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IB English paper 1: a beginner’s guide to a level 7

IB English is the most popular among all courses as the IB programme is conducted in English in most IB schools around the world. There are three well-known English courses provided by the programme-English A: Language and Literature (first language), English A: Literature (first language), and English B (second language). Although the enrollment rate is the highest for English, students often find it hard to achieve a level 7 and would choose to go for IB English tuition. With the help of IB English tutors, students are able to improve their academic performance and strive for an outstanding grade. This blog serves as a guide for students to achieve a level 7 in IB English paper 1.






IB English A Paper 1


In paper 1, students will be given two completely new texts, both of which should be 1 or 2 pages in length. Students are required to write a commentary on one of the two texts provided. For IB English Literature, one text will always be poem, and the other text is extracted from a novel or short story. On the other hand, IB English Language and Literature always surprises students with its wide variety of text format, including magazines, interview scripts, speeches, and even cartoon strips.


In IB English, commentary is more than just about describing the characters, plot and theme of the text, it needs to go deeper than just the surface meaning. In this case, students need to think of what to write for the commentary. There are two key questions that students need to include in the commentary:


How did the author create the characters, plot and theme?

Why did the author choose to create the characters, plot and theme in this way?


How highlights the language and techniques the author used to create the characters, plot and theme. Why emphasizes deeper analysis on author’s intention to create the characters, plot and theme, and the effect on readers.


Besides knowing what to include in the commentary for paper 1, students also need to know how to write a commentary. Commentary can be separated into following parts:


An introduction that includes both the thesis and outline

A body that shows the points

A conclusion that closes the commentary

(For SL only): students should add guiding questions


It is not just the content of the commentary that matters in paper 1, it is also important for students to plan ahead. Planning with sufficient details on the commentary helps students organize their ideas clearly. Students are able to always be clear of what to write throughout the whole exam hours and would not lose track of time. Without a well established plan, students would need to spend extra time in between paragraphs to think of what to write next, making the whole process longer and more inefficient.


During the planning stage, the most important part to start first with is the thesis. Thesis is a statement in the introduction paragraph that highlights how the students achieve his or her overall purpose. It is the most essential statement that students are trying to prove in the commentary. Therefore, students must construct a powerful sentence that contains their keypoint concisely and accurately.


Next, students should pay attention to the overall structure of the commentary, as one of the criteria for English paper 1 is Organization, which takes up a quarter of the overall grade. Commentary can be organized in different ways, including themes, techniques, and also SPECS/SLIMS. SPECS/SLIMS is well known for poem analysis, but it can also be utilized in various circumstances. SPECS/SLIMS stands for:


Subject matter - what event, situation, or experience does the text describe?

Purpose (theme) - what is the purpose? What message does the author want to convey?

Emotion (mood) - what is the emotion throughout the text? Does the mood change?

Craftsmanship - techniques that the author uses to achieve his/her purpose, including

Structure - how is the text structured? (for poem, is it a sonnet or ode?)

Language - why does the author choose certain words?

Imagery - similes, metaphors, personification, or symbols

Movement (rhythm) - slow, fast, or regular (for poem)

Sounds - onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, rhyme (for poem)

Summary - what is the purpose/impact of the text? Does it achieve author’s purpose?


After deciding on the structure of the commentary, students can start to write for the body paragraphs. The main point of the body paragraphs is to prove the thesis, so they should be like puzzles with individual points that help to build up a full image. In each paragraph, both quotes and analysis of the language and technique should be included.


IB English B Paper 1


Different from IB English A, paper 1 in IB English B tests students on their ability to read, interpret and understand a range of texts, but not possessed knowledge of the topic. Text types that students are required to know include article, column, blog, brochure/leaflet/advertisement, essay, interview in any form, news report, report, review, guideline, short story and written correspondence. For HL students, they are required to also study literature works.

Paper 1 expects students to

Understand the overall meaning

Scan text for particular detail

Identify communicative purposes

Identify functions of text

(HL students) understand and interpret literature (but not analysis!)

Typical question types include but are not limited to:

Choosing which of the sentences are true according to the text

Comprehending text and finishing gap-filling exercises

Identifying clear inference from the text

Identifying references of key phrases or structures

IB English B mainly tests on students’ reading skills. In order to get a level 7 in this course, students are suggested to train their reading skills systematically.

Reading skills can be divided into three levels: fundamental, advanced, and literary.

Fundamental reading skills refer to the general understanding of the context. Students should identify the basic facts (central argument), approach and key techniques in the text.


Advanced reading skills include summary, interpretation (understanding details, noticing effects), and reflection (reviewing, handling the gaps, re-reading).

Lastly, literary reading skills include basic reading, reflective reading (selecting key information), analytical reading (analysing effects and meaning), and assembling gather information of the text).

Past papers are good material to practice reading skills. By reading the same text three times, using three levels of reading skills respectively, students are able to train their skills step by step, starting from the fundamental reading skills. As students in IB B are not required to write a commentary on the text, understanding and interpretation of the text should be the focus while preparing for the exam. Extra-curricular material is encouraged as well, including newspaper, magazine, blog entries and short stories. Expanding one’s reading scope is also a good idea as IB English B tests students on a great variety of text types.

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