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IB English Paper 1 Explained

  • Last updated on February 18, 2022

LitLearn Voted #1 IB English Resource for 2022

literary analysis essay example ib

IB English Paper 1 is one of those nerve-wracking experiences that everyone has to endure. It’s especially scary because you have no idea what you’ll end up writing about for your final exam–and your grades depend on it!

The best preparation you can do is to be acutely aware of the exam structure and be familiar with strategies for tackling a Paper 1 in general.

If you want to fully wrap your head around the IB English Paper 1 guided analysis, then this blog post is definitely for you.

In 2014, IB 45 graduate Jackson Huang received a perfect 20/20 for his final Paper 1. In this guide, he will share his secrets on the IB English Paper 1 so that you can conquer it too! 💪

Topics included

  • What is a Paper 1?
  • What to write about in a guided analysis
  • The correct approach to analysis
  • The importance of the  thesis
  • Getting the right commentary structure
  • Structuring body paragraphs

Planning ahead

What is a paper 1 exam.

In a Paper 1 exam, you are given two mysterious, unseen texts , both of which are between 1 and 2 pages in length.

For IB English Literature SL and HL:

You’ll get two different literary texts types, including poems , short extracts from fiction and non-fiction prose (aka “normal writing” from novels and short stories), and extracts from plays (which includes stage directions and dialogue).

For IB English Language and Literature SL & HL:

The texts come from a plethora (new vocab for you! this blog is so meta!) of categories including magazines, editorials, speeches, interview scripts, instruction manuals, cartoon strips, you name it. Be prepared to be surprised. 😂 

So you’re given two unseen texts. What do you have to do now?

SL students , you’re in luck: Your task for 1 hour and 15 minute exam is to write a commentary guided analysis (IB renamed it) on just one of the two texts. The total marks for the exam is 20.

HL students , you’re in less luck: Your task in 2 hours and 15 minutes is to write a guided analysis on each of the texts. good luck have fun.

Wait, what’s a “guided analysis”?

At the bottom of the text, the IB English Gods and Goddesses pose a short, open-ended question about the text. Something to the effect of:

How does the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus impact the narrative?

I’d recommend most students to use the default guiding question as the “entry point” for their essay. At the end of the day, though, you are still allowed to talk about anything, because the IB also says on the cover page of the Paper 1 exam:

Use the guiding question or propose an alternative technical or formal aspect of the text to focus your analysis.

But why make your life harder? Just go with the guiding question, UNLESS you are really confused by the guiding question…and the other text confuses you even more…and you are confident in an alternative focus of this current text.

What do I have to write about in a guided analysis?

Imagine that you’ve been asked to simply “talk about” a novel that you’ve recently read on your commute to school (this is joke obviously, who reads novels on the bus?). What would you “talk” about?

Immediately, a couple important aspects should seem worthy of a comment.

  • Characters are usually the core of the story. They should definitely be commented on.
  • Also, stories revolve around central ideas, also called  themes . e.g., if you comment on  Harry Potter  and you don’t mention anything about wizardry, then you’re leaving out a central part of the book!
  • And finally, we need to talk about the events that happen in the text. These events can be referred to as the plot .

You now know that characterisation, thematics and plot are essential ingredients in any top-scoring Paper 1 guided analysis. By talking about these aspects, you are providing a holistic ‘comment’ on the text–which is exactly what we want.

But this is only half of the whole story.

The above list of three things would be very sufficient if you were just having a casual chat with your friends. But this isn’t a casual chat.


(While you read that 👆, picture this: You’re standing beside a pit so deep it goes to the centre of the Earth, and a Spartan–out of no where–kicks you over the edge and into the metaphorical pit of IB English.)

Digging Deeper

In IB English, your guided analysis needs to go deeper than just describing the characters, themes and plot, which constitute the ‘surface meaning’ of a text.

By the way, we’re using a literary text as an example to keep things simple. Of course, characters and plot aren’t important in non-literary texts like ads, infographics and articles. The same principles should apply!

Your analysis must go deeper than the surface meaning. Explain how exactly these characters, themes and plot events are established through the author’s intentional use of certain literary techniques. If you do that, you’ll be on your way to bigger and better analysis.

