Paper 1

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Paper 1 is an exam where you will write a textual analysis of an unseen text.


Command Terms


Tips - IB Survival

Learn how You work best

Unless you've sussed it out for yourself already, your aim throughout the two years of IB should be to establish how you best approach this sort of essay. Everybody prefers to deal with it differently and has their own style --the ultimate aim for anybody is to produce an essay with a cohesive, well-supported argument, a sound structure, doesn't skip any major points and can be completed within the allotted time. Simple, right?

There are two major areas in which people differ. The first is planning. How much time do you personally need to plan? Some people like to invest a massive amount of their time into it (e.g. for a 2-hour paper at HL they might spend half an hour or more planning it) and some people much less time, for instance, 5 or 10 minutes. Obviously, some has to take place as you have to read the poem and formulate an argument; whether you then choose to go straight ahead and start writing (usually to maximise the amount you can write down and give yourself leeway to change things) or whether you like to plan out exactly what you're going to say when (to make sure you have a good structure and are focussed), it's not a big deal. You have to work out for yourself what the optimum sort of time is going to be.

The second area is the style in which you deal with the text. This can either be done by theme (and incidentally tends to pair well with somebody who plans a lot) in which major points of discussion are stuck into dedicated paragraphs or line-by-line which is literally dealing with the text in a linear fashion and therefore tends to require a lot less forethought. Each of these has its weaknesses -- for the former, you can easily find yourself spotting something you should've discussed earlier but will then need to break your structure in order to include. You're less likely to come across things as you're writing, can write comparatively 'shallow' essays (i.e. less deep analysis) and of course, you do need to plan things like crazy. An acronym often related to this is SCASI (Setting/Character/Action/Style/Ideas), where you do roughly a section of your essay on each of those. Weaknesses related to the line-by-line are largely time management (you end up writing a lot more) and making sure you pick up on overarching themes as well as structuring it in a cohesive manner.

Use any practice commentaries you do to test these out! Which do you prefer? More importantly, with which of these methods/time distributions do you get the best results grades-wise? You might be at an extreme or somewhere in the middle, but you're going to have a style which suits you and it's extremely important you're secure and confident in your personal approach before you enter the exam. On a final note, a lot of teachers will tell you that there's only one way to write a commentary. This is wrong. I've seen 7s with good employment of both these styles and the examiners will reward essays which fulfil the marking criteria, not your teacher's favourite way of doing it.


Have a line of argument

This gives your essay purpose, direction and is something for you to constantly refer back to. It's easier to do an analysis if you treat the whole essay as building up the case for WHY your analysis is correct. Imagine that you've announced "this poem is about X and now I'm going to show you why". This way you'll analyse, you'll give examples and you'll have cohesion because your essay will keep returning to the same central points. At no point in the exam should you be sitting scratching your head wondering where on earth to go next? You have an introduction (your declaration and a brief overview of why you believe X to be the case) and a conclusion (briefly how you believe you've proved it to be so). Excellent stuff, having a line of argument.


Make sure your argument makes sense

If I am correct, in the USA and some other places, they call an argument a thesis statement. Whatever. Call it what you like, it is extremely important that you project your own 'vision' or interpretation of the poetry/prose. What this does NOT under any circumstances mean is that you see one bit of a line, think "ooh I like that idea!" and start inventing things or deciding that the word 'interpretation' is some kind of arty excuse for making mystical-sounding comments. World Literature is an analytical subject at heart, and whilst there's no technical right and wrong in that several versions of something can be correct, there's definitely a wrong and the word for that is misinterpretation. You do not want to misinterpret the whole thing. Some people are lucky and will never misinterpret because it comes naturally to them; for other people, no worries, there is a litmus test. Decide what you think the main theme of the poem/prose is and then with your decision in mind, and prior to writing anything, go through the whole text and think at every point "does my interpretation DEFINITELY make sense in light of this section?". Sometimes you might find something contradictory -- for instance a note of joy in a poem which is otherwise quite depressing. In that case, your argument can no longer be that the whole poem is centred around bitterness (or whatever, I'm making this up) but rather you'll have to alter your argument to the poem being about the randomness of fate (because on reflection it turns out that the contrast between the depression and the joy makes this the message you receive). Clearly this is an invented example, but the point I'm trying to get at is that the former interpretation wouldn't fit the whole text. The second interpretation DOES fit the whole text. Always make sure that your main line of argument fits everything, or your entire essay will be out.


