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Intro to Analysis for IB English

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LEARN ANALYSIS

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11+ Key Lessons

Practice Paper 1

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EXEMPLAR Plans & Essays

To get a 7 in IB English Literature or IB English Language and Literature, you must understand not just how to analyse, but how to analyse properly and correctly. It’s so easy to be confused by all the contradictory advice, but it’s not as hard or as confusing as it seems!

In this introductory guide, I explain the easiest, five-step approach to writing strong IB English analysis. In this guide, I go into the intuition behind analysis and the five simple steps that you can take to transform your analysis from an IB grade of 4 to 7. No more headaches. No more confusion. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get into it!

What exactly is analysis?

Analysis is the act of explaining how and why a writer uses specific language choices.

This is the fundamental task of IB English. If you understand this statement, then you will understand the whole of IB English. Let’s break it down.

“specific language choices”: We are intensely interested in the specific wording, literary techniques, punctuation, and grammar used by the writer of a given text. All of these aspects fall under language, so we must analyse all of them.

“explaining”: Always seek to explain these language choices rather than just stating the fact. Always go deeper. For example, don’t just say that “The writer uses technique X” and move on. You must go further in analysis, by addressing the two key questions:

  1. How / in what way is technique X being used?
  2. Why is technique X being used in this way?

“how”: Is it being used to construct an idea or create an emotional effect, or both at the same time? Is the technique being contrasted or combined with another technique to enhance its effectiveness? How a writer chooses to manipulate and utilise a technique is a unique to every text. There are infinite ways in which a technique can be used, but your job is to just consider and explain a particular usage by a particular writer of a particular text.

“why”:  Why did the writer choose to use this specific word (or technique) instead of all the thousands of other capable options in the English language? Why this particular word? What makes this technique so special and important that the writer couldn’t help but use it?

Steps of analysis in a diagram

Teachers never teach English with diagrams, but they’re actually extremely useful in understanding how analysis works.

Here is a diagram to summarise what your understanding of analysis should look like at this very moment. Forget what you’ve learned before reading this guide, because everything that I’m teaching you now is the proven blueprint for IB English analysis. I used it to score high marks in IB English Literature, including a 20/20 in Paper 1.

How to analyse IB English

The next step in this guide is to show you how to address these key questions of “how” and the “why”  in your analytical writing. But first, let me introduce the five step formula that I know you’ve been waiting for.


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The Five Step Formula to IB English literary analysis

So you have a quote that you want to analyse. An example might be:

The wind danced to the music of the autumn birds as it wound its way through every branch, every tree, and every leaf in the quiet forest.

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Level 1 Techniques

Start with the 4 Basic Techniques for IB English

Diction

8 Minutes

FAQ: "Why should I learn to properly analyze diction?"

Diction is the most fundamental technique, yet most students struggle to analyze it correctly. Diction is found in every text you'll ever come across in IB English Lang & Lit and IB English Literature.

This 8-Minute lesson will cover:

  1. What is diction?
  2. Quick Example of diction in a quote
  3. Exemplar Analysis using the Diamond Analysis Formula
  4. Practical Analysis Advice for Diction
  5. A Word of Warning for IB English students

What is Diction?

Diction is the simplest literary technique, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to master.

Pay close attention!

Diction means “word choice”: the specific words that a writer deliberately chooses to use in their writing.

Actually analysing diction in your IB English assessment would sound something like this:

  • “The writer’s use of emotional diction in line 5 illustrates…”
  • “The religious diction such as ‘communion’ and ‘confession’ suggests…”

Now, the problem we face as IB English students is that every word on a page technically counts as diction. We obviously can’t analyse all of them! So we need some rules. Two to be exact.

The rules of diction

  1. Never analyse boring words.
  2. Always analyse interesting words.

So how can you tell if a word is interesting and therefore worthy of analysis?

Connotations

Every word has a denotation (i.e., a boring, literal meaning found in the dictionary) and connotations.

A word is interesting if it has interesting connotations. In analysis, we tend to care less about the denotative meaning of a word because it’s not interesting.

Take the word “gold” as an example.

Denotation: “a yellow precious metal, the chemical element of atomic number 79”

Yawn. BORING.

The word “gold” obviously means a lot more to us than just its boring denotation. The word “gold” instantly makes us think of:

wealth, money, luxury, prestige, royalty, quality, beauty, perfection, big fat Rolexes

These ideas, feelings, and impressions that we naturally associate with certain words are called connotations. They are distinct from denotations: Denotation is what the thing literally means; connotation is what we think and feel about that thing.

