Friday, April 29, 2016

IB English Literature Paper 2 - Last Minute Tips

Your IB English exams are just around the corner, and since it is the last minute, you are studying your butt off. You have only days to prepare, you are panicking because you feel like you have learned nothing in the last two years and there is no way you will be ready to write a literary essay. Sound familiar?

Relax. (written in pink, which is scientifically proven to be a relaxing colour. Also baby blue.  But I digress...)

The Nardvark is here to set your cray-cray mind at ease with:

Last Minute Tips to Excel on IB English Literature Paper 2

Or, rather, Nardvark will eat a PBJ (pretzel, broccoli, and jalapeno peppers sandwich) while the Nerdvark does all the hard work of giving you tips. Either way, you're the winner. Read on:

Unfortunately for the Nardvark, you have to write Paper 2 on at least two of the texts you studied in Part 3 of IB English Literature (Literary Genres)
  • Paper 2 consists of a bunch of questions. Your task is to write an essay in answer to one of the questions which addresses TWO OF THE WORKS YOU STUDIED IN PART 3 of the course.
  • To prepare for Paper 2, you need to do two things: 1. Review all your notes on your Part 3 works. 2. Review how to write an essay.
  • I would actually recommend re-reading your Part 3 works, or at least skimming through them, in preparation for Paper 2.
  • When you go into Paper 2, you need to time yourself. One great way to get a totally low, crappy mark on this paper is to randomly choose a question off the exam paper and scribble down your stream-of-thought answer as fast as you can and then nap for the remainder of the exam period. You are given a short amount of time to produce a brilliant essay; use it fully and follow the writing process.
  • Spend the first few moments selecting a question. This exam paper seems daunting because there are so many questions to choose from. Make it easier on yourself by first ELIMINATING all the questions you will not be able to choose from. That is to say, Part 3 of the IB English Literature course is on a specific genre -- defined as poetry, prose - novel and short story, prose - other than fiction, and drama. Whichever genre you studied, that's what you have to answer a question on in Paper 2. So either cross off all the questions for the other three genres, or put a big circle around the questions for your genre. There, that reduces the exam paper to something a lot more manageable, does it not?
  • Spend the next several minutes CONSIDERING THE QUESTIONS for your genre. Think about each question and figure out exactly what it is asking you to do. Criterion B, worth 20% of your overall mark for Paper 2, is "Response to the Question." So make sure you understand what the question is asking you to do before you begin your response.
  • Here is a sample of a Paper 2 question on poetry from the IB board:

A sample of a Paper 2 question on poetry from the IB board, which I easily found by Googling.

  • Let's analyze this question. First, what kind of essay is it asking you to write? Answer: discussion. Some questions might ask you to analyze, evaluate, or explain. Pay attention to the question word. Next, what is the topic? Answer: "the object of a poem is pleasure, not truth." So think about the poems you have studied. Do at least two of them appear to be written for pleasure rather than to demonstrate a truth of the world? Jot down some ideas in the margin of the question paper.
  • Analyze each of the questions in your genre like this before deciding which question you will answer.
  • Spend the next few minutes (5 - 10 minutes) OUTLINING/PLANNING your essay. Criterion A is for "Knowledge and Understanding," so you need to spend some time coming up with everything you know/understand about the two texts you'll be discussing and jot it down in point form. Criterion D is for "Organization and Development," so you'll want to plan out your essay instead of just rambling on, and you'll want to jot down all the ideas you will use to develop your points so you don't forget anything.
  • Spend approximately 50% of your time (one out of two hours for HL and 45 minutes out of 1.5 hours for SL) DRAFTING your essay. I recommend double-spacing so you'll have enough space to add to or correct your work.
  • Spend the rest of your time REVISING and then PROOFREADING your essay. Check that you've included enough information to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the works and that your writing is well-organized and flows. Criterion E is "Language," so you'll want to make sure your writing is clear, precise, and concise, your punctuation, grammar, and spelling is correct, and you've used the appropriate literary terms. It is totally acceptable to add to your essay, cross stuff off, or change things. If you want to add a whole bunch of stuff, like a whole paragraph, put in a little indicator like a star (*) where you want to add it, and then put the same indicator after the conclusion and add your extra paragraph. You will not lose marks for having stuff crossed out or added, but you will lose marks for not expressing yourself clearly, making mistakes, and writing incorrect stuff about the works. You will also lose marks for not answering the question, i.e. writing something totally unrelated to what the question is actually asking. So spend some time revising and proofreading to make sure your essay is brilliant. 
I would also recommend doing a practice paper to get your pacing down. You probably haven't written very many essays, especially ones that you do by hand and have a limited time for. If you write at least one practice paper and limit yourself to doing it in the allotted time, you'll feel a lot more prepared on exam day. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Last Minute Tips for IB English Literature Paper 1

