One of the most useful and least read and appreciated document published by the IB is the Subject Report. Each examination session, the examiners put their thoughts together into this document, which often makes not just for informative reading, but is occasionally entertaining, too. Ask your teachers to let you see it.
Of course, in the sections entitled, ‘Recommendations and guidance for teaching of future candidates,’ the comments are occasionally barbed (which may explain why you haven’t seen it already!). My favourite one, all the way back in 2011 for the old English A1 (Literature) course, claimed that showing students how to say something specific in relation to the question ‘in the first sentence of the essay’ was ‘a relatively easy skill to teach’. Barbed, indeed, but further proof that there’s nothing intuitive about analytical writing, and therefore it is not (as I’ve heard in some classrooms) “spoon-feeding” to show you students how to do it if we want you to do well. It’s only fair, and it’s called teaching. Why should you be left to guess what good might look like?
So, what are the key takeaways from the Subject Report for the May 2021 examinations, which can frame our reflections in Paper 1 - M21 Responses and in advance of our mock examinations for Paper 1 for M22 students?
- A guided analysis, and not a commentary:
Rather than trying to comment on the whole text, students must either focus on the Guiding Question and frame the focus of their response that way, or, if not, then establish a clear, alternative focus. This also affected the level of the analysis: if approaching the text too broadly rather than being sharply focused on the Guiding Question, chances of detailed analysis decreased. As is often the case, in weaker responses, there wasn’t enough focus on the effects of authorial choices and the meanings they conveyed. You mustn’t rely on ‘paint-by-numbers, Big 5’ generic blueprints. They say this explicitly.
For a quick and useful tip, try writing your own Guiding Questions for non-literary texts you use in class or find within this website. If you can do this, and then ensure your writing keeps closely focused on this through the topic sentences, you will do well.
And what can I learn about the Higher Level Essay?
- Your response must be to a body of work and not just a single text or extract (for example, a single poem, one speech, one political cartoon, or one advertisement):
This was also a key issue with the Individual Oral assessment, however, it seems that most classrooms (students and teachers) had recognised the necessity to comment on the body of work for the IO, but missed the update to the Subject Guide regarding the HL Essay.
Without a sufficiently long or detailed text, it is very difficult to have enough material to develop a suitable line of inquiry. Consequently, many students lurched towards discussions of background, context or movements in art history (for example), without focusing enough on the (body of) work itself and how technique and style contribute to thematic meaning, message and impact.
Finally, while for many of you M22 students the Individual Oral may already be ‘in the can’, there are important takeaways there, too, other than the same issue with bodies of work:
- A successful oral depends upon a suitable Global Issue:
Successful orals emanated from thoughtful and sharply-focused global issues. ‘The diminishment of female power by unrealistic beauty standards,’ or ‘toxic masculinity to justify violence,’ led to impressive performances. However, many were too long, too wordy, and this made the oral difficult to follow for the examiner, and difficult to convey a consistently coherent argument for the student.
Other than this, the advice is very clear: ensure the ten minutes allow for balance. Balance in discussion of each extract, and each body of work, all with the global issue as the central driving force of the oral.
That’s it for now. Do ask your teachers if you can read the Subject Report. I’ve always found it invaluable in preparing students within and outside of the classroom for the mock examinations and, later, for the real thing.
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