Assessment to 2019

  • A comprehensive guide to the English B assessment system
  • Written Assignment - detailed study of the requirements proposed by the procedure from 2015 onwards
  • Orals - how to handle both the Interactive Oral Activities, and the Individual Interview
  • Paper 1 - how to handle Texthandling, and how to get good marks in the various question types
  • Paper 2 - a survey of specific exam tasks, both in Section A, and in the Section B Personal Response
  • Extended Essay - detailed advice on how to proceed, both for the Teacher / Supervisor, and for the student
  • Marking criteria - advice on how to apply them, with detailed commentary on complex aspects
  • Suggested 'Advice to Students' for each component
  • Marked samples both to indicate marking standards, and to discuss tricky evaluation issues
  • An Anatomy of Errors - surveying how problems with language may be accurately analysed and evaluated
  • Details about Grade Boundaries - the system by which marks are converted in the IB 1-7 Grades

Assessing language, teaching language

Assessing language competence is a profoundly difficult business. It's also a very big business - how many English Language tests alone are produced every year? The vast majority of these actually test Language Incompetence - they check a student's use of the language system, count the mistakes, subtract these from the total number of marks available - and there's your answer.

But what about Language Competence? The problem is how one defines 'competence'. Everyone would agree that some people are more competent at using the language than others - but how do you recognise competence ? What are the indicators that could lead to an accurate, objective analysis? How do you quantify such indicators? Can you quantify them?

Seventeen years of involvement with the IB's examination system (seven of them as Deputy Chief Examiner of English B) have convinced me that there are no easy answers to such questions. However, these years have also convinced me that there are answers - provisional, hesitant, fragmentary, perhaps, but workable; and that the IB, for all its occasional errors and flaws, genuinely strives to assess Language Competence and not just Language Incompetence.

This section of the site aims to discuss all of these issues, and in the process give guidance to teachers of English B in how to carry out efficient, accurate assessment of students.

Teaching for the exam?

No, I'm not suggesting that. All of the rest of the site is concerned with teaching language and intelligent thinking without specific reference to final assessment - because language and thinking skills are valuable in themselves, whether or not the student sits a exam in the end. However, the English B exams quite justifiably and sensibly test abilities in language and the handling of ideas which are important. An analysis of the Criteria for the Orals and Paper 2 can provide valuable indications to essential skills, so paying attention to what the IB tests can aid us in deciding what needs to be taught.

Assessment components

Extended essay The particular aspect of language competence required for the 4000 words of the Extended essay is to do with handling length - clear structure, methodical explanation, and coherence of style and expression.

Teaching the Extended Essay is not something that many English B teachers usually have to deal with - there simply aren't that many essays in English B - but when you need help in advising a student about the EE, you really need it! I particularly offer advice about choosing the right topic and approach, since this is the crucial stage in counselling the student - if you get this right, the actual writing of the Essay will be fairly straightforward.

Oral Internal Assessment Language competence here involves command of the language system, fluency and intonation, and, most significantly, the ability to maintain a coherent conversation.

Teaching oral skills is covered in several other areas of the site, such as Activities & Tasks - this area focuses largely on the Individual Interview, but also provides guidance about Interactive Oral Activities which is of general relevance.

Paper 1 Texthandling Language competence in Texthandling means the capacity to demonstrate understanding of not just overall basic meaning, but also of details of some subtlety.

Teaching reading skills is principally dealt with under the Literature section, but many of the skills suggested there are clearly of relevance to performing well in Texthandling.

Paper 2 Written production The language competence required here is the ability to combine command of the language system with an understanding of forms and conventions, in order to express effectively developed and organised ideas.

Written Assignment This new assessment component deserves a whole section to itself, partly because it demands skills which are not directly covered by Paper 2, and because the whole complex system of handling the WA continues to evolve.


Selected Pages

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Paper 1 Reading 13 October 2017

'Reading', in terms of English B assessment, means Paper 1 Texthandling, and this section of the site indeed includes tips...
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Paper 2 technique 16 February 2017

It still surprises me, after many years as Principal Examiner for HL Paper 2, that so many students write so relatively...
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Extended Essay 2018 1 November 2018

Students submitting Extended Essays from May 2018 onwards have to submit their Extended Essay according to the new Extended...
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On Grade Boundaries 18 September 2018

In IB terminology, it is important to remember the distinction between marks and grades:Marks are the numbers awarded for...
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Section B 14 March 2018

In HL Paper 2 Section B, the basic nature of the task is clear enough - students have to be able to look at a piece of text,...
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Section A 14 March 2018

Let's be clear about the basics: all questions set in Paper 2, both at SL and at HL (with the interesting exception of...
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