Exams are coming up soon, and you might be starting to panic. Fear not, dear student, the Nardvark is here to help!

I always advise my students to follow a five-paragraph essay structure with PEE paragraphs. Although the IB board is not specific about how the literary analysis should be structured, this is a sort of simple catch-all for pretty much any literary essay. You can add as many PEE paragraphs as you want, so your five-paragraph essay might end up being a seven- or ten-paragraph essay, but the structure will still be sound.

Once in the exam, I recommend looking through the extracts quickly to see which one speaks to you more. Some students go in to the exam prepared to write about either the prose or the poetry, but it's not a good idea to limit yourself like that because the IB board always chooses pretty complex extracts and you want to be able to choose the one that is more suited to you. 

Next spend some time reading through your chosen extract several times and annotate it. You have 1.5 hours in SL or 2 hours in HL, and I'd recommend dedicating about 25% of your time to this analysis. If you're in SL, take a look at the guiding questions and try to find enough evidence in the extract to answer them. If you're in HL, you should be prepared to talk about the broad aspects of your extract such as progression, characters, plot (if applicable), tone, theme, structure/form, etc, AND the literary features. Remember that this is not an exercise in hunting down examples of literary tools -- you need to explain the effect on each. This is Appreciation of the Writer's Choices on the rubric.

Then spend a few moments to arrange your annotations into an outline. Consider your introduction, points in your PEE paragraphs, and a conclusion. Spend about 50% of your time drafting your response, and then spend the rest of your time rereading your writing. At this point you need to check your structure and language, two more points on the rubric. For a high mark, your structure should be unified, so if you find yourself rambling, try to insert sentences to link your ideas together. You also need to be precise and concise, so eliminate any extra wordiness (e.g. "I think", "It can be seen that," etc,) and repetition, and check your word choices to make sure you are using the correct literary terms. 

Before the exam, you should review all the literary terms (see here and here) you have learned in your course and make sure you can use them correctly, and practice with some past papers to get the timing right on the process I've outlined above.

If you have done some practice papers and want to send any of them to me, I can give you detailed, specific feedback. I charge for my services but since I am an IB examiner, the feedback I would give you would be very helpful in your exam preparations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

IB English A: Literature -- Differences between SL and HL Part 2 - Detailed Study (Oral Commentary)

If you're considering taking IB next year, you have to choose three or four courses to take at HL (higher level). Should English Literature be one of your HL choices? 

If you're already in IB LanguageA: Literature, you might be confused about the differences between HL and SL. Are you in a class that has both HL and SL students in it? That can be really confusing. Who mixes dumb kids with smart kids, anyway? That's just a disaster waiting to happen. (Just joking. I don't really think you're dumb just because you choose to take English Literature at standard level. You're probably really smart at something else, like calculus or something, nerd.)

Here are the differences for Part 2 - Detailed Study

Nardvark carefully considers his course selection for next year.

