IB English A Language and Literature Paper 2: How to get top marks


Drama & English

April 28th, 2022

IB English A Language and Literature Paper 2: How to get top marks

In this blog, Francesca, an experienced IB teacher, shows us that full marks in Paper 2 are achievable if we understand the mark criteria.

After a brief hiatus due to Covid 19, all IB English A Language and Literature students can expect to complete Paper 2 from the May 2023 exam session. This paper requires students to compare and contrast two literary works they have studied in their IB English course in relation to a question.

The IB offers a choice of 4 questions for students to choose from and they will focus on different elements of literary works, such as:

  • Character
  • Setting
  • Structure and narrative development
  • Themes 
  • Genre
  • Literary features
  • Purpose and authorial intention

Knowing the IB Assessment Criteria

This paper can seem daunting but it needn’t be: this blog will help show you exactly what examiners will be looking for at each criterion, as well as providing you with some concrete tips.

Criterion A

  • Stay focused on the question – your examples and references need to be relevant to the question you have chosen. Make sure your links to the question are clear – use the language of the question throughout your essay.
  • Try not to assume the examiner knows a literary work as well as you do: think of it as helping them to understand the work better. 
  • Make sure you compare AND contrast: this will help show a good/excellent depth of understanding of your two works if you can explore both similarities and differences.
  • Ensure you have some key quotes memorised that you can draw on for each work.
  • The examiner needs to see evidence of interpretation. This means you need to explain WHY an author has made the choices they have made. For each example you give, ask yourself:
    • What is the author’s purpose here?
    • Why is this moment/quote/literary element so significant?
    • What is their intended message?
    • How does this moment/quote/literary element further plot or character development?
    • How does the author want the reader/audience to react to this moment/quote/literary element?
    • Does this mark a change or a shift in the work? 

Criterion B

  •  Aim to explore a range of authorial choices in both works; I recommend at least 3 per work. Some might overlap between both works but make sure you show that you appreciate the different authorial choices in both works.
  • Treat all authorial choices in the works as deliberate: the author has included them for a reason, and it’s up to you to offer an explanation as to “why”.
  • It can help if you choose two different text types for this paper: e.g. a play and a novella. Then you are giving yourself maximum opportunity to explore how the authorial choices of the works function differently depending on the text type, but have areas of similarity.
  • Aim to explore more obscure techniques such as perspective, paradox, irony and ambiguity.
  • Link all your analysis back to the question! Don’t underestimate the power of the word “therefore”. For example, “Therefore, this clearly shows…”

Criterion C

  • PLAN! The examiners are looking for a structure that is logical and effectively developed. To achieve this, make sure you consider how to group your ideas prior to starting the essay. Examiners like to see evidence of a plan!
  • The IB expects candidates to have an introduction and a conclusion: make sure you plan for this and allow yourself enough to bring your ideas to a close at the end.
  • I recommend using the 5 paragraph structure:
    • Introduction
    • Point of contrast 
    • Point of similarity
    • Point of contrast/similarity
    • Conclusion
  • Introductions should offer a brief overview as to why your chosen works are relevant to the question but don’t get carried away providing a long synopsis of both works in the introduction. If it isn’t relevant to the question or your argument, it doesn’t need to be included.
  • Develop a thesis statement that is relevant to the question, and make sure it is included in your introduction and return to it in the conclusion. Some possible sentence starters for a good Paper 2 thesis statement are:
    • In this essay, I will be exploring how both works explore ____ but in very different ways.
    • In this essay, I will be arguing that my two chosen works present ___ in order to…
  • Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that relates back to your thesis statement – this will help keep your essay focused and relevant.
  • Discourse markers are essential, but especially at the start of each paragraph:
    • Firstly…
    • In Addition…
    • Furthermore…
    • Conversely…
    • Similarly…
  • Conclusions should be short but sweet: return to your thesis statement and summarise in a sentence or two how you have proved it. Leave the examiner with a positive impression of your essay!

Criterion D

  • The examiner wants to see a good range of relevant text and subject-specific terminology applied with accuracy. I recommend students revise terminology related to language, structure and form to ensure they are well equipped for any question that is thrown their way.
  • Create your own terminology lists for each work to help you revise this!
  • Make sure you maintain an academic register – your essay needs to sound formal. This will include not only the vocabulary you use but also the sentence structures and punctuation. Read examples of effective essays to help you understand what an effective academic register looks like.
  • The best essays use language “effectively” – this means the examiner wants to see someone who is confident writing an essay and can put forward an argument persuasively. The examiner wants to be engaged and interested in what you are writing!
  • Think about the first and last sentence of your essay very carefully – how can you use a technique in both to immediately engage your examiner in the beginning, then leave them with a lasting impression at the end? For example, you could begin your essay with a relevant rhetorical question, and then end your essay with an answer to that rhetorical question. 

Now all that’s left to do is practise! Have a go at the Paper 2 Practice paper provided and see how you get on. Good luck!

You might like to visit our IB English Section here

You may find the following blog post useful:

How to ace IB English Paper 2: 6 top tips

More about Francesca

Francesca qualified as a teacher in English in 2016, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.

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