Breakdown of IB English criteria

Understand exactly how to maximise your Paper 1 Criterion A mark with IB veteran Jackie Sung’s IB English know-how.

“What even is the difference between good and very good anyway?!”

A comprehensive and intimate understanding of criteria is imperative to success — especially in IB English. Why? The examiner uses this exact checklist to give and take marks. Rather than suffer from low scores (yelling: out, damned mark! out, I say!), you can save yourself heartbreak by learning the demand of each criterion and markband.

If you haven’t heard your friends complain that “English is too subjective”, are you really studying English? People commonly misconceive that mark bands are too vague. While descriptors like ‘basic’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ can be subjective, there are in fact specific ways to meet these benchmarks. The entirety of criterion A addresses the following two crucial areas: quality of interpretation and use of references.


Quality of your interpretation does not hinge on being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather on how consistent and convincing your arguments are. (Note that: this post is a holistic breakdown of criteria A — see Jackson’s post on quality analysis and Clint’s post on flow for more focused tips.)

Regardless of the quality of your analysis, a bad essay (like rushed hot pot) throws ideas at an examiner without a clear theme; a good essay connects them together. To be both consistent and convincing, you need to sustain and support a single thesis throughout your entire essay, rather than link (seemingly) random analysis in your conclusion. The extent to which you do so determines the level of quality.

Always refer back to your main thesis. Examiners are forgetful, so give them a hand(y) when you can. Ideally, you can link your explanation back to the thesis before concluding your paragraph, but always remember that the link’s existence is more important than any analysis.

During planning, ask yourself: “how does this relate to my thesis?” Any body paragraph you write needs to provide meaning to the main purpose. I personally like to use a thematic structure of cause, effect, and consequence because it develops a logical flow between arguments and of analysis. But avoid being too clinical in your writing, and let your personal style breathe life into your essay.


Appropriate use of references is unbelievably important: it provides substance to your arguments.

The lower markbands consider whether references to the stimulus are present. Blindly jumping into ideas and writing extensively about them without referring to the stimulus will get you no higher than a 3. It’s like climbing to the top of a tree, you need to start from the trunk first before you head to the branches.

Generally, you should be using as much evidence as you can to support your arguments. But, don’t bombard your essay with too many quotes consisting of synonyms or the same simplistic technique.

The higher markbands consider how convincing, careful and concise your quotations are in constructing ideas. Think of each as a different level of persuasion. Appropriate references are relevant in idea and/or technique but are only superficially linked to your arguments. Following that, well-chosen references support your argument and a deeper meaning to a significant degree efficiently but does not completely illustrate your thesis. In order to achieve effective references, your references need to be persuasive — that is, well explained and supporting all the ideas in your paragraph and thesis.

Aside from precision, level of persuasion is also largely impacted by length and variation. Rather than point out the line, paragraph or stanza, integrate quotes into your sentences: it improves brevity and flow. Also, use quotes from different parts of the stimulus to show you have a meaningful understanding throughout the stimulus. During planning, I highlight the quotes I intend to use. This allows me to see if I’m focusing on certain sections and save time in finding my quotes while writing.

Leave a Reply