The International Baccalaureate has recently published a new guide for Language B for the Diploma Programme. With a new guide comes new components of assessment and marking criteria. The new Paper 1 is a writing exam worth 25% of the final course grade. Students are asked to write a response to one of three prompts, selecting one of three types of texts. Standard level student responses should be between 250-400 words and higher level responses should be between 450-600 words.
Here are Brad’s tips for students tackling Paper 1
1. Remember the themes
Each prompt asks you to write something to someone for some reason, but really they want you to explore and make connections to one of the prescribed themes from the course: identities, experiences, social organization, human ingenuity and sharing the planet. Think about topics you explored in class in relation to these themes and incorporate one into your response.
2. Select the text type carefully
Each prompt offers you three text types to choose from. One of the three is probably inappropriate and if you select this you will lose marks on Criterion C: Conceptual understanding. For example, if the prompt asks you to write your opinion for a wider audience, selecting ‘journal’ as a text type will limit your opportunities. ‘Blog’ or ‘speech’ would be more appropriate.
3. Annotate the prompt
Very few students annotate the exam booklet, but you are allowed to write all over it with different coloured pens, highlighters and pencils. You can write questions for yourself, underline words and eventually outline your response.
4. Unpack the verbs in the prompt
When annotating the prompt, pay special attention to the verbs. They relate to the purpose of the text that you have to write. ‘Explain’, ‘inform’ and ‘evaluate’ are a few of the verbs you might read in a prompt. Find synonyms for these verbs. Make sure you actually do what it asks in order to score well on Criterion B: Message (12 marks).
5. Apply the five concepts
Four of the five concepts from this course are part of Criterion C: Conceptual understanding (6 marks): audience, purpose, meaning and context. For whom are you writing (audience)? Why are you writing (purpose)? How will you use language to construct meaning? When and where might your audience read your text (context)? Consider these questions carefully before writing your response.
6. Follow the conventions of the text type
Does your personal letter sound like a real personal letter? Does your speech sound like a speech? Every text type has a set of conventions or structural and stylistic features. Speeches often include anecdotes, letters of complaint include an argument and pamphlets have bullet points. Know the characteristics of several text types before you take Paper 1. See Chapter 6 of the new Coursebook for examples and exercises on text types.
7. Adopt a persona
Use your imagination to include details, examples and arguments in response to the prompt. Pretend to be someone in order to make your response sound authentic and typical of the text type.
Language proficiency, after all, is worth 12 out of the 30 marks. Besides including varied sentence structures and appropriate vocabulary, make sure your use of language is accurate and not sloppy. Proofread carefully. Double-space your hand-written response, so that changes can be made later and the examiner has room to comment.
Brad Philpot is an experienced IB teacher, examiner, workshop leader, consultant and author. He is the author of both English B for the IB and English A: Language & Literature for the IB published by Cambridge University Press. He is the director of Philpot Education, a licensed and trusted provider of teacher-training workshops in Europe.