  • If you're in SL, you will do an oral commentary on an extract from one of the two works studied in part 2. If you're in HL, you will do an oral commentary on POETRY you studied in part 2, AND have an oral discussion with the teacher on one of the other two works studied in part 2.
  • If you're in SL, you get two guiding questions on your extract. If you're in HL, you don't.
  • The rubric for SL has four sections: Knowledge and Understanding of Extract (or Poem, for HL), Appreciation of the Writer's Choices, Organization and Presentation, and Language. The rubric for HL has two additional sections: Knowledge and Understanding of the Work used in the Discussion, and Response to the Discussion Questions.
  • If you're in HL, each of the six criteria are marked out of five for a total of 30 possible points. If you're in SL, the first two criteria (knowledge and understanding of the extract, and appreciation of the writer’s choices) are marked out of ten each and the other two criteria are marked out of five each, for a total of 30 points. 
If you're still having trouble choosing between HL and SL, try printing off this handy Venn diagram and filling it in to compare them. 

If you actually finish filling in your Venn diagram before you get distracted by squirrels and go off to raid the fridge, this shows that you're definitely HL IB English-student material. Congrats!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to Kick Butt in IB Language A Part 2: Detailed Study

When your oral commentary rolls around, you don't know what extract you're going to get or from which of the works you studied it will be taken, so in order to prepare to kick butt in the oral commentary, you have to do two basic steps:

  1. Learn literary devices: you need to be able to recognize, define, explain, and evaluate the effects of the literary devices in the extract you get. It could be poetry, prose, or drama, so you need to be familiar with literary devices for all these genres. Click here to read some of my posts on literary devices, and memorize your literary device handouts from your teacher. 
  2. Practice! Your teacher might give you opportunities to practice in class. If not, you can practice on your own. The best way to practice is to emulate the conditions of the oral commentary. 

First, get an extract. If your teacher doesn't provide practice extracts, just go through your works studied in this section and choose some likely-looking extracts. Remember that an extract for the oral commentary is usually about 40 lines. It could be a whole poem that's roughly 40 lines, or a 40-line passage from a text.

Second, look at the guiding questions. In HL you won't have guiding questions, but you can still ask yourself some questions. If your teacher doesn't provide extracts with guiding questions for you to practice, try to think about these typical guiding questions suggested by the IB board:


  • What is revealed about the character(s) through the diction employed? 
  • What role do music/sound/lighting effects have to play in this extract? 
  • What impact is this extract likely to have on the audience? 
  • For what reasons can this extract be considered a pivotal/key moment in the play? 

Prose: Novel and short story 
  • How does structure function in this extract to convey key ideas? 
  • How does the balance between dialogue and narrative affect your understanding of this extract? 
  • How are the key themes of the work explored in this extract? 
  • How does this extract work to change your understanding of the characters involved? 

Prose other than fiction 
  • To what effect is sentence structure used in this extract? 
  • In what ways is the style of this extract typical of the work as a whole? 
  • What is the likely impact of this extract on the reader? 
  • How important is the logical sequence of ideas in this extract? 

  • What is the relationship between the title and the poem itself? 
  • How does the progression of ideas contribute to the development of the theme(s)? 
  • How does stanza structure reflect the development of the poem’s subject? 
  • In what ways does the final line/stanza change your understanding of the poem as a whole?

Third, practice preparing your commentary by analyzing the extract and annotating it. You are allowed to take the extract into the commentary with you, so write as much as you can all over it. I recommend colour-coding it. For example, if you see lots of metaphor in the extract, use green for all the metaphor, and if you see lots of personification, use blue for it. Use pink for the rhyme scheme and orange for the punctuation. And so on. Highlight the examples and write notes to yourself about them. Remember you have to explain the broad aspects like structure, characters, etc, and the details like aural devices, imagery, etc. and you have to tell the effect of each. So write all your ideas out, but in point form. If you try to write out your entire commentary, you won't have time, so just write points - key words. Don't forget to PEE! click here for more on PEEing in English class. Time yourself and don't let yourself spend more than 20 minutes. With practice, you'll get better at analyzing and annotating an extract in 20 minutes, and this exercise will also help you prepare for the exam as you will be writing a commentary on an unseen passage.