Big difference.

Since analysis is about wading into the deeper layers of meaning, we care much more about connotations when we analyse diction.

Let’s take a look at the diction in this sentence:

“The town was an infested den of thieves and smugglers.”

Which words have interesting connotations?

The word “infested” is interesting. When we read/hear the word “infested”, we immediately think

Ewwwwwwwwww!!!

We think of a gross mental image of disgusting cockroaches and rats crawling around in some old basement or sewer. To us, the diction of “infested” connotes disgust, and the writer probably chose this word precisely because it makes the town seem dirty and disgusting.

“Infested” also connotes a sense of corruption; in this case, it’s not so much the biological disease, which is the literal meaning, but instead the moral corruption of these thieves and smugglers who work in morally-questionable professions.

There’s also another really interesting layer of meaning. We usually associate the diction of “infested” with animals and insects, as opposed to humans. So the writer uses animalistic diction to dehumanise these criminals to the level of animals, making us view them with contempt (remember this word from the tone list?).

By thinking about the connotations, we got some great analysis about amorality, disgust and dehumanisation.

Recall the 5 steps of the Diamond Analysis Formula from the Analysis Foundations section. Well, all we have to do is apply them here, and voila, we cook up some decent analysis like this:

The author characterises “the town” to be “infested” with criminals. Here, the deliberate use of animalistic diction in “infested” serves to dehumanise the “thieves and smugglers” as creatures comparable to cockroaches or rats, which evokes a sense of disgust in readers. The animalistic diction thus captures the squalid, corrupted state of this “town” and builds an unsettling atmosphere.

Great new adjectives to use in your next essay to boost your Criterion D Language mark:

  • “squalid”: lacking in moral standards
  • “unsettling”: disturbing, making someone feel uneasy or anxious

When you use the word “diction”, try to precede it with an adjective. For example, avoid writing

“The diction in ‘infested’…”

Instead, write

“The animalistic diction in ‘infested’…”

The reason is because ‘diction’ itself is meaningless unless we specify a particular type of word choice. In some cases, the diction is neutral and that is when you have no choice but to just write “diction”.

The same rule applies to tone, atmosphere and mood. Add a preceding adjective. There’s no meaning behind tone unless it’s a specific tone. The same goes for atmosphere and mood.

If you get tired of writing “diction” all the time, you can vary your diction by replacing it with “language”. For example, you can write “emotional diction” or “emotional language”, “formal diction” or “formal language”. They mean the same thing.

Yes, diction is the most fundamental technique and it’s important to understand.

Many students stay stuck at Level 1 in IB English, forever analysing this word, and that word, and this diction, and that diction.

To increase your IB English grade, you must learn more techniques, and rise up in the sophistication of the techniques that you analyse. You must learn the rest of the Level 1 techniques, and from there catapult into Levels 2, 3 and 4.

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Level 1 Techniques

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📕 Free Level 1 Lesson

Learn the same analysis secrets that helped Aanya, Ethan and countless other IB English students skyrocket their grade in weeks, days and even overnight in some cases…

In the Level 1 to Level 4 Techniques lessons, you will find:

  • Refreshing examples and analysis exemplars that show you exactly how to write 7-level analysis.
  • Practical Analysis Advice on how to approach analysis for each key technique, including the common effects and purposes. This helped Ethan Cheng improve from a 12 to a 17/20 in 1 week!

Essay Essentials

11+ Key Lessons on IB English Paper 1, Paper 2 & HLE Writing

How to Craft a Strong Thesis

10 Minutes

FAQ: "Why should I learn how to write a strong thesis?"

IB teachers and examiners form a first impression of your Paper 1 (...and Paper 2, IO and HLE!) based on 1 sentence in your introduction: the thesis. First impressions are important, so your thesis better be good!

This 10-Minute lesson will cover:

  1. What is a thesis?
  2. The Two Crucial Ingredients of a Strong Thesis
  3. The Bulletproof Thesis Formula
  4. Practical Example: How to Improve a Thesis statement
  5. A Word of Warning: Depth can kill

After successfully deconstructing and interpreting a text (explained in another Essay Essential lesson), you will have three things in your hot little hands:

  1. several main ideas
  2. annotations of techniques
  3. the writer’s overall purpose

Now, the hard part…

We need to summarise these three things in a single sentence called the thesis (or subject statement). At this point, we still haven’t started writing the Paper 1 yet. We are still in the planning phase. By doing all of this planning, the writing process will be much, much easier.