Use language you understand

Okay, I'm not going to lie, some people say some really stupid things. If you don't know what a word means, don't know how a phrase is used (and this happens to some native speakers as well as non-native speakers) for the love of whatever higher being may or may not be out there… don't do it! Please. If you've been exposed to a lot of phrases around you in everyday life and read a lot of books, you'll probably find this kind of thing like second nature to you, and you're very lucky. If not, please don't try and impress anybody. It's better to use straight forward sentences and make sure you're definitely getting your point across. You will not be rewarded for speaking with the kind of Elizabethan flourish which would've made Shakespeare proud of his handiwork. They're going to be more impressed by the whole thing making sense than by you using verbs in conjunction with the wrong prepositions etc.


PEE! Also, go to the toilet before the exam.

I always assume everybody has heard of this; if you haven't, listen up! PEE is the best way to approach anything. The point, Example, Explanation! Live by the code of PEE and you should never make a crappy point (because if it's crappy hopefully you'll realise your explanation sucks and therefore not write it) and never make a point without explaining it (without that extra E, PEE just wouldn't be the amusing urination-based acronym we all know and love, would it?). To break it down with a (flippant) example:

Point --> Seamus Heaney (a poet) uses potato-based puns to enforce his love of potatoes

Example --> He says: "Without potatoes/I would not be rooted in this life" (yes this is made up)

Explanation --> The word "rooted" refers back both to the author's roots and also to the nature of potatoes themselves which are root vegetables. He also uses a very effective sentence structure to emphasise the significance of potatoes by making them the start of the phrase, the verb in the middle and then with "life" as the last word in the phrase, the stresses fall in such a way that the two seem linked…. etc etc etc. It's amazing what you can bull**** really


Manage your time wisely

Okay, I mentioned this with planning earlier. Know when you're going to have done stuff by and keep an eye on the clock. An essay is not an essay without a conclusion and all of its contents, and these things cannot be put into place if you run out of time! When I used to do my A1 essays I went line-by-line and said more or less to leave 5 mins at the end to conclude have 5 mins at the start to plan and intend to be halfway through the poem by the time I got halfway through my time. Never failed to finish an essay with this (very non-technical but useful) tactic. Don't be caught out.


Make points, don't score points! (aka don't drop in literary features if you don't know what you're doing)

I wrote that mostly because it sounds catchy, but basically what I mean is that you should realise you get marks for making points. Not for using special words. Obviously you want to use some special words throughout (and by special words I mean the World Lit lingo: alliteration, metaphors, caesuras etc) but they should be coincidental with you making a point. I used to fit them in as part of the second E in my PEE. When explaining why my point was valid I would casually mention that it was mightily effective on account of the simile and so on. In other words, they can be slotted in casually.

What you should avoid is point-scoring, which is kinda like name dropping only using special words. Just because you know a word to describe a literary feature and what it means, it doesn't mean it's always going to be there! The major victim of people trying to point score is "irony". In actual fact, the irony is not all that pervasive in literature. It crops up every now and again, but not particularly frequently and definitely not in 80%+ of things. I'm not going to bother inventing a statistic for how often it does crop up, but just remember it's not everywhere. DO NOT say something is 'an example of irony' unless you

A) are sure it's definitely an example of irony and that you know what irony is

B) are willing to explain how it's an example and why this is effective

This goes for any special word. If you know something is effective but don't know the special word for it (and often there isn't one), there's no harm in explaining it out. It is better to do this than to invent things or to go out of your way to include literary features just for the sake of them being there! If something if effective, just explain why. You don't need a technical term for it every time, and if you see something you know the technical term for but it isn't really effective... don't go out of your way to mention it.


Literary features bucket list: a shortlist of essentials literary features you can add to... but it's definitely useful to know these ones!


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