(now for the fun part!) Fourth, after annotating your extract for 20 minutes, practice giving an oral commentary to your friend, dog, family member, or mobile phone. Record it and play it back. Reflect on your practice session and write notes to yourself. What did you like about it? What do you want to improve? Don't worry if you can't pull off ten minutes of commentary the first time. You might speak for three or four minutes the first time. That's why you're practicing. If you can manage three minutes for your first practice session, set a goal for yourself to speak for four or five minutes at your next practice session.

After you've selected, prepared, and commented on five or six extracts from different texts in Part 2, you should be ready for the oral commentary.

Join me next time for: How to Kick Butt in IB Language A Oral Commentary!

Friday, April 1, 2016

How to Increase Writing Speed for IGCSEs

Please help!

A student wrote to the Nardvark with some questions about the IGCSE exams. Nardvark promptly printed off the email, crumpled it into a ball, and chucked it at The Nerdvark's head. The paper got impaled on The Nerdvark's funny drooping horn and The Nerdvark couldn't reach to get it off, so Nardvark summarized the question like this:

Dear handsome, intelligent Nardvark,
I don't get it. How am I supposed to write all that stuff in such a short time? 
Your biggest fan and groupie,

Always one to help a student in need, The Nerdvark quickly sat down and composed the following response while Nardvark went to the kitchen to see if there was any apple and coconut wasabi pizza left over.

That's a really good question. It is very difficult to write a good response in a short period of time. 

Increase Writing Speed

I recommend two things you can do to increase your writing speed:

Follow the Steps of the Writing Process

First, you should follow the writing process. There are five steps: prewrite, plan, draft, revise, and edit. Click here to read more about the writing process on The Nardvark.

I'll go through your two papers with you and give you more details on how you should follow the writing process for each of them. You should follow the writing process when writing a test paper with a time limit, because it helps you to streamline your writing and get more written in a shorter period of time. Keep an eye on this blog for detailed explanation of the IGCSE English papers.

Practice Writing Test Papers

Second, you need to practice doing past papers with a time limit. Once a week, you should do a practice paper and time yourself.

The international IGCSE course number is 0500. Paper 1 is 1 hour 45 minutes for core and Paper 3 is 2 hours. If you are in extended, you will write Paper 2 instead of Paper 1, and you have 2 hours.

Paper 3 is your directed writing and composition paper. Your total word count on this paper (two passages) is 650 - 750 words. Most people write about 250 words per page, so you're going to write about three pages in total.

Don't Waste Time Counting Words

A lot of students really waste time counting words. You don't need to get hung up on the word count. The examiner is probably not going to count your words. If you write about three pages, you'll be fine. If your paper looks really long (four pages) or really short (two pages), the examiner will do a quick word count by averaging the words per line and counting how many lines you wrote. Some people have bigger or smaller handwriting, which affects how many pages they will write. The examiners are pretty good at judging how many words are written without having to count. 
Nardvark wastes a lot of time during exams counting his words after every
sentence and then adding them up.

Learn How to Estimate Your Word Count

You should count words on your practice papers so you know what to aim for when you're in the actual exam. Instead of stopping to count every single word, like some students do, follow this procedure:
  1. Write your response without thinking about word count.
  2. Count the words in the first line. Write the total at the end of the line.
  3. Count the words in the next four lines, writing the total at the end of each line.
  4. Skip any lines that are at the end of a paragraph. Only count full lines.
  5. Take the average number or words per line. So if line one has ten words, line two has eleven words, line three has ten words, line four has nine words, and line five has eleven words, you can say your average word 1`count per line is ten.
  6. Count how many lines you have written in total. If you wrote several paragraphs, consider the last line of each paragraph to be a half line.
  7. Multiply your average line word count by the number of lines you wrote. For example, I write an average of ten words per line. If I write twenty-five lines, that's 250 words.
  8. Voila!

Further Help

I hope this helps you increase your writing speed. Don't forget to check back with The Nardvark for explanations of the IGCSE papers. Meanwhile, Nardvark's posts with the label "IGCSE" can be read by clicking here