How to Choose Quotes for Paper 2

Free introductory guide to IB English Paper 2 by IB45 and IB7 graduates.

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Choosing the right quotes for your IB English Paper 2 exam is extremely important. The quotes you learn ultimately make or break your exam performance.

The problem is that it’s difficult to find these elusive, “good” quotes.

  • How do you even begin the laborious search through your texts?
  • What quotes should you be looking out for?
  • How many quotes should you learn? How many is too much?
  • Should you commit the quotes to memory word-for-word?

In this blog post, we’ll answer all of these questions.

Good Quote, Bad Quote

The best quotes for IB English Paper 2 exams are those that can be analysed in the context of multiple themes, characters and/or techniques. I call these Super Quotes. Why are they Super, you ask?

  • Deeper analysis. Quotes like these often find themselves at the busy intersection of themes, characters and techniques–a trait that makes them ooze with analytical potential. Such complexity is especially conducive to deeper, more sophisticated analysis. You’ll be needing these quotes to do well.
  • Memorise less. One of these quotes might cover 2 themes and 1 character. What does that mean? You’ve covered 3 areas of potential analysis with just one quote! Now you can memorise 1 quote instead of 3, even though you’ve got just as many areas covered. 3 birds with 1 stone–how’s that for quote hunting?

Let’s give you concrete examples of good and bad quotes.

Great Quote

Sarah shook as she stared into the ice-eyes of her oppressor.

With an explosive quote like this, you will be equipped to analyse at least 3 different topics in your Paper 2: characterisation (of Sarah and her oppressor), literary techniques (sibilance), and themes (oppression).

Not-so-great Quote

Now let’s take a look at a quote that you shouldn’t memorise under any circumstance. Even with a Desert Eagle to your head.

Her tears dripped onto the dry ground.

While this quote serves to characterise the girl, too (her sadness, in particular), there is a much less explicit link to the theme of oppression. There also lacks significant literary techniques in this quote.

Where to find good quotes

You need some familiarity with your texts for this step, so make sure you’ve read it at least once. As you go through the texts again (for the second or third time, etc.), scan the pages through 3 different lenses: characterisation, theme, and technique. This is because all the questions in the final IB English Paper 2 exam are related to these three categories.

You should have a good idea of where the most interesting parts of the text are (i.e., places with lots of conflict and character development). You should be able to find lots of quotes in these places to get you started.

Quotes can also come in pairs or triplets. These quotes can be used to compare and contrast themes, characterisation, and techniques across different parts of the text. The examiner will see that you aren’t just analysing your texts in isolated bits and pieces–one quote here and there–but that you are analysing the text as a whole and noticing changes in characterisation, recurring patterns (e.g., style in the writer’s work), and developments of the literary themes. These quote combos allow you to reach high into the 7 range.

Effective examples of quote combos

  • character development: find quotes comparing and contrasting a character in the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the text.
  • recurring patterns: the writer consistently uses, say, figurative language to develop a specific theme. This is an interesting style that shows your sensitivity to the complex workings of a literary piece.

Spreading out your quotes

Taking the IB English Paper 2 is a bit like playing baseball: You better be prepared for curveballs. These curveballs take the form of really random-sounding questions like the two below (which have been used in real IB Paper 2s):

  • “To what extent are female characters more interesting than male characters?”
  • “How is the notion of justice explored in your texts?”

Therefore it makes sense to stock up on as many types of quotes as possible so that no matter how the IB spins the Paper 2 that is hurtling at you at 90km/h, you’ll be able to adapt and answer these super random questions.

Here are some specific steps you can take to ensure a good spread of quotes:

  1. Brainstorm all the main characters, themes and techniques in your texts.
  2. For every good quote you find, identify the theme(s), character(s) and technique(s) it relates to.
  3. Have a look at the spread of your quotes. Are they focused on too few themes? What about the spread across characters and techniques?
  4. If the variety is too little, engage in a hunt for quotes that relate to areas you haven’t yet adequately covered.

Now let’s talk about how to organise your quotes in a useful way that helps with study.

How to build your quote bank

I’ll share a format that worked well for me. I had a table for each category in separate Word documents. One doc for themes, one doc for characters, one doc for techniques. Each of these documents contain one table for quotes.

Table structure

Paper 2 is all about comparison and contrast between texts. You cannot just analyse quotes in isolation. Themes, characterisation and techniques require discussion and evidence (i.e., quotes) coming from both texts (I don’t recommend analysing more than two texts in one Paper 2 comparative essay).

Record the themes that can be analysed in multiple texts (Text A, B and C). Now list the quotes under each of these themes. Make another document and table for Characterisation and Techniques, respectively.

A lot of IB English students find it difficult to do comparison and contrast in IB English Paper 2 because they did not have the end goal in mind. They do not build their collection of quotes with comparison and contrast in the forefront of focus.

To be clear, you need to find common themes (and characters and techniques) across every combination of your texts:

  • Text A and Text B
  • Text B and Text C
  • Text A and Text C
  • All three texts

By having comparison and contrast in the forefront of your mind when you build your quote bank, Paper 2 will come much more naturally to you because you have the comparative structure embedded in your memory already.


I used LitCharts for my texts. They gave a good starting point for my quote bank. LitCharts used to be free back in 2014, but I think now you have to pay for them. I do recommend them if you are short on time but want high-quality quotes.

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