“OK, but what–actually–is a thesis?”

The thesis is a single sentence in the introduction of a guided analysis that states how the writer achieves his/her overall purpose. This sentence—this thesis—is also the main argument that you are trying to prove in your IB English Paper 1 guided analysis. The marker can usually judge the strength of your analytical skills from your subject statement alone, so it needs to be well-written.

A good subject statement must tick two boxes:

  • it must be clear and concise
  • it must convey the writer’s intention

1. Be clear and concise

Students often write a long, winding sentence for their thesis. This is bad because the marker cannot easily distinguish your thesis from the rest of your introduction. This is particularly bad when you realise that a marker spends only a couple of minutes reading through each essay (ain’t nobody got time for dat).

As such, you should always write a clear and concise thesis that is no longer than ~30 words.

“In the story, the author looks at how the main character is sad and how he always fights with his parents when he returns home from school.” (27 words)

This is a bad subject statement:

  • The language isn’t clear. In particular, the verb “looks” is too vague and informal. The word “how” is also informal.
  • The sentence isn’t concise. The subject statement should focus only on the main ideas: sadness and familial conflict. The contextual detail of “coming home from school” is distracting. Avoid excess information in the thesis.

A better subject statement looks like this:

“In the prose extract, the author conveys the sadness of the protagonist through the portrayal of his frequent conflict with his parents.” (21 words)

  • The language is clearer and more sophisticated. Notice how instead of writing “In the story”, we can write “In the prose extract”.
  • The sentence is also more concise. The language in “conveys” is much better than “looks at”.

Another great subject statement might look like this:

“In the prose extract, the author characterises the protagonist as a sad teenager who suffers frequent conflict with his parents.”

  • Here, the subject statement is explicit about the literary focus of the essay by including the term “characterization.”
  • In the poem/prose extract/article, (author X) explores/ criticizes/ ridicules/ portrays/ highlights/ illustrates the (subject) in order to (purpose).

In general, use this formula for clear and concise subject statements.

In the poem / play / prose extract / article (genre), the writer explores / criticises / ridicules/ portrays / highlights / illustrates (some verb) _________ (idea, effect, or meaning).

Our subject statement is now clear and concise, but there’s one problem. It feels too simplistic. There’s no depth. The reason is because we’re missing something essential.

2. Sprinkle the writer’s purpose

At the moment, our subject statement is simply saying: “In the text, the writer does this.” But that’s only half the picture. We need to add the writer’s purpose. The subject statement needs to say:

“The writer does this, this and that in order to achieve a purpose.”

By explaining not just what the writer does but also why the writer does it, the subject statement immediately becomes deeper and more complete.

For example:

“In the prose extract, the author characterises the protagonist as a sad teenager who experiences frequent conflict with his parents in order to highlight the harsh estrangement of adolescence.”

where the bolded part of the subject statement expresses the intention (why) behind the writer’s use of characterisation (what).

The subject statement sounds even better if we move the author’s intention to the beginning of the sentence:

In order to highlight the harsh estrangement of adolescence, the author characterizes the protagonist as a sad teenager who suffers frequent conflict with his parents.”

Or, we can be a little less explicit about the purpose by expressing it as a theme: .

“In the prose extract, the author explores the distressed emotional landscape of adolescence through the portrayal of the teenage protagonist’s constant melancholy and familial conflict.”

  • Here the writer’s message is expressed instead as a central theme: the distressed emotional landscape of adolescence.

We now have a new template for writing strong subject statements that have both clarity and depth.

In the poem / play / prose extract / article (some genre), the writer explores / criticises / ridicules/ portrays / highlights / illustrates (some verb) _________ (idea, effect, or meaning) in order to __________ (some purpose).

After you get used to using this template, it will start to feel formulaic and boring. At that stage, feel free to do away with the training wheels and express your thesis however you like, as long as it is clear, concise and conveys the writer’s intention.

Improving a real subject statement by a real student

Student’s version
“Banville utilises situational irony created by the characterisation of the parents, and the situational irony of the narrator’s depressing holiday to express a bittersweet tone by the narrator.” (28 words)

One of our lovely LitLearn students wrote this subject statement for a Higher Level Paper 1 guided analysis. We are going to identify what’s wrong with it, and then we will improve on it.

