Part 3 Genres


In Part 3 of the course, students engage in a detailed investigation of one literary genre and its conventions, exploring and comparing a selection of works from the chosen genre. The focus of this part is very much on the selected genre, its conventions and how different writers have used, developed and challenged these techniques. Students are asked to develop some expertise in this genre in order to produce detailed and insightful comparisons as to how and why different writers have expressed themselves in this form.

Part 3 is assessed through the Paper 2 examination. In this examination, both HL and SL students are given a choice of three questions for each literary genre from which they choose one and write an essay that compares at least two of the texts studied.

In terms of course design, Part 3 is usually the last part of the course studied. This makes sense as the texts studied are then fresh in students' minds for the Paper 2 examination. While Part 3 often comes last, you can put your students at an advantage by making your course genre-focused right from the outset so that by the time they get to this part your students have had plenty of experience in terms of thinking about texts as part of a genre with its own history, traditions and conventions.

It is also important to give students plenty of opportunity for comparative thinking and analysis throughout the course so that Part 3 is not the first time they are asked to make meaningful links, comparisons and contrasts between texts.

Part 3 Core requirements

Number of works studied Assessment task Weighting
4 works, all of the same genre (taken from the PLA)

Paper 2: comparative essay on at least two of the works studied (2 hours)


3 works, all of the same genre (taken from the PLA) Paper 2: comparative essay on at least two of the works studied (1 hour 30 minutes) 25%

Which genre?

The genres that can be selected for Part 3 are:

  • Drama
  • Poetry
  • Prose: novel and short story
  • Prose other than fiction

Worldwide, Drama and Prose: novel and short story are the most popular genres, with a much smaller number of students studying Poetry and even fewer studying Prose other than fiction. The IB welcomes variety, however, and in Subject reports there are often comments that aim to encourage more teachers to study these last two genres with their students for Part 3.

Ultimately it is up to each individual teacher to choose which genre their students study for Part 3. However, the following factors and practices should be considered when making this decision:

  1. Course design: it is important to know which genre you will study from early on so that you can plan the whole course accordingly. This is good practice, not only in terms of making sure you cover the requirements for genres and periods, but also so that your course is planned with an intelligent and purposeful design, with your students as specialists in the genre chosen for Part 3 as one of the outcomes.
  2. Your students' interests: ask your students which genre they are most interested in exploring in more depth. This is best done at the start of the course for the reasons stated above.
  3. The range of ability and experience with literature in your class. No genre is inherently more accessible than any other and all can be made accessible with the right text selections; however, it may be that some genres are a better fit for certain classes in terms of ability levels and confidence.
  4. Your areas of expertise, interest and passion.
  5. The authors available for study: make sure you look closely at the Prescribed List of Authors (PLA) so you are clear which authors can be selected for Part 3.
  6. The questions: look back over past paper questions to get a sense of the areas your teaching will need to focus on for each genre.
  7. Time: consider how much time you have to teach this part of the course and how much time your students will have to read, study and revise the texts.
  8. Your department's requirements.

Which works?

Works for Part 3 must come from the Prescribed List of Authors (PLA) and must all be of the same genre. Once you have chosen your genre, it is worth taking some time to think about possible combinations of texts, with the nature of the final assessment at the forefront of your mind: students are asked to write a comparative essay with a focus on genre and genre conventions. This is highlighted in the following comment from the 2015 Subject report:

"Choice of texts does need very careful consideration, given that candidates will have to write comparatively. Teachers preparing candidates for this paper should ensure that they are alert to a variety of possibilities for comparison, not just in terms of broadly comparable content but also with reference to stylistic features and authorial intent."

May 2015 Subject report, English A Literature Time Zone 1

Therefore, it is worth thinking carefully about which combination of texts will increase your students' chances of exploring the possibilities of the genre in a rich, perceptive and - ideally - original way.

There are many great texts available and many different combinations that can offer rich and rewarding experiences for students. Sample text combinations can be found on the page for each genre.

Part 3 Assessment

The Paper 2 comparative essay is possibly the most challenging assessment task on the course as it is a closed book examination with students required to have thorough knowledge and understanding of 3() or 4 () texts. Although they are only required to write about two of these texts, it is important they go in prepared on all of them as they only have a choice of three questions and not all questions will be a good fit for all texts. Students will of course have preferred texts and some will no doubt ask you if they could get away with just revising the two they like most (yes, such students do exist). The best way to show students how foolish this approach would be is to show them a range of past papers and talk through which texts could be used to answer these effectively. They will soon see that only having two texts they can write about severely limits their options and puts them at a real disadvantage in the examination.

The most important advice is for students to make sure they answer the question. Despite this sounding obvious, the most common complaint of Paper 2 examiners is that many students do not answer the question before them. In 2015 examiners stated that

"...there is still a lack of attention to the specific demands of particular questions. Some candidates appear to approach the exam with prepared answers to which they add brief reference to the wording of the question. Other candidates seem to be desperately stretching what they know to reach the question at hand. Still others seem not to have read the question very carefully."

May 2015 Subject report, English A Literature Time Zone 1

Criterion B (see below) deals with this directly but a failure to answer the question will also affect a student's marks in criteria A and C.

Subsequent pages in this section give suggestions and strategies for approaching the Paper 2 examination.

Some important things to note, however, are as follows:

  • Students only have to write about two texts and it is not usually advisable to write about more than two as they then run the risk of spreading themselves too thin in terms of showing detailed knowledge and understanding of the texts.
  • The decisions students make at the very start of the exam with regard to choice of question and texts are very important. Teachers should ensure students are given opportunities to talk about and practice this decision-making process in classes leading up to the exam.
  • Once the question and texts have been chosen, students should take time to annotate and unpack the question.
  • Once they feel they have a good grasp of what the question is asking, students should plan their response around points of comparison and contrast between their two texts. These links should be focused on the genre to which the texts belong.
  • Each text must be given (roughly) the same amount of space in their answer.
  • Specific evidence from the texts should be used to support and develop ideas throughout the essay.
  • Students should leave a short period of time to check over and proofread their essay at the end of the examination.
Assessment criteria

Paper 2 counts for 25%. The criteria are as follows:

For Standard and Higher Level

Criterion A Knowledge and Understanding 5 marks

Criterion B
Response to the question 5 marks
Criterion C Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre 5 marks
Criterion D Organization and development 5 marks
Criterion E Language 5 marks
Total: 25 marks

Selected Pages


Drama 27 August 2018

Drama is a popular choice for Part 3, possibly because some teachers perceive plays as more accessible and manageable texts...


Prose other than fiction 5 April 2017

Very few schools use prose other than fiction for Part 3: the 2015's Examiner report stated that they "did not see enough...


Poetry 5 April 2017

Far fewer schools use poetry for Part 3 than use prose and drama but each year the IB examiner's report suggests that those...


Prose: novel and short story 5 April 2017

Along with drama, the novel and short story is a popular choice of genre for Part 3 of the course. For most students novels...

Preparing to answer a Paper 2 exam question 9 April 2019

Although it is obviously true to say that Paper 2 exam preparation is particular to the various texts students have been...

SL Paper 2 exemplar: Waiting for Godot and The Birthday Party 11 December 2018

This sample Standard Level response uses Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter to...

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