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An Expert’s Guide to excelling in IB English & Literature

IB English & Literature is an advanced IB program that focuses on significantly improving your English & Literature skills through directed essays, literary analysis, short stories, and more.

As with any college-level course, you should expect to have a bit of difficulty to do well in it if you are not already proficient in these subjects. However, this difficulty can often be overcome by consistent study, determination, and growth, and there are many resources available online that can help you along the way.

In this Expert's Guide to Excelling in IB English & Literature, you'll find information on how to achieve higher scores, how to study effectively, different approaches you can take to mastering the material, and much more!

Foundational Principles of IB English & Literature

In order to truly excel at IB English & Literature, you need to have a strong grasp of prerequisite concepts that will enable you to succeed in the course. This section provides a brief overview of each fundamental concept, as well as a basic explanation for better understanding them.

i) Why and how do we study literature?

There are two main reasons why people study literature: to learn about the culture or history of a given society, and to better understand its social norms and values. In both cases, you're trying to gain insight into human nature. You might also study literature as part of your preparation for graduate school or for a career in a field such as the arts or humanities.

ii) In what ways is meaning constructed, negotiated, expressed and interpreted?

Meaning is constantly being constructed and negotiated through a variety of social processes. These processes can be either intentional or unintentional. Since these processes are constantly evolving, so too is meaning. Multiple interpretations of a single work can each have their own set of meanings.

iii) How do we approach literary texts from different times and cultures to our own?

In order to approach a literary work from a different time or culture, it is important to understand the historical, social, and literary contexts that influenced its creation. We can then use this information to gain valuable insight into the work which can inform our own outlook on life or even enhance our understanding of our own culture or time period.

iv) How does the interaction between reader and text affect the meaning of a work?

When engaging with a literary work, readers bring their own experiences, preconceptions, and cultural norms to the table. The same words or phrases can lead to different interpretations in different readers because they all have different perceptions of what they mean based on their past experiences. This is most especially true for ambiguous works, or those that contain interpretations that can vary greatly from reader to reader.

v) How does the meaning and impact of a literary text change over time?

Meaning cannot be divorced from the time period in which it was created. The same work may have had a radically different meaning when it was first created than how it is interpreted by readers in the modern era. In some cases, works that were once celebrated may fall out of favor and become deprecated to the point where they are no longer valued for what they have to say.

These concepts are foundational to success in IB English & Literature. Read the above section as many times as needed until you deeply understand the purpose of literature in language.

Study Tips for IB English & Literature

In order to excel in any IB course, it's important to remain consistent and diligent in your studying of the material. What follows is a detailed list of study tips and systems to help you improve your ability to learn.

i) Create a "Master" Study List

Compile a list of every concept, idea, vocabulary word, and other elements included in the IB English & Literature syllabus. This should include information found in the study guides on this website, but should also include any other information you've learned about concepts not directly included in the guides.

This Master Study List can take the form of a conventional list, a mind-map, or a graphic. Create it in the format that best reflects your natural propensity for learning.

ii) Make a Weekly Schedule

Taking concepts and information listed on your Master Study List, make a weekly schedule of all the major points you'll be studying. This will provide you with the information necessary to organize and structure your study habits. By setting weekly goals for yourself, you'll stay on top of things while still allowing yourself flexibility in terms of time and energy.

A standard studying schedule that works for many IB students is one hour in the early afternoon once school is completed, and one hour in the evening before you go to bed. By breaking your studying into discrete concepts using your Master Study List, you ensure you get equal coverage of ideas and subjects. Spacing out studying this way also helps you improve your ability to remember disparate concepts over time.

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iii) Don't Just "Study" - Practice

The key to learning any of the information and material covered in your English & Literature course is not just studying the information and hoping it "sticks". In addition to studying concepts on your Master Study List, write poetry or short stories; practice analyzing novels; learn grammar rules by composing essays; and similar exercises that require you to actively engage with the subject matter.

This often sounds like much more work than it actually is. In reality, active practice can usually decrease your total study time, since concepts stick substantially better. This means that taking an active approach not only helps you learn more material, it can help you do so in less time (freeing up your schedule for other courses or general relaxation).

iv) Get a Good Night's Sleep

Finally, getting a good night's sleep is as important as any tip in this guide. While it may seem obvious, sleep is actually the time when your brain consolidates the memories you've learned during the day. By going to bed having recently studied, you're more likely to have remembered what you've learned.

The more you go without sleep, the less ability you have to recall memories. If you catch yourself relying on stimulants like caffeine to get up in the morning, a general rule of thumb is that you're not getting enough sleep. Your body should naturally provide you with a boost of energy early in the morning, and you should sleep between eight and nine hours every night.

By taking these easy study tips in addition to the foundational resources provided above (which you should read as many times as you need to until you understand the concepts in & out), you'll be able to get a handle on what can be one of the trickier subjects in the IB program.

Common Textbooks in the IB syllabus

IB English & Literature often assigns a number of books to expand your analysis skills and help solidify the learning process. We’ve compiled a short list of the most commonly assigned literature texts below:

  1. Death of A Salesman - Arthur Miller
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
  3. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  4. Hamlet - William Shakespheare
  5. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
  6. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  7. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
  8. Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
  9. Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
  10. Life & Times of Michael K - J. M. Coetzee
  11. The Plague - Albert Camus
  12. Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience - William Blake
  13. King Lear - William Shakespheare

Get a head start on these books to improve your scores on IB English & Literature.

We have an interesting blog post on Understanding Rhythm and Rhyme in English Poetry for those who have a keen interest in Poetry.

'Hack' Your Exams

While intentionally eye-grabbing, there is certainly something to be said to taking a directed approach towards examinations. Since most of your score comes from tests and essays, it's important to note that your performance on a single test day can make up for (or ruin) your performance on weeks of standard course material. This can be a saving grace or a painful reminder of the need to study. The following is a list of ways to improve your scores on exams through intelligent use of timing, studying, and more.

i) Show Up Early - But Not Too Early - To The Exam Room

As an IB student, it's natural to be early. It gives you an opportunity to prepare, and there's no lines or crowds to get in the way when it's time to write your name on the roster and get settled in. The downside is that if you show up too early, stress and pressure often sets in (which interferes with your ability to perform well on the exam). Therefore, the sweet spot for arriving early that best balances getting there on time with not getting overly stressed is usually 5-10 minutes prior.

ii) Use Every Available Second

Most people, when they finish an exam, will simply hand it in and be on their merry way. However, this is sub-optimal if your goal is to get as high a mark as possible. You should be rigorously checking every answer the moment you're finished to see if you slipped up. Additionally, don't be afraid to stay the full exam length if you're done early - knowing that you still have an hour to check over all of your answers can reduce stress, which allows you to perform substantially better on review of your answers.

iii) Prepare Exam Materials the Night Before

Instead of rushing to get everything in your backpack the morning of an exam, do your best to carefully lay out scratch paper, pencils, and any other materials you may need the night before so all you have to do in the morning is collect everything in one spot and get out the door. This saves a ton of time and gives you one less thing to worry about on test day.

Related Readings: Literature Study Guide - How to write a good shakespeare essay

We hope the following guide helped you on your quest to get a better score in IB English & Literature! The IB program can be notoriously challenging, but the right mindset combined with discipline and consistency will help you power through and achieve better. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

We want our readers to expand their horizons by learning more and find meaning to what they learn.

Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.


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