The IB wants you to dig deeper into the text and answer these two key questions :

  • HOW did the writer create these characters, themes and plot?
  • WHY did the writer choose to create these characters, themes and plot in this particular way? e.g. “JK Rowling could have made Draco a kinder person, but she didn’t. Why?”

These questions get to the heart and soul of analysis . In this blog post, I want us to focus on Paper 1 overall.

Your ONE mission in Paper 1

Let’s quickly recap what you need to do in a Paper 1.

  • You need to discuss the characters, themes and plot of a chosen  literary text, OR the visual and stylistic elements (diagrams, headings, titles, images) for a non-literary text.
  • You then need to explain how and why these aspects were achieved by the writer or artist.

These two points are helpful as a basis for understanding, but they won’t help you get concrete words onto the exam page. What we need now is a practical guide to writing an actual commentary:

  • Deciding on a good  thesis
  • Choosing the right  points
  • Choosing the right structure

A Practical Guide to Writing a Paper 1 Commentary

An IB English Paper 1 commentary boils down to 3 separate parts:

  • An introduction paragraph : contains a thesis and an outline of your points
  • A body (usually 3 paragraphs) : contains your points
  • A conclusion : wraps up the essay

Choosing a thesis

The thesis or subject statement is a single sentence in the introduction of the guided analysis that states how the writer achieves their overall purpose.

This is also the main argument that you are trying to prove in your essay, and it’s typically related to the guiding question . The examiner can usually judge the strength of your analytical skills JUST from your subject statement alone, so it needs to be well-written!

Good thesis, bad thesis

Here’s a little quiz :

In the poem, the poet depicts a crying man in the city centre, which highlights the society’s aversion towards emotion, and demonstrates the overly masculine nature of society.
In the poem, the poet hyperbolises society’s aversion towards emotion in order to criticise masculinity as a restrictive social norm that inhibits the natural expression of emotion.

Can you tell which subject statement is better and worse? If so, do you know why one is better, or do you just  feel  it intuitively but cannot articulate your reasons?

Answer: the second one is better! 🎉

If you want to prepare properly for IB English Paper 1, create a Free account to get the full Free lesson on how to craft a top-quality thesis quickly during your exam. It’s a Free Preview of LitLearn’s ultimate IB English resource, so you’ll need to sign up for a Free LitLearn account to get immediate access to the lesson.

literary analysis essay example ib

Get the Free “How to Write an Epic 7-Level Thesis” lesson inside LitLearn.

Choosing the right commentary structure for IB English Paper 1

Every text works best with a specific paragraph structure. Finding this match isn’t always easy, but it’s also one of the most important things to get right in your Paper 1 guided analysis.

You can organise your essay by:

  • ideas or themes
  • sections (sequential, e.g. stanza by stanza for poems)
  • the ‘Big 5’
  • and probably a whole host of other acronyms that English teachers love to invent.

Criterion C for IB English Paper 1 is Organisation . It’s worth a whole 5/20 marks, so it’s definitely in your best interest to choose the most appropriate structure for your commentary.

Pro Tip: I recommend students to stay away from the Big 5 . Sure, it’s useful as a memory device to tell you what elements to look for in a text, but it’s not a good essay structure for analysis.

Why? Because analysis is about examining the causal interplay between techniques, stylistic choices, audience, tone, and themes. The Big 5 and SPECSLIMS artificially silo these components in your discussion. Heed my advice or pay the price! (notice that rhyme?)

So in my opinion, there are only two types of structure that are most conducive (yep, another new vocab, omnomnom) to getting a 7. Ideas/themes  and Sections . Take this as a hot tip and run with it. If your teacher is forcing you to use other structures, then you’ll need to know why this is recommended.

I go into much more depth and explain it all inside Analysis Simplified , and the guess what? Yep, the full lesson on choosing the optimal structure for your Paper 1 exam is completely Free! (Sign up for the Free Preview, just click the button below.)

literary analysis essay example ib

Writing body paragraphs: Why and How

Once you’ve chosen the best structure for your commentary and decided on a strong thesis as your central argument, the rest of the essay needs to revolve around proving  this argument.

