Revising for the exam

Doing well in English B is mainly a matter of showing off the skills you have developed over the years of the course - it's not a matter of memorising facts and spitting them out as required. You have to show that you can use the language effectively in order to communicate, and you have to organise and develop your thinking so as to communicate sensibly.

You will have developed your skills in language and thinking by practising during the course - by reading and listening carefully, and by writing and speaking to complete the various tasks your teacher has set. So, if you have done all that, you will already have useful skills that can take you through the exams - you have them in your mind, and you just have to use them as carefully as possible.

However, how can you prepare for the exams so as to make sure that you are really in the best condition to use your skills most effectively?

I suggest the following four areas where you can usefully do some revision for English B.

Favourite mistakes

As you learn a language, there are always bits of basic grammar that you don't quite understand or tend to get wrong. This applies even to people who feel really comfortable in the language and handle it easily. So -

check on your 'ten favourite mistakes'

By this, I suggest that you make a list of the bits of grammar that you most often get wrong ... or forget ... or are confused by. You probably know these anyway, but you can check by (i) looking at all the written work you have done, and check on the corrections that the teacher has made; (ii) ask your teacher for any suggestions; and (iii) think about moments in the language where you feel uncomfortable.

Don't imagine that you are going to cover everything that you might get wrong - don't even think about trying revise the whole of English grammar and vocabulary! What is really useful is to identify a few common mistakes - and a list of ten is the most that you can easily remember without difficulty.

When you've identified your list of ten, think carefully about each - why do you tend to get each wrong?... what is the correct form? ... how can you best remember the right form?

And then

  • in the Writing paper, make sure that you check through at the end, and correct any of those mistakes that you can find
  • in the Oral Interview, don't feel shy about correcting yourself - examiners like the idea of people 'self-correcting': it doesn't lose you marks!

In this site, you will find it helpful to have a look at the whole section  Key Language Issues - select the pages which are relevant to your own particular list of favourite mistakes.

Text types

In the Writing paper, it is important that you show that you know how to write the text type that you choose, in the task that you choose. You can't know in advance exactly which tasks + options might be set, but you can prepare yourself to know the basic rules of all the text types, just in case. So...

run through and revise the basic rules of the various text types

The best way of doing this is to go to the section of this site headed Text type expectations . This section provides a list of all the text types that might be set in the exam, and there is a page for each of those text types.

In each text type page, concentrate on the green box entitled 'Key features' - this gives you the important elements to remember for the exam. Read through this box, and make brief, clear notes about each heading in order to remember the essential ideas. It's mainly common sense !


Look through the materials you have from studying the five Themes, including the various notes you may have made during classes. Above all, the point of this is to be ready for the Oral Interview, when your teacher will ask you some general questions about one of the Themes, particularly in Part 3 - and at SL, remember that the visual stimulus will be related in some way to one of the Themes. So...

remind yourself of the general ideas that you have studied concerning the Themes

Note the word 'general' above - you are not expected to know, nor will you be asked about, any factual information or detail, so it's not worth memorising that kind of material. What is important is that you should be able to recognise, and talk about, the overall issues that you may have studied. To illustrate, under the Theme of Sharing the planet, you might be asked the question "Do you think we are doing enough about global warming?" A good answer might involve "... yes, we are, because...." OR ", we aren't, and what we ought to be doing is..." OR "... I'm not sure, because there are some questions about how significant..." Notice that there will be no 'correct' answer - you just have to be honest, and express what you think, clearly.

While the Oral Interview is the main purpose of revising the Themes, what you think about and prepare for the Oral may well be useful in general terms for the Writing paper. It is very unlikely that any question/task in the Paper 1 will relate directly to something you have studied in class, but the general ideas may well help you to think out what you can write about.

HL literary works

If you are an HL student, you know that you will have to explain and comment on a short extract taken from one of the two literary works you have studied. How should you revise for this? Simply put...

skim over each of the literary works - in order to remind yourself of the basic plot + characters + and what you think the work is about

Notice the word 'skim' - there is no point in attempting to re-read each of the works in depth, since this would be a waste of time when you have a lot of other things to revise in other subjects. The reason is that, above all, the requirement is that you should talk about the (short) extract in front of you, not about the whole work, or the author, or the author's period, or anything like that.

What you need to be prepared to do is (i) recognise where the extract comes from in the work, (ii) who's involved, and (iii) what the extract means. So, your revision should simply refresh your memory of the general structure of the work - and then you just have to read the extract in front of you, using common sense.

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