An Open Letter to Students (about the subject reports)

Thursday 26 November 2015

Dear Students,

I’ve recently read the IB’s Language and Literature subject report for May 2015. In 25 pages—or 11,665 words if you want me to be more precise—it details all the ways that students and teachers screwed up in 2015.

Because I know you are busy writing your Extended Essay, completing your CAS reflections, and trying to figure out what the heck you are actually learning in ToK, let me walk you through the report—in 644 words— so you don’t make the same mistakes as those pesky Seniors in 2015.

Let’s tackle the IOC first:

  1. Analyze why this extract is key or central to the text if you get a prose or drama passage.

  1. If discussing context, connect it to the passage. Extraneous information is not necessary.
  1. Get a conclusion. No. Matter. What.
  1. Don’t waffle on and on about a question I ask. Wrap up your answers so I can ask another question and then another. I am going to ask questions that are going to help you dig deeper into what you have already said.

Paper 1 is a bit more complex:

  1. Connect context to content. You can’t just talk about the context without linking it to the content of the text itself.

  1. Integrate your discussion of the visual and graphic elements of the text in relation to the language features. Connect the two.
  1. Remember that formulaic responses often get formulaic marks.
  1. Don’t forget that texts often have multiple purposes and multiple audiences. There is nuance in this that you must explore.

Paper 2 is a bit more straightforward:

  1. ATFQ! Answer the _______ question.

  1. Write about techniques. Often. Everywhere.
  1. Read this from the subject report itself: “candidates need to fit their knowledge of the text to the question rather than try to fit the question to their knowledge of the text” (24). No regurgitation of what you learned in class (or even worse, what you learned on the internet).
  1. Don’t just plunk in contextual information about your text. Connect it to the question and the writer’s techniques.

Finally, we come to the Written Tasks:

  1. Explain how the course content links to what you write. Put this in the rationale and make it crystal clear, along with the text type, audience, and purpose among other things.

  1. Submit one WT from the Language portion of the course and one WT from the Literature portion of the course for HL students. They both can’t come from Literature.
  1. Think about your audience in concrete detail for your Written Task 1. This will make it more refined and specific.
  1. When possible, include evidence from the text(s) for both WT1 and WT2.
  1. Include stimulus material to help the examiner understand your topic in WT1.
  1. Answer the question in Written Task 2. Yep, students from last year failed to do so in both their Written Task 2 and their Paper 2. This is a trend. Break it.
  1. Proofread your work! You look professional when you proofread.

Do please realize that this is not the only advice to take. Because there are many more things to do in each assessment, your teachers are the best source of information and guidance. All I have done is mentioned the points the examiners discuss in the May 2015 subject report. I hope this summary of the subject report helps you not only in your exams and your future studies, but also in your understanding of the world beyond the classroom.

Finally, look out for my top 10 books of the second half of 2015; I’ll be posting about them on December 10th. With many of you having a break of at least a couple of weeks, you may find yourself reading one of them or gifting a book to someone.

Best of luck,


Tags: Tim, Blog, Letter, Subject Reports

10 Sep 2015


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