How do you prove this subject statement? You do it by looking at individual points. These smaller points support smaller, more specific aspects of the overall thesis.

The idea is that each body paragraph, or point, aims to prove a separate, smaller aspect of the bigger thesis. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle : You must piece together smaller, more manageable pieces to build the bigger argument (i.e. the thesis).

In reality, this translates into writing 2, 3 or 4 points, each of which fits snuggly it its own paragraph or multiple paragraphs (depending on the complexity of the point).

In each point, you must include:

  • Quotes, references to images, titles, headings, or visual elements. This is the evidence.
  • Analysis of language and literary techniques.  Use specific quotes from the text and explain how and why they are used by the writer to shape his/her message.

Obviously, this is a quick summary of how to write a high-quality body paragraph. If you want to really, really wow your teachers and examiners… then you’ll need to check out the Free Full lesson inside LitLearn. You’ll need to create a Free account to access the lesson.

literary analysis essay example ib

Ironically, the most important part of IB English Paper 1 is not the analysis itself (well it is, but not really). The part you have to get right the first time is the plan. Most students do not know how to plan effectively, or get flustered in the exam and don’t plan, or don’t even try to plan because they think they’re above it. BIIIIG MISTAKE!

Before you even begin writing, you should plan out your commentary in sufficient detail. You will lose track of time, thought and sanity if you do not have a clear road map of every part of your commentary before you begin writing.

You can learn how to annotate and plan quickly & efficiently using the flowchart method inside Analysis Simplified , so that you can go walk out of your Paper 1 practice, mock and final exams feeling like that powerful and overly aggressive Spartan, kicking IB English in the butt (and into the deep, cavernous abyss)!

Jackson Huang

Jackson Huang

literary analysis essay example ib

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The Nardvark

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Friday, March 9, 2012

A level-7 essay for ib english exam paper 1 - commentary.


Very helpful. Thank you :).

woow realy nice

hmmm....i think you're being kind of arrogant setting this up as the perfect commentary. for the most part your language is clumsy, you state the obvious and narrate rather than interpret. also, too much moralizing and flaunting of your personal opinion. you have hardly any ideas and have not grouped them together - very incoherent on the whole. I'd say this was a level five. If your teacher actually marked this as a seven, your school's obviously not a very 'quality' place.

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. Of course, we all know that the humanities are always very subjective. This essay was written for me after graduation by a student who got level 7 in IB English, and since IB papers are graded by IB examiners, not the school, we will have to assume that the writing is worthy of a level 7. Hopefully these posts have helped some IB students improve their literary analysis and writing skills. But since the course has changed, I'll be taking these IB posts down soon anyway.

I have my Engligh HL P1 exam tomorrow and I just read this essay and found it very helpful. I think that everyone has a different writing style, mine is certainly very different to this, but it is still very helpful to see the different ways in which you can approach an analytical commentary. Yes the course has changed, but I still found this very helpful! Thank you very much and congratulations to Nerdvark for getting a 7 in English, I know that is very hard!!

Super helpful! Thanks loads and wow that's brilliantly written!!

There is either a typo or a misspelling where he talks about " "Fulfilling themselves" shows no evidence of animals needing to please a superior power. The Earth itself is thier reward their reward to walk" ". Thier.

Fixed - thank you!

Hello! I'm just starting my commentary and I'd just like to ask.. Are we not allowed to voice some connections? For example, would this be considered imposing my own opinion?: Through the repetition of the words “one man”, (lines 153, 155, and 157) Cassius emphasizes the incapability of Caesar to rule over Rome alone. [Due to Rome being a powerful empire, it would be unsuitable for one man to control the land without the counsel of others] The sentence in the square brackets, is that imposing my opinion? Is that acceptable to writei n a commentary? Ty and please answer as soon as possibleif you could... it's due in 2 days and I'm hoping I'd get some professional help! :) Thank you!

