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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

What annoys me about IB English B exam preparation

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

I'm a steadfast believer in IB education, but the lead up towards exams often has me feeling exasperated. Find out what gets under my skin and what you can do to avoid it.

You've spent two years on a joyous, conceptual journey with your English B students - they've developed productive and receptive skills, considered other points of view, delved into literature and cemented their position as the next generation of global citizens. You're exhausted yet feeling awfully proud of them. Now, final DP exams are looming and you must dive head-first into the somewhat limited pool of past papers. As your students complete task after task in preparation for Papers 1 and 2, you can't help but feel a little disappointed as your classes become more mechanical, with limited time for reflection and discussion. Isn't that what the IB is about after all? Here are some suggestions to help keep your classes engaging and collaborative during the busy lead-up to exams.

Don't disregard teamwork

Although papers 1 and 2 are individual, preparing for them provides a fantastic opportunity for pair work. When I was studying to become a teacher at university, one of my professors threw us a complete curveball during an exam, which was rather shocking but I ended up loving it! I've repeated this "curveball" on several occasions in the classroom and I love seeing the surprise on my students' faces.

Here's what my professor did: we were completing a written exam individually, which was completely standard in its conditions. When it came time to hand in our exam she told us we could hand in our paper and leave, OR stay and have an opportunity to change our answers. What?! How could that work?

Most of us were intrigued so we stayed. We were divided into pairs, and we had to discuss our answers with our partner. If we both had the same answer, fantastic, and we left the answer as it was. If we didn't have the same answer, we each had to explain how we'd arrived at our answer, and then decide on which answer we both would to submit for the final mark in the exam. I learnt so much when comparing and justifying answers with my partner - obviously those components were the parts that stuck with me, not the answers that I had originally gotten correct.

So while completing Paper 2 reading tasks with your English B students, why not spring this surprise pair-work task on them? Perhaps you'll hear a disagreement between partners on the benefits of skimming versus scanning, or your students might realise they're both wrong and arrive at a completely different answer than what they'd started with. I promise your heart will soar when you see them earnestly defending their positions by using supporting quotes from the text. Every experience is more memorable when shared, so make exam prep more engaging by adding a partner.

Flip it up!

Time. We never have enough of it before exams! When counting the number of hours I had with students before exams, I was always stressed about how I was going to get through everything. Using my classes for students to complete practice papers seemed like a waste of time when I wanted to get to the "meaty" part of the exam prep sandwich - which was giving feedback and discussing answers with my class.

One thing that helped me was to draw on ideas from the flipped classroom method, or give students a task to begin at home. Note I said begin a task, not finish it completely. For example, if I wanted to prepare for Paper 2 reading, I would give students one text and some corresponding questions to complete, rather than the entire paper. My students knew that I'd be calling on each one of them to justify their answers in the following class.

Did I have students who didn't complete the task before class? Of course! We are dealing with teenagers after all. But MOST of my students were happy to complete the work in their own time, knowing that the class would be dedicated to feedback, listening to their peers' reading strategies and sharing other tips for the exam. So if you're worried about time before an exam, flip it!

Keep those connections coming

One thing I do not like so much about Paper 2 Reading is that texts are based around all five English B themes, and seem to have little connections between them. Sure, it's good to have a variety of texts, but I think they are missing a valuable opportunity for students to find a common thread between the texts and make connections with the themes. That's one of the reasons I've prepared some Paper 2 activities around one concept that you can check out here.

Next time you are completing the listening or reading comprehension components of Paper 2, I challenge you to take 2 minutes to ask students: what do these texts have in common? Or, if that's a bit difficult due to the reasons from my rant above, you could ask, what do you notice about these texts? When I've asked that question in the past many of my students were keen to identify what sort of text type the written texts were, which gives them an opportunity to make connections with Paper 1.

Warm up and plenary activities are hard to maintain during exam prep madness, but taking five for these questions will help your students take a step back and see the bigger picture. Again, isn't that what the IB is all about?

"All I can say is, 'Damn the exam!" - William Shawcross

The Final Score

Obviously, exams are important for measuring what our students have learnt during their time in the Diploma Programme, but they aren't perfect - no evaluation instrument is. It can be easy for us to lose our heads over the damn exams, but when preparing for English B Papers, try to remember quality over quantity, and that we are supporting stressed out teenagers. Sometimes it's important to take a step back, get them to lift their heavy heads from the practice papers and ask them a question about the overarching concepts.

If you're short on time (who isn't?!) I've created Paper 1 and Paper 2 preparation activities that I hope you find helpful.

Thanks for reading, lovely educators - best of luck for everyone who is preparing for the IB Nov 22 Exams! I'd love to hear about how you prepare your students for exams in the comments below!

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