  • First, the subject statement is not concise. Situational irony is mentioned too many times, and the overall idea of the narrator’s depressing memories can be conveyed more succinctly.
  • Second, there’s an issue with the purpose. The student has made the bittersweet tone the writer’s core purpose. But tone is never the purpose. Ever. Tone is a technique used as a means, a vehicle, a way to achieve a purpose. So the purpose needs to change.
Fixed version
“Banville ironically constructs the narrator’s depressing memories of her childhood holidays in order to portray the fractured relationships within her family.” (21 words)
  • This version is clearer and more concise. It’s seven words shorter. The two uses of situational irony have been replaced by just one use of “ironically”. The reason for doing so is because situational irony is distracting detail that is irrelevant in the thesis but can be mentioned later in the introduction or in the points of the commentary.
  • Also, the purpose is now an actual purpose. The message of the story was really about the horrible relationship between the narrator and her parents, and this purpose is now adequately summarised in the phrase, “fractured relationships within her family.” Notice how an accurate understanding of the writer’s purpose is starting to become important just in the introduction; make sure you’ve deconstructed a text well before you even attempt to write the subject statement, because otherwise your interpretation will be wrong and your Knowledge and Understanding Criterion will go down.
  • Also, we removed the reference to tone from the thesis. The reason why tone is removed entirely from the thesis is because, like situational irony, tone is a distracting detail that is not important at the Big Picture level and should instead be mentioned later in the introduction and body paragraphs.

Depth can kill

A common question that students ask is this, and you might have wondered about it many times before…

The question is this:

“Hey <Teacher / Tutor / LitLearn>, does the subject statement (or thesis, or argument) have to be really, really deep?”

In other words, does the writer’s purpose need to be highly philosophical message about things like, “What is the meaning of life?”

I’m sure you will be glad to hear that the answer is a definite “No.”

Don’t try to make up some deep message that doesn’t exist in the text. It might sound impressive, but it won’t help you at all. In your subject statement, simply write down what the writer’s purpose is, and as accurately as you can. If you have genuinely interpreted the writer’s purpose to be a deep message, like “the meaning of life”, then great. But if the writer’s purpose is clearly just characterisation, then simply use that as the purpose and don’t make up some corny, cheesy message that doesn’t even represent the text at all.

Accuracy is what you should be worrying about, and you should not be worrying about whether the purpose in your subject statement sounds intellectual or philosophical.

Essay Essentials

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IB English Practice Papers

Detailed Video Solutions to help you prepare for Paper 1

Lang & Lit: Poster Ad

Get hints when you’re stuck:
  • Language Hints video (3 min)
  • Visual Hints video (3 min)
Check your answer with the full solution:
  • Full Annotation & Analysis video (20 min)
  • Exemplar 20/20 Essay Plan video (10 min)
  • Exemplar 20/20 Essay Response (1000 words)

Literature: Prose

Get hints when you’re stuck:
  • Knowledge & Interpretation video (7 min)
Check your answer with the full solution:
  • Annotation & Analysis Video Part 1 (20 min)
  • Annotation & Analysis Video Part 2 (20 min)
  • Exemplar 20/20 Essay Plan Guide
  • How to Write Analysis Paragraph (10 min)
+ More Practice Papers for Lang Lit and Literature
Speeches, Prose, Poems, Ads
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IB4 to IB7 in 1 Week

"[LitLearn] helped immensely in terms of building up the fundamentals such as knowing the techniques and their effects, which were key for my improvement. [...] I managed to improve my grade from a 12 to a 17."

Ethan Cheng, IB English Literature student
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IB4 to IB6 in 12 days

"I went from a 4 to a 6 in IB English [in 12 days], something that I had not seen coming at all! LitLearn helped me understand exactly what I was doing wrong and how to improve upon those mistakes."

IB English Past Paper Solutions

LitLearn's exemplar Breakdowns, Plans & Full Essay Responses help you prepare for Paper 1 with confidence.
Past Paper Solutions are Premium Access only

IB English Lang & Lit

IB English Literature

None available yet. Coming soon after November 2022.

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IB4 to IB7 in 1 Week

"[LitLearn] helped immensely in terms of building up the fundamentals such as knowing the techniques and their effects, which were key for my improvement. [...] I managed to improve my grade from a 12 to a 17."

Ethan Cheng, IB English Literature student
trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB6 in 12 days

"I went from a 4 to a 6 in IB English [in 12 days], something that I had not seen coming at all! LitLearn helped me understand exactly what I was doing wrong and how to improve upon those mistakes."

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