Hello, Anon. That's certainly a good way to analyze the writing. It would be improved by giving the effect on the reader, by the addition of a sentence: "This use of repetition shows the reader that Cassius is adamantly against Caesar, and encourages the reader to feel the same way." For more on this, see my post on PEEing (31 Jan, 2013) Giving your personal response would be more about how effective the writing was on you, such as "I found the repetition to be very persuasive. The more times I read the words 'one man,' the more I agreed that Caesar would not be able to rule such a vast empire." Thanks for reading! Good luck in your studies. -the Nerdvark (Nardvark's hidden nerd)

I have trouble completing my commentaries in the time given for the English IB examination. Can this commentary be written in 1.5 hours?

This was a Higher Level commentary, written in two hours, but keep in mind that practice makes perfect! Make sure you use The Writing Process - pace yourself and give yourself some time to PREWRITE (read and make notes on the extract), PLAN (memorize the five-paragraph essay plan so you can just plug your ideas into it), DRAFT (write the essay), REVISE (re-read your essay and add anything you can think of to improve it) and EDIT (re-read it again, checking for errors.) For more on this, check my posts on The Five Paragraph Essay Format (2 October, 2012) and Writing a Five Paragraph Essay (19 October, 2012). Thanks for your comment!

This is a pretty good analysis of the poem. However, the language and the sentence structure, I partially agree with one of the comments, is quite clumsy and lacks a formal structure. Considering the strict markings of the IB literature papers, I consider him to be quite lucky to be getting a 7. Though I appreciate his effort in demonstrating an effective method to tackle paper 1 commentary. Overall, it's a very good presentation of what is expected to be said and analyzed about a literary work.

just finished my paper 1. I read this 20 minutes before the exams, and it was really helpful. :)

Hi, I like the way you have analyzed the poem and would like your inputs on my own writing. I have done an analysis on "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen which is an interesting poem but I can't seem to substantiate any concrete ideas. Pls help me out with the ideas along with the structure.

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Young Scholarz

How to Write an IB Media Analysis Essay

literary analysis essay example ib

  • Posted on November 11, 2022
  • Sakina Chitalwala

This section of the IB English paper is a challenge for many students because of its nature – an unseen text with no hint beforehand. The only way to ace this paper is lots of practice, getting your basics right and maybe some magic dust!

Easy? Then skip the article and score away! No? Read ahead then.

IB LangLit Paper 1 at a glance

As if choosing between IB LangLit and IB Literature wasn’t a conundrum on its own, it is essential especially for someone new to the IB DP to understand the paper pattern for IB LangLit .

The IB LangLit component consists of 2 papers. Bear in mind that there’s an SL (Standard Level) and an HL (Higher Level) in these papers; and there is a choice between these levels in all 6 subjects of the IB DP . IB LangLit Paper 1 SL is a paper of Media Analysis , aka the subject of our blogpost today. This analysis is delivered in an essay format, and the structure of your essay will also play a key role in scoring well.

What’s the difference between SL and HL?

The only difference between SL and HL for particular components (post 2021) is that the former has one question on the media analysis of a non-literary text whereas the latter has 2 questions on 2 different texts. 

Types of texts involved in IB LangLit Paper 1

So what type of texts are we talking about? The term ‘ Media Analysis ’ is a lucrative and frankly generic term which refers to many text types spanned across multiple modes of media. It could be a magazine article on real paper, or a tabloid piece on the web. Apart from these, there are advertisements, posters, comic strips, newspaper articles, infographics, interviews, travel stories, service/product reviews, opinion pieces, blog posts and even journal entries – you name it. Seems like a lot, but trust us, you just need to get your basics right and you can analyze any type of text or media. 

For that, let’s move on towards our Young Scholarz (YS) Approach to IB Media Analysis.

The YS Way of Analyzing text

Here are a few ways to approach and build your skills for IB Media Analysis :

1. Identify the text and its purpose

We’ve given you the ammunition – the entire list of possible text types. Once you’ve successfully identified the type of the text, you can approach it with full gusto and many ideas also come into being. For example, let’s take a look at this interview with Minoli Salgado . Spend some time studying the text at a glance.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the mode of this text? 
  • Has it been published online, or does the layout look like that of a newspaper/magazine? 
  • Who is the author of the text, what is the purpose of this text? 
  • What type of content do you see? 
  • What’s the tone and mood of this text?

