up there is basically done for you plan. You should centre your analysis and reading around the plan I gave you above. Constantly ask yourselves the questions above and pick your texts apart finding answers to the questions:

“Ok what’s the likely target audience in this text? Why would the author target them? What’s the purpose? Is it stated obviously or can I assume it?”

“What kind of content is it? What historical aspects does it refer to? What’s the thematic background of this piece?”

“What’s the tone the author is writing in? Why would he/she write in such a tone? How about the mood that this afflicts on the reader? What can I say there?”

“What’s the writing style here? What kind of devices are used to achieve this effect?”

“Why does the author choose such a structure? What can I say regarding this point?”

Ask yourselves those questions and find the answers as best you can. Remember it’s analytical. English is all about interpretation. So long as you have a solid argument, you can interpret the texts in any which way you want.

It’s not what you argue, it’s HOW you argue. Are your analyses in depth enough to convince the examiner? That’s what you’ve gotta practice

Alrighty so that’s the first tip of this series. I’ll be sure to put up more posts relating to IB English Past Papers in future. I’ve still got Paper 2 to cover and I’m sure I’ll think of more tips to give for English Paper 1 in future.

On a side note though, I actually like giving past paper advice because the papers are quite similar for both HL and SL so the techniques I talk about can usually be put to the test in both cases.


Oh were you not looking for IB English Paper 1? Paper 2 you say? Never fear, Studynova is here.

Posted by Rhys McKenna in IB English

This lesson focuses on eight ways to invigorate your writing style. These tips will come in handy for all written activities that you do, from essay writing to creative writing. They help you meet the third aim of Group 1 courses in the IB Diploma, which states that students are to "develop powers of expression, both in oral and written communication."

In order to meet this objective, you will compare and contrast two letters of application. The second letter is an improvement on the first. Then you will find examples of these 8 tips in the improvements.

Eight ways to improve your writing

Read these following 8 tips on how to improve your writing and search for examples of them in the improved letter below.

 8 ways to improve your writing

  1. Clauses at the beginning of a sentence: good idea, but avoid really long ones.
    There is nothing more boring than a series of sentences that all start with the subject of the sentence:
    Instead of: "I train dogs. The animal shelter hires me. I do this every weekend."
    Try: "As part of my weekend job at the animal shelter, I train dogs."

    While clauses at the beginnings of sentences are great, you can have too much of a good thing. Avoid really long clauses at the beginning of a sentence:
    Instead o f: "Every day, as I walk to work and pass the kiosk, where they sell those delicious chocolate bars, I stop to buy one."
    Try: "Every day on my way to work, I stop to buy one of those delicious chocolate bars that they sell at the kiosk."
  2. Avoid 'it' as the subject of a sentence.
    Sentences that start with 'it' or dummy subjects, such as 'there is...' or 'there are...', are quite weak.
    Instead of: "It is often the case that mobile phones end up on the lunch trays after the meal."
    Try: "Mobile phones often end up on the lunch trays after the meal."

    Sentences that start with 'there is..' or 'there are... often have a 'who' or 'which' that follow. These can be cleaned up as follows:
    Instead of: "There is this guy at school who always annoys me."
    Try: "This guy at school always annoys me."
  3. Use the right verb tense.
    This may come more naturally for native speakers of English. Nevertheless, many people make mistakes in the verb tense that they use. Be sure to know when to use each tense, such as the present simple, the present perfect, etc.
    Instead of: "I am attending this school since 2010."
    Try: "I have attended this school since 2010" (the present perfect).
  4. Use (relative) clauses.
    Using clauses in general is a good idea, as we saw in the first tip. Using relative clauses, which expand on ideas further (like this one), are also a good idea. Relative clauses make use of words such as 'which', 'who' and 'where'
    Instead of: "I have a new job. I enjoy it a lot."
    Try: "I have a new job, which I enjoy a lot."
  5. Watch out for wordy sentences.
    It is good to read and reread your own work. Often times during self-evaluation, you see sentences that are not clear or 'run on'. Wordy sentences can be cleaned up with punctuation and parallel constructions (Tip 7).
    Instead of: "If everyone in the building were to just clean up their own garbage and  if they  just sorted it properly then the recycle man wouldn't have to go through everything, then we wouldn't have to pay extra fees for this service."
    Try: "If everyone in the building disposed of his or her own waste in the proper recycle bins, then we would not have extra expenses."
  6. Never start a sentence with 'But'.
    Although you may see sentences that start with 'But' in other works, you should avoid starting sentences with it for academic purposes.
    Instead of: "The character displays a lot of courage. But she fails to save the day."
    Try: "Although the character displays a lot of courage, she fails to save the day."
  7. Use parallelisms.
    Parallelisms are sentences or phrases that contain parallel syntactical structures. These usually contain lists of noun phrases or clauses with similar structure. For example: "I decided not to (1) use PowerPoint, (2) read notecards or (3) memorize a script." Notice how ideas 1-3 all contain a verb and an object. They all line up nicely in parallel.
    Instead of: "I brushed the children's teeth and then I read a book to them. They climbed under the covers and I tucked them in."
    Try: "I brushed the children's teeth, read them a book and tucked them in."
  8. Use active verbs.
    In persuasive and academic writing and speaking, active verbs sound much stronger than passive verbs. Passive verb phrases use the verb 'to be' and the past participle of another verb. For example "The house was built by me." The active form of this phrase would be: "I built the house."
    Instead of: "The novel has been criticized by feminists."
    Try: "Feminists have criticized the novel"

Compare and contrast letters

Here are two letters of application. The second letter is a corrected version of the first. Look at the teacher's underlined corrections and comment on how the sentenced have been improved. The underlined phrases and words relate to the 8 tips that you have just studied. Explain how each of the 8 tips are done well in the 'corrected letter' and poorly in the 'original letter'. 

 Compare and contrast two letters of application

Tipfrom the poor letterfrom the corrected letter
Don’t have too many clauses at the beginning of a sentence.

Over the past six years, each morning, as soon as my students walk in the door… I am so happy to see them again and see my classroom take on life again. 

Each morning for the past six years, I have been happy to see my students walk through the classroom door. 

Avoid 'it' as the subject of a sentence.

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