Revising for the Final Exams
As the final IB exams are a yearly occurrence for teachers, it can be easy to forget that they come around just once in a lifetime for our students and are a completely new - and often completely daunting - experience. As such, we also sometimes assume students already know what we know when it comes to how best to study, revise and prepare for these final examinations. The slides and ideas on this page can be used to give students some specific ideas about how best to revise for their English A Literature examinations.
The revision ideas can be viewed as slides here, with the text and further notes below.
Slide 2: How do you eat an elephant?
This well-known question/answer sets up the idea that all tasks, no matter now big and daunting, can be achieved if broken down into manageable, achievable steps - an important message as students embark upon their revision.
Slide 3: Self-management
As students start to revise, there is often the attendant and anxiety-inducing feeling of time running out. This quotation from Rory Vaden can help to shift mindsets about time and how talk of 'time-management' can be unhelpful - we have no control over time but what we do have control over is ourselves and what we do with the time we have. Creating a study schedule is an important first step for students - as long as this does not become a means of procrastination! There is no need to waste hours creating a beautifully designed revision timetable for weeks in advance - blocking out the time one week at a time is a less time-consuming, more realistic and adaptable approach. Students do need to get organised in this way and in doing so should feel a sense of empowerment - while they cannot 'manage time', they can manage themselves to be effective in the weeks leading up to the exams.
Slide 4: the Four Quadrant approach
This slide gives students one possible technique that can empower them with a greater sense of control and effectiveness. It asks students to list out and prioritize what they need to do in English, using an adapted version of Stephen Covey's Four Quadrant approach. This is an approach many people find useful when faced with a seemingly insurmountable list of things they need to get done. While this needs to be adapted for the purposes of revision - students probably can't delegate or eliminate anything, for example - it helps students to see that they are not learning everything from scratch when it comes to revision; there is a lot they already know, understand and can do, and therefore revision is about prioritizing the areas they feel less confident with.
Slide 5: an example
This is an example of what one student's plan for English Literature might look at. Note the addition of the qualifying 'as' in 'Not as important' and 'Not as urgent.'
Slide 6: How should students revise?
Before getting into English-specific tips, this brief linked article outlines what the research tells us about revision more generally - what works and what doesn't work, starting with the point that what many students spend most of their time doing (e.g. re-reading and highlighting) is not effective. Again, while we may already know much of this, we cannot assume our students do, and it is always worth reiterating these points and principles about how to use revision time effectively.
Slide 7: Preparing for Paper 1
As it is an unseen paper, many students will overlook or dismiss Paper 1 in terms of revision. However, while there is no content for them to revise, it is essential they see that there is still knowledge, understanding and skills that they can develop in order to be prepared and better their chances of doing well on this paper. The next few slides outline some suggestions for this preparation.
Memorize definitions of essential literary terms and make sure you are confident with the elements that must always be considered (e.g. narrative voice in prose; sound in poetry).
Read past Paper 1s and note the different types of texts that are used, as well as patterns in terms of significant literary aspects.
Look through the 10 Tips for Paper 1 on the Inthinking website and use these to help with annotating, planning and writing answers.
Practice annotating texts - these can be from past papers, or alternatively choose short extracts from novels, short stories and poems from your personal reading. The ideas on this page, Annotating texts, can also be used.
Look at very short extracts and do a ‘deep dive’ on a paragraph, an image, a sentence or a line of poetry!
With past papers, write practice introductions / thesis statements focusing on the most significant literary aspects of each text.
Write outlines on past paper extracts with different structural approaches, all with an intro, a body and a conclusion:
•By literary device (usually best avoided)
Write body paragraphs where you go into great depth and detail in your analysis.
Continue to read for pleasure - as you do, pause and take moments where you stop and notice a writer’s choices and their effects.
Slide 17: preparing for Paper 2
The remaining slides outline some suggestions for Paper 2 preparation.
Re-read for character, theme or literary convention. Choose a character, relationship, theme or genre convention (such as symbolism or dramatic irony) and skim read the texts, finding key quotations and making notes on the author’s choices and effects created.
Timelines/graphs – for novels or plays, create a timeline for each section, or for the text as a whole. Decide on your focus for this (e.g. a way of charting how a conflict is developed, or a way to chart how a character changes). Put post-its with specific references and quotations on the relevant moments in your timeline.
Character connections map: for novels/plays, create a map of all the characters in the text, drawing lines of connection between them. You can do this for the whole text or you might decide to narrow the focus and do it by part or by theme. Try to show the type and role of each character in the novel (i.e. type - simple/complex, static/dynamic; role - protagonist, antagonist, foil, catalyst, symbolic, thematic etc.)
Settings: choose five or six key settings in the text (if poetry, choose five or six poems where setting is significant). Draw/sketch these settings and label with quotations; make notes about HOW the author creates setting and the effects created.
Articulate your interpretations: write a list of statements for the ideas/themes the writer is concerned with and your interpretation of how the writer has explored those ideas in the text as a whole. Consider all evidence and try to be as specific as possible (e.g. rather than ‘Text A is about ambition’, what exactly do you think Text A is saying about ambition?) Once you have a statement, find references and quotations to support it.
Close analysis of extracts: choose 5 short extracts from the text, and annotate how the author’s specific choices in each moment create meaning. Write an analysis exploring the significance of the extract as a whole, the literary techniques used and effects created, as well as how the extract connects to the work as a whole. Focus on how stylistic choices combine to produce certain effects.
The 4 Cs: choose an extract and use the The 4 C’s, adapted for Literature technique from the Inthinking website to explore it in relation to the rest of the text (changes, connections, concepts, conventions).
Practice essay questions: write outlines, introductions or full practice essays in response to questions or extracts.
Write a body paragraph for a question, making sure to:
•Maintain a focus on the question
•Maintain an explicit focus on the author’s choices (use literary terminology) and how they create impressions of characters, relationships, settings and/or events
•Explore how these impressions are significant - in relation to the question and the text’s ideas/themes as a whole
•Connect to the other text being explored (even if this is just to set up a connection in a following paragraph)
Create Flashcards - for memorising quotations / motifs / symbols etc.
Open a set text at a random page - spend twenty minutes analysing that page with a focus on:
•The significance of the section to the text as a whole
•Literary conventions and effects created