Are you taking IB English and need some help with your studying? No need to reread all the books and poems you covered in class! This study guide is for IB English A students (students in IB English A: literature SL/HL, IB English A: language and literature SL/HL, or IB English literature and performance SL) who are looking for additional guidance on writing their commentaries or essays.
I've compiled this IB English study guide using the best free materials available for this class. Use it to supplement your classwork and help you prepare for exams throughout the school year.
What’s Tested on the IB English Exams?
The IB English courses are unique from other IB classes in that they don't have a very rigid curriculum with exact topics to cover. Instead, your class (or most likely your teacher) is given the freedom to choose what works (from a list of prescribed authors and a list of prescribed literature in translation from IBO) to teach. The exams reflect that freedom.
On the exam for all English A courses, you’re asked to write an essay (or essays) that incorporates examples from the novels you read. You’re also asked to interpret text (typically poetry, though sometimes an excerpt from a book) that you read for the first time the day of the exam. The exact number of questions varies by the course, but the types of questions asked on each all fall into the two categories listed above.
What’s Offered in This Guide?
In this guide, I have compiled materials to help teach you how to interpret poetry and how to structure your essay/commentary. I've also provided notes on several books typically taught in IB English SL/HL. This should be all of the material you need to study for your IB exam and to study for your in-class exams.
How to Interpret Poetry Guides
Many people struggle the most with the poetry material, and if you're one of those people, we have some resources specifically for making poetry questions easier.
Here is a full explanation of how to interpret poetry for the IB exam with term definitions, descriptions of types of poems, and examples. This is another great resource with poetry terms defined on “flashcards”, and you can test yourself on the site by clicking play. Also, here are two additional step-by-step guides to analyzing poetry and planning and writing the commentary.
How to Write Your Essay Guide
If you're not sure how to write your essay, here's a guide to what you essay should look like for the IB English SL/HL papers. This guide gives advice on how you should structure your essay and what you should include in it. It also contains a few sample questions so you can get a better idea of the types of prompts you can expect to see.
IB English Book Notes
Based on the list of prescribed authors and literature from IBO, I picked some of the most popular books to teach and provided links to notes on those works. What's important to remember from these books is key moments, themes, motifs, and symbols, so you can discuss them on your in-class tests and the IB papers.
- Anna Karenina
- Crime and Punishment
- Death of a Salesman
- A Doll's House
- Don Quixote
- Dr. Zhivago
- Heart of Darkness
- Jane Eyre
- King Lear
- Love in the Time of Cholera
- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
- Romeo & Juliet
- Sense and Sensibility
- The Stranger
- The Sun Also Rises
- Waiting for Godot
The Best Study Practices for IB English
Hopefully, this guide will be an asset to you throughout the school year for in-class quizzes as well as at the end of the year for the IB exam. Taking practice tests is also important, and you should also look at our other article for access to FREE IB English past papers to help you familiarize yourself with the types of questions asked by the IBO (and I’m sure your teacher will ask similar questions on your quizzes).
Make sure you're reading all of the novels and poetry assigned to you in class, and take detailed notes on them. This will help you remember key themes and plot points so you don't find yourself needing to reread a pile of books right before the exam.
Finally, keep up with the material you learn in class, and don't fall behind. Reading several novels the week before the IB exam won’t be much help. You need to have time and let the material sink in over the course of the class, so you’re able to remember it easily on the day of the IB exam.
Want some more study materials for IB English? Our guide to IB English past papers has links to every free and official past IB English paper available!
Are you hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes? Learn about the IB courses offered online by reading our guide.
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.