Ever heard that getting a 7 in IB English was impossible? Ever wondered what magic formula those who did get it followed? You’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for the top 5 tips to getting a 7 in IB English (curated by 7-level English students themselves!).
1. Develop a strong foundation.
Having a strong English foundation with good vocabulary and grammar is the first step to getting a 7 in IB English. In both Literature and Lang Lit, you’re looking at some pretty complicated material. So, if you’re serious about intimately understanding Shakespeare, you need to have some solid English foundational skills to lean on.
Vocabulary and grammar also make up a wondrous thing called “register”. Why worry about register? Register is, broadly, the formality of your writing style. It has its own criterion in all IB English assessments, so having a strong grasp of formal English vocabulary and grammar will get you a really, really long way.
The good news is that it doesn’t take long to get your vocabulary and grammar up to scratch. If you are one of the blessed few who are immune to motion sickness, this could mean only 10 minutes per day on the bus!
1. Upgrade that Vocabulary
Read more. This applies to both to native and non-native English students. Reading books, magazines, and online articles is the best way to improve your vocabulary. Learning vocabulary by reading lets you see words in their proper context. When the time comes for you to use it in your own essay, you can be confident that you will use it correctly!
Sticky notes. As you read, keep a sticky note filled with useful words and connective phrases. Try to use them as often as possible and they will be soon be built into your vocabulary. Your list could include phrases like: “X establishes this through…”, “thus developing the idea of…”
Use vocabulary books. If you’re a native English speaker and just need to widen your vocabulary, cramming vocabulary books is a sure-fire way to build up your arsenal of sophisticated words. We recommend using SAT vocabulary books, especially the Direct Hits series.
Use Memrise. Memrise is an amazing website and app that helps you memorise lots of relevant vocabulary for any language. In our case, we’re interested in English, so go ahead and sign up to fun vocabulary courses like English TOEFL (link), this, or this.
Use Vocabulary.com. Similar to Memrise, vocabulary.com is a quiz-like program that lets you quickly master new vocabulary. It has example sentences, too — giving you context in bite-sized pieces. Use more advanced word lists to extend your vocabulary.
2. Straighten out that Grammar
Also read more. Native speakers never think explicitly about what grammar rules to use in this or that sentence. Grammar comes naturally because native speakers have gotten so used to the patterns of English language. Reading voraciously is the key to making grammatical correctness second-nature.
Write more. The more you read, the better you write. But, you’ll still need to put in some hard hours to make use of and perfect your newfound skill.
Workbooks. SAT workbooks are particularly helpful. I recommend Erica Meltzer’s “The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar”.
Read up with these resources
Where to look to for good reading material, I hear you ask?
- Exemplar Paper 1, Paper 2 and WIT essays (your school should stock some. If not, then you’re in luck, because LitLearn has a few in its free resources page!)
- Good publications like The Economist, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, etc.
- Reading comprehension guides, such as the popular “The Critical Reader” by Erica Meltzer.
- You local bookstore. Yes, bookstores still exist.
- Other good quality writing (ahem, this stunning blog)
2. Learn how to analyse–properly.
If basic English skills are the bare-bones method for success, analysis is the substance. IB English is heavily analysis-oriented. The better your analysis, the higher your grade. Without techniques-based analysis, the best you can hope for is a 4 in SL (or a 3 in HL).
IB-style analysis is a bit different from most other curriculums. You must have an emphasis on literary techniques. That also means an avoidance of retelling the plot at all costs.
If your teacher doesn’t seem to have a confident grasp of IB-style analysis, invest in a good tutor early. It can save you down the road!
Luckily, this topic is exactly what LitLearn covers — in excruciating detail. Rather than going through every step of how to achieve 7-level analysis here in this blog post, head on over to our in-depth Step-by-Step Guide to Writing IB English Analysis.
3. Your writing style is extremely important.
Smart writing is simple writing. Essays are meant to communicate ideas. Hence, the best essays are those that are written concisely. A lot of students think that the more complex an essay, the more sophisticated it is. Don’t succumb to this myth! Simple writing is always the best writing because it communicates ideas clearly.
Strip back the flowery vocabulary. Sometimes, using super fancy language does more harm than good to your essay. That’s not to say that you should forget all the nice words we told you to learn in Step 1. Rather, you should use advanced words correctly and strategically. Don’t overuse them, and certainly don’t use them in the wrong places just for the sake of using them.
Have a clear structure. Use a PEEL (Point, Evidence, Elaboration, Link) structure for all your paragraphs, and make sure your analysis always supports your points. One of the biggest mistakes is having complex arguments, but neglecting the way you structure them — resulting in markers understanding individual points, but completely lost as to how they support your overall thesis.
4. Do Internal Assessments really well
Internal Assessments (IAs) are your saviour when it comes to scoring a 7 in IB English. IAs include:
- the Individual Oral Presentation (IOP);
- Individual Oral Commentary (IOC);
- Further Oral Activity (FOA) for IB English Lang Lit students; and,
- the Works in Translation (WIT) essay.
IAs are arguably easier than final exams since they’re untimed, there’s a lot less stress involved, plus you get lots of support from your friends and teachers.
However, you must take these IAs seriously. Yes, they will provide you with a good foundation which you can use to build up to that 7, but more importantly, you need to do them well to make sure you don’t jeopardise your chance at getting a 7 before you even reach your final exams.
Draft early. Writing is a creative process, so it’s crucial that you give yourself enough time to develop interesting ideas and to refine your artwork (I mean, your essay). After your final edit, leave enough time to remove yourself for two days. Come back and review with a critical eye.
Seek help. Ok, you may need it psychologically, from the horror of the IB, but I mean academically.
- Use the internet to find interesting alternate analyses of your texts that your teacher didn’t go through.
- Get feedback from your friends (and, if your school allows it, other teachers) on your drafts for that “fresh eye” at times you can’t afford to step back from your work yourself.
5. PRAAACTICE for finals
Writing, like any skill, can be honed. I promise you, a 7 in IB English is achievable with practice. Don’t be discouraged if your grades have always been the same and they never improve, no matter what you do. That’s because you didn’t know what the markers were looking for. Let someone teach you what markers want, then practice and practice until you achieve it.
Create a finals study schedule
Learn content early. You want to be confident that you understand your texts by a month before finals. The rest of the time should be spent practicing and perfecting your technique.
Space out practices. This way, you can force yourself to start early, and give yourself enough time to improve. It also gives you enough time to have them marked, which is invaluable.
Focus on your weaknesses. Schedule your practices according to the paper you’re the weakest at. Need more feedback on Paper 2? Plan to start practice on it earlier for more opportunities to have it marked, and practice it more times a week.
Alternate. In the weeks leading up to finals, I did an English paper every second day. However, you need to make sure you cover both Paper 1 and Paper 2, so I alternated papers, making sure to do my weaker paper more times than my stronger one.
Combine all of these techniques, and you should be well-set to score that elusive 7 in IB English!
Eeleen (pictured on the left) graduated in 2016 with an IB 44. She achieved a high 7 in HL English Literature, topping her class. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Medical Science (provisional entry medicine) at Griffith University in Australia. As an IB survivor, Eeleen is very passionate about writing, art and sharing her knowledge to fellow IB students.