What exactly do I need to know about my texts to rock the IB English Paper 2 exam? No one has covered this topic in-depth on the internet, so I’ll share my experience here.

The way I think of it, there are four levels of understanding that you need to achieve for Paper 2 if you want to get that shiny 7 score. Think of it like an elevator.

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The first level

The first level is simply understanding each of your texts by themselves, in isolation. Don’t worry about links between texts for now; that stuff comes later.

Make sure you have a solid knowledge of the following aspects for each of your texts:

  1. 3 to 5 major themes in your text
  2. 3 to 5 major characters in your text (don’t worry about characters if you’re analysing poems for Paper 2)
  3. 3 to 5 major techniques that are particularly important
  4. 3 to 5 most important contextual influences on the text

Most of the above is self-explanatory except for maybe the fourth point on context. Context refers to the environmental (social, historical and personal factors) that impacted a literary work. Two examples of contextual influences:

  • McCarthyism impacted Arthur Miller, which led to The Crucible
  • World War I impacted Wilfred Owen, which led to his war poetry

The second level

Now you need to hone in on contextual influence on a more microscopic level, specifically it’s impact on the themes, techniques, and characters in each of your texts. Again, do this for each text. Don’t worry about comparing texts just yet.

Building on level 1, here are some guiding questions to help you achieve this level of understanding:

  1. How does context impact the 3 to 5 most important themes in your texts?
  2. How does context impact the 3 to 5 most important characters in your texts?
  3. How does context impact the 3 to 5 most important techniques in your texts? (this is a hard one, you might not find any links between context and technique)

An example of what this might look like:

Context and technique. The writer’s use of the symbol (technique) of red flowers was influenced by the writer’s first-hand experience of bloodshed as a soldier (context).

Gather a list of contextual influences like the above example.

This level of understanding is extremely important for IB English Language & Literature students because you are always asked explicitly in Paper 2 exams to analyse the impact of context on your texts.


The third level

Now we need to look at the relationships between themes, characters and techniques within each text. This knowledge is important because lots of past Paper 2 prompts rely on you being able to link a theme X with character Y or a theme X with technique Y.

Here are the guiding questions:

  1. What relationships are there between the major themes and characters that you identified in the first level?
  2. What relationships are there between the major themes and techniques that you identified in the first level?
  3. What relationships are there between the major characters and techniques that you identified in the first level?

Make notes on these relationships. Collect quotes. You will be able to answer IB English Paper 2 prompts like these, where the technique (“dreams”) needs to be related to some theme (“meaning”):

“Dreams are often mirrors of reality. Evaluate the meaning of dreams in at least two texts you have studied.”


The final, fourth level

The first three levels of understanding builds an in-depth understanding of your texts in isolation. Now we focus on comparing and contrasting everything we know between different texts.

  1. Are there similarities and differences in the way techniques and themes relate?
  2. Are there similarities and differences in the way themes and characters relate?
  3. Are there similarities and differences in the way characters and techniques relate?
  4. Are there similarities and differences in the way context influences themes / characters / techniques?

All of this sounds really abstract, so I’ll help you out with an example.

Let’s pick the second question on themes and characters.

  1. Similarity. In the play Pygmalion, upper class characters are associated ignorance (theme). The exact same pattern occurs in the play The Importance of Being Earnest. This is an insightful similarity.
  2. Difference. Pygmalion is more serious in its effect on the audience, whereas the ignorance explored in the other play is more humorous and aims to ridicule the upper class as opposed to trying to point out some flaw in society.

Summary

There are four levels of understanding for IB English Paper 2 exams. You need to understand each of your texts in these ways. We’ve provided guiding questions to help you navigate through these levels. These questions are extremely open-ended and difficult to answer; expect to spend quality time preparing your knowledge for the Paper 2 exam. It’s not easy, but hopefully this framework puts you on the correct course towards a 7 in IB English Paper 2.

LitLearn has released a brand-new online course Survival Guide for IB English Paper 2. It features this four-level framework, along with practical advice and a three-step approach to surviving IB English Paper 2! Check it out today.

Categories: Paper 2

Jackson Huang

Jackson is an IB 45 graduate and English tutor. He is studying at the University of Melbourne and teaches an online IB English analysis course.

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