2. Identify the themes, global issues, and its brief overview

These are key to your analysis – structure your essay on the basis of its themes. Let’s look at the interview mentioned above – some questions to ponder on: 

  • What themes could you come up with? 
  • What would the overview or main idea of this advert be? 
  • When we look at it, we see a range of themes – race/ethnicity, feeling of belonging, women empowerment, voice of the oppressed, bias against diasporic writers. 

Based on these, you need to build up on your ideas. Try to come up with the main idea for this text and many supporting ideas can come to light.

3. Apply ‘The Big 5’

The essence has been conveyed above, but narrowing it down to these 5 aspects will help you structure a much better, well-organised answer. Famously called The Big Five, or the acronym ACTSS.

  • Audience and Purpose 
  • Content and Theme
  • Tone and Mood
  • Stylistic Devices

Keep these 5 things in mind while analyzing the text and you’re sure to achieve a win.

Do you find this cryptic and difficult to follow? Reach out to our experts for an in-depth understanding of this section with individual, one-on-one focus .

4. Plan, plan, plan

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, but you HAVE TO plan your essay before beginning your answer. There’s no way out of this. Believe us when we say that we’ve seen a huge difference between student answers where they have blindly dealt with their essay and those where they have planned and organised their ideas before they begin. Divide your essay into subtopics, and include relevant examples, literary devices and stylistic features for each of your ideas.

This works for just about any literary answer and makes a TON of difference to the quality of your answer.

5. Annotate as you read

How do you extract important points from the text? Use a pencil and underline those words, images; put those grey cells to use as soon as you’ve begun on the title of the text. Circle, doodle around, but make sure to highlight any bits of information that add value to your ideas. This could be words, images, colour schemes, font size and style – these are crucial to your answer.

Annotating the text is a great way of ensuring that you’ve picked up information without reading the text a second time, saving extra time to focus on your essay.

6. Study the stylistic features

As we’ve mentioned before, the essay is broken down into different aspects that you need to identify. You need to study what stylistic features and literary devices are beforehand, and this is key to analyzing any text type. The ability to identify the role that images, colours, font-sizes and layouts play in achieving meaning and effect upon the reader is all that the question is about.  You’ve got your main idea, themes, and examples from the text. All you need to do now is practice.

7. Practice, practice, practice

We’re confident that this blogpost has laid out key pointers for you to attempt the LangLit Paper 1 , but you know it’s not that easy!. We have students coming in every day but yet, we don’t give them a grade 7 after their very first practice assignment. Why? Because practice and ONLY practice will help you out with scoring well. Along with that, you also need to know your errors and work on them. 

At Young Scholarz , we can help you do just that. With detailed and personal feedback, we have seen students go from a 4 to 7 in just a few months’ time, depending on the student’s inputs too of course.

Now that we’ve brushed up on tips, would you be able to analyze this text/ blog post you’ve just read? Leave comments below – we’d love to hear from you. 

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  9. IB English Paper 1 Explained

    Topics included · What is a Paper 1? · What to write about in a guided analysis · The correct approach to analysis · The importance of the thesis

  10. A Level-7 Essay for IB English Exam Paper 1

    Second, Interpretation - Nerdvark then goes into a detailed analysis of the poem, being sure to mention many Literary Features and their

  11. How to Write an IB Media Analysis Essay

    As if choosing between IB LangLit and IB Literature wasn't a ... This analysis is delivered in an essay format, and the structure of your


    In this section you present the paragraphs (at least 3 paragraphs for a 500-750 word essay) that support your thesis statement. Good literary analysis essays

  13. IB English Analysis EXAMPLE

    Get a 7 in IB English: Jackson Huang teaches the basics of IB English analysis through a practical example of

  14. Paper 1 Exam (5): sample essay, thesis framework, poetry extract

    I wrote a sample essay paper 1 from a poetry extract under (close to) exam ... I.B. Literature: Paper 1 Survival Guide (2022 Exams).