The stimulus

The trick of doing Section B well is to read the stimulus attentively, pick out the Key Points, and then think about them methodically. There then follows the challenge of presenting those ideas clearly and effectively, but that is another issue...

The nature of the stimulus

The basic instructions to paper-setters are that the stimulus text for HL Paper 2 Section B should be no more than 70 words. In fact, those who write the English B HL papers have so far produced stimulus texts of no more than around 20 words. It seems that the stimulus is designed to be short, sharp, and ...well, stimulating. The standard stimulus, then, is centred on one clear issue, requiring students to discuss a choice between two opposed, or at least different, points of view. Let us label those two points of view as the Key Points.

But it's not quite as simple as that. The two opposed points of view will be related to a broad general field, and that idea may need to be analysed and/or debated before the student can present a coherent choice ... and the danger of that is that the student may end up spending so much time debating the context that he or she never actually reaches the Key Points. So, the general field, or Basic Focus, may lead to two consequences, one good and one dangerous :

  • Definition = good ... it is impressive to see students who quickly and efficiently define what is understood by the area under discussion, and then get right down to discussing the Key Points (to illustrate, consider the stimulus from November 2013, below)
  • Digression = bad ... such definition can run out of control, which means that the student writes lots of only vaguely relevant argument, which is actually peripheral to the essential task of discussing the Key Points (an example is the May 2016 stimulus, in which quite a few students got lost in arguing that 'fighting discrimination' was a Good Thing ... and thus ended up ignoring the Key Points)

The Marking Notes which guide how examiners mark section B specifically refer to the 'Key Points' in the stimulus, and the more that students concentrate closely on the Key Points, the higher the mark for Criterion B.

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Analysing the stimulus

Below, I list all the stimulus texts that have been used to date, in two formats - The basic stimulus list & The stimulus list for projection.

The basic stimulus list  ... simply use this list as a source for practice writing for the students

The stimulus list for projection ... use the list to exercise the students' ability to analyse a stimulus and identify the Key Points (and anything that needs Definition). Like this...

  1. each stimulus is listed under the date it was used, but concealed in Show/Hide icons, so that you can project one stimulus without accidentally revealing others
  2. beneath each date, there are two icons - the first shows the stimulus itself; while the second shows the stimulus with Key Points identified in red, and words for Definition identified in blue ... and an example of a straightforward paraphrase of the essential meaning of the text
  3. project the list using 'Presentation Mode', and click on the first icon ... ask the students to choose Key Points (+ Definition, if useful) ... and you might ask them to write a short paraphrase of what the stimulus means, in as few words as possible, simply phrased. 
  4. check their answers, and compare with my version by clicking on the second icon

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The basic stimulus list

>  We are always encouraged to donate money to the poor. Yet, Mother Teresa* said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody […] is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat”.     (May 2013)

> It is often thought that in order to succeed today, all young people must work in the city rather than in the country.   (November 2013)

> “The news isn’t there to tell you what happened. It’s there to tell you what it wants you to hear or what it thinks you want to hear.”   (May 2014)

> Many people claim that watching television is educational, but others feel it can never be more than a way of passing the time.   (November 2014)

> Some people believe that happiness lies in being accepted by those around us while others insist that happiness is achieved only when we learn to accept ourselves.   (May 2015)

> Today, limitless information on the internet moves around the world at the click of a mouse. This may seem to provide the answer to every problem but how much of this information is really useful?  (November 2015)

> Fighting against discrimination will benefit everyone: those who discriminate, and those who are discriminated against.  (May 2016)

> “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  (November 2016)

> The more we connect through social media, the more we disconnect from each other.  (May 2017)

> “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”  (November 2017)

The stimulus list, for projection

Key Points in red; Definition in blue

May 2013

>  We are always encouraged to donate money to the poor. Yet, Mother Teresa* said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody […] is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat”. 

We are always encouraged to donate money to the poor. Yet, Mother Teresa* said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody […] is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat”.

Or to put it another way - 'which is worse (i.e. "a much greater poverty") : the lack of emotional support or the lack of food'

November 2013

> It is often thought that in order to succeed today, all young people must work in the city rather than in the country.  

It is often thought that in order to succeed today, all young people must work in the city rather than in the country.

Simply put, 'which is best, the city or the country?' ... but it depends on what you mean by 'succeed', doesn't it?

May 2014

> “The news isn’t there to tell you what happened. It’s there to tell you what it wants you to hear or what it thinks you want to hear.” 

The news isn’t there to tell you what happened. It’s there to tell you what it wants you to hear or what it thinks you want to hear.”

Rather atypical, in that there are three Key Points - there is 'objective news' contrasted with two 'biased news' possibilities. And it may be worth defining exactly what is meant by 'the news'.

November 2014

> Many people claim that watching television is educational, but others feel it can never be more than a way of passing the time.  

Many people claim that watching television is educational, but others feel it can never be more than a way of passing the time.

So ... do people watch television to learn stuff, or simply to be entertained? It depends, of course - and what does the word 'never' really mean in this context?

May 2015

> Some people believe that happiness lies in being accepted by those around us while others insist that happiness is achieved only when we learn to accept ourselves.  

Some people believe that happiness lies in being accepted by those around us while others insist that happiness is achieved only when we learn to accept ourselves.

Is the opinion of others the basis of being happy, or your opinion of yourself?

November 2015

> Today, limitless information on the internet moves around the world at the click of a mouse. This may seem to provide the answer to every problem but how much of this information is really useful? 

Today, limitless information on the internet moves around the world at the click of a mouse. This may seem to provide the answer to every problem but how much of this information is really useful?

To what extent is information relevant & useful or irrelevant & useless in helping to sort various types of problem ?

May 2016

> Fighting against discrimination will benefit everyone: those who discriminate, and those who are discriminated against. 

Fighting against discrimination will benefit everyone: those who discriminate, and those who are discriminated against

If we stop discrimination, what will be the good effects for (1) people who make discrimination, and (2) people who receive discrimination ?  But what do we mean by 'benefits', exactly? (And this is clearly about the consequences of 'fighting discrimination', not about how to fight, or whether fighting is a good idea...)

November 2016

> “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” 

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Should you wait for things to change, or should you decide to change them actively ? And actually, what is meant by 'time' ?

May 2017

> The more we connect through social media, the more we disconnect from each other.

The more we connect through social media, the more we disconnect from each other.

To what extent do social media help, or prevent, good relationships between people ? And what exactly is meant by 'social media'?

November 2017

> “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”

Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”

To what extent do we learn through what teachers do, or through what learners do? But... what do we mean by 'learning'? Are there different types of learning?

May 2018

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”  Helen Keller

Is it better to experience bad times (the dark) with friends, than experience good times (the light) but be alone? But what exactly is a 'friend'? Why are friends so valuable?

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