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IB English A Language and Literature

Paper 1

The English A Language and Literature HL Paper  1 is a comparative analysis of two unseen texts. These two texts tend to grapple with similar content and overarching themes, however differ in terms of their text types. Whilst this paper is a skill-based examination, there are many ways in which you can prepare beforehand.

Revision Methods:

1. Annotations and Planning

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the time to write out a full practice essay. A less time consuming method that can be just as effective is to practice annotating and planning an essay you would write for the relevant texts.

  • Read through each text at least once (do not write anything on the page yet)

    • This helps you gain the main idea of the text​

  • ANNOTATE the text with a pen -- do not highlight yet.

    • look out for the big 5​

    • be specific with your notes (i.e. what technique? what effect does it have on the reader? what emotions are being evoked? etc.)

    • DO NOT just underline important things and not write notes with it... this is because once you begin writing, chances are you will lose your train of thought and forget your point!

  • Read the text again and annotate with your highlighter

    • this works best if you have 5 different coloured highlighters​

      • ​choose a colour for each of the big 5 to help you organise your points (e.g. blue for audience and purpose, green for structure etc.)​​

      • you can use this same method in the exams if you have time.

  • PLAN out your essay

    • spend at least 10 minutes planning your essay to help with structure​

2. Create a Word Bank and Sentence Bank

Progressively building a word and sentence bank with words, terminology and "fancy" sentences that you come across when reading exemplar essays can help to enhance your vocabulary and sophistication in essay writing.

You can organise these into different categories, some examples are included below:

  • Effect words

  • Techniques 

  • Words in relation to different text types (e.g. newspaper article terminology)

  • Introduction and conclusion words

  • Sentence starters

  • Tone and mood words 

With the sentences you collate, be flexible with them to suit the essay you are writing (similar to fill in the blanks!)

3. Flashcards

Whilst a common revision method for memorising quotes for paper 2, flashcards can also be used to revise the effects of literary techniques that may appear in the paper 1 unseen texts. For example:

With a greater understanding of the effects these techniques can have, this can aid your annotations and interpretation of the text. 

4. Review assessments and past essays

If you find that after a few mock exams and assessments that you are hovering around the same grade or mark, this method of revision can be particularly useful.

Collate a variety of exemplars that have been written in the past and mark them yourself against the criteria. By doing this you will acquire a greater appreciation and clearer understanding of what the examiner is looking for in your essay. In particular, look at past essays that have scored a grade 7 and analyse them so that you can understand what they did differently to achieve that score. You will want to look out for their:

  • choice in vocabulary

    • if you see good words or sentences, add them into your word bank!​

  • structure

    • of the essay as a whole and also their paragraphs​

    • PEEL: point, example, explanation, link​

  • style of writing 

    • are they concise? how do they convey their ideas?​

In the Exam:

1. The Big 5

My teachers introduced this concept of the "Big 5" as we were learning how to approach writing and structuring this essay. It includes:

  • Content and Theme

  • Audience and Purpose

  • Tone and Mood

  • Structure

  • Stylistic devices

    • This should not be presented as a separate paragraph but rather integrated throughout each one to support your analysis.

For the comparative essay (HL), I used the Big 5 to structure my essay and alternated between the two texts. For example, I would write about audience and purpose for text A in one paragraph, then in the following paragraph also write about audience and purpose but for text B whilst comparing it to the aforementioned points about text A.

2. Annotating and planning

During your reading time, you should have selected the texts that you are going to analyse and read them at least once to get the general overview.

  • Read the text once without annotating to get the general idea, themes and message

  • The second time you read the text, go through line by line and analyse the text 

    • Line by line is not completely necessary in HL if you are running out of time, but the more you can pick out from the text the better​

    • Look out for the big 5

    • When you annotate, do NOT just underline if you think it is important. Write down next to it what the writer is trying to convey by saying this, what effect does it have on the reader, what techniques are used etc.

  • Look out for key features that are conventional to the text type 

    • e.g. headline, tagline, images etc.​

  • If there is an image and/or title, ANALYSE IT!

  • Look out for dates and sources to give you clues about the context

Once you have completed annotating (~ 10 min), you will need to leave at least 5-10 minutes to plan your essay, such that when you begin writing there is a clear structure and flow. In your plan you should include:

  • Introduction


    • state the obvious (what the texts are about) 

    • main commonality and different way in which the texts convey this commonality

  • Big 5 - decide which order you will talk about them and then include a dot point under each one about what you will write about it

    • Outline the similarities and differences in these big 5 elements within the two texts​

  • In your plan, if you have memorised some important terms or sophisticated words, be sure to write them down to remind yourself to include them as you write!

    • this is especially useful for effect words, because I tend to find that I always reuse the same words (e.g. emphasises) and you need to show the examiner that you have careful choice in vocabulary

3. Writing your essay (things to keep in mind)

  • It is a comparative essay - make sure you keep a fair balance of analysis between the two texts 

    • Typically, the texts will have a common theme or message between them and the difference is how the authors or composers convey this message.

  • Include a thesis statement in your introduction which you can refer back to after each paragraph to link the essay together​​


  • Create variation within the sentence to interest readers

  • Draws attention to make a point 'stand out'

  • Ease of reading - used in persuasive texts



More information about Paper 2 coming soon...

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