Paper 1

Paper 1 is a (comparative) textual analysis of one or two unseen texts. This section provides various ideas to develop the necessary skills for Paper 1. Sample Paper 1s are provided, so that you can learn through example and become familiar with the criteria. Finally, we have also provided a short list of tips, which should help you prepare for the exam in a more focused way. 

The basics

  •  The Paper 1 asks students to comment on one of two texts within one and a half hours.

  •  The Paper 1 asks students to compare and contrast one of two pairs of text within two hours.

  •   Passages for analysis may be complete pieces of writing or extracts from larger works. There is also the possibility of commenting on a visual text or an extract from a longer piece. Possible text types for analysis include: advertisements, opinion columns, brochures, extracts from memoirs, or travel writing.

  •  One of the texts from one of the pairs may be a literary text.

  •  Each individual text is presented with two guiding questions. HL students will not have guiding questions. 

  •   Paper 1 counts for 25% of the final grade. It is assessed externally.

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Comments 8

Chandreyee Dasgupta 25 October 2016 - 05:03

Dear Tim and David.
I am creating a Paper 1 for my HL students. For option 1, I have chosen a page from Maus ( Graphic Novel by Art Art Speigelman) and an extract from The Girl on the Train. Both texts have a train and the characters' reactions to it as the central focus. Are my choices valid?

Tim Pruzinsky 25 October 2016 - 14:47

Hi Chandreyee,

I think your Paper 1 (HL) practice exam would work. I know the part from Maus well. It's a haunting scene in many respects. And the tenuous link to trains or movement seems like it would work for giving students a starting point, but not more than that. My only fear is that they both read like fiction - although Maus is nonfiction of course.

However, in preparing students for their Paper 1, this seems like a well-thought out practice exam in which students could be very successful. I would say go for it!


Lisa Stone 2 December 2016 - 13:17

Hi All, Nearly time to finalise which WT1 to send to IBO...
Please can you advise. In a transcript of university lecture, I am right in assuming that the timings of the speech (identified in the margin) would not contribute to the word-count.
Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Tim Pruzinsky 2 December 2016 - 22:49

Hi Lisa,

I don't know if I fully understand what this actually looks like in practice. If it looks more like footnotes, I would say no, it's not included in the word count. If it looks like an integral part of the WT, I would say yes, it should be included. I know you say it's in the margins, but in terms of the integrity of the text type, I'm not sure if timings belong.

As I google some examples from universities in the UK (Reading and Birmingham popped up first), one had just the total time included. In that case, I would argue it is part of the word count.

Without actually seeing it, I can't be definitive here. I would say if it feels like a part of the text type, include it. If it feels like a side note, footnote, or marginal note, don't.


Ashley Gregoris 6 December 2016 - 15:30

I have two questions,
1) There doesn't seem to be a word count for paper 1. My students are in the midst of working on a practice paper 1 that I have provided and we are wondering how to gage this.
2) With respect to establishing context, how detailed are students expected to be, for example, I used "Man Talk" from the "Texts to Go" section of this website (which is amazing thank you!) when we looked at this text we were wondering how to establish whether this "rap" was written for the stage, or, written in a book of poetry entitled "Dreaming Frankenstein" my student is concerned that not knowing this would impact the accuracy of her analysis. How should we navigate this?

Tim Pruzinsky 6 December 2016 - 23:31

Hi Ashley,

There isn't a word count for Paper 1. I advise my students that I want more than a standard 5 paragraph essay. However, the length of paragraphs and the overall length of the (comparative) commentary is up to them. I'm not sure if your student is HL or SL although I think we are talking about an SL student.

They need to know that in 2 hours (1.5 for SL), they should be able to write a lot. As we know, some can write reams; others can't, but are more concise. There's no standard answer to this other than they should shoot for balance between analyzing the two texts or depth with the singular text at SL.

As for establishing context, this is so hard in a Paper 1 at times. They won't have access, obviously, to anything that isn't written on the exam. They establish what they can from the text and use that to help in their analysis. So, in this case, your student needs to decide which way she wants to contextualize it and then analyze from there.

Context in an unseen exam is always tough and I don't think she should worry over either approach. She's not way off in left field on this one if she discusses this as poetry or if she discusses this as "slam poetry" or poetry that is meant to be performed. Either way, she will be discussing sound and rhythm in the context of how gender is constructed.


Ashley Gregoris 7 December 2016 - 15:37

Thank you very much for the response, this calmed a lot of nerves. It has, however, led to another question, my students are HL (sorry about being unclear in my first post) and of course, will need to compare two texts for Paper 1. I have created my own Paper 1 mock tasks but it would be great to see past IB exams to get a better idea of how they pair texts for this task. I assume that there are many points of comparison with the pairings that I provide students, but they don't always agree. I realize copyright seems to be an issue, but is there anywhere online or otherwise that houses this resource?

Thanks again,

Tim Pruzinsky 7 December 2016 - 23:14

Hi Ashley,

You'll have to get your IB Coordinator to buy them. If you have to buy them yourself, you can go to the IB store. The site is:

Use the search term "English Language and Literature Exam" and you will find them all there. They are $3 an exam.


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