Hire a tutor
IB English: A Complete Guide

IB English: A Complete Guide

10 min Read|April 13 2024
|Written by:

Charles Whitehouse


In this comprehensive guide, we will explore IB English A, an integral part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. IB English A focuses on the analysis and appreciation of literature. Its aim is to enhance students' analytical and communication skills while introducing them to diverse literary texts from various cultures and time periods.

Throughout this guide, we will delve into the two options: within IB English A: Literature and IB English A: Language and Literature. We will discuss their objectives, assessment methods, and the distinctions between SL and HL study options.

Whether you are currently enrolled in the course or considering it for the future, this guide will provide valuable insights and strategies for success in IB English A.

Why Study IBDP English A?

Studying IBDP English A offers many benefits for students who want a comprehensive understanding of language and literature. The two courses are an important part of the IBDP and provides a rigorous exploration of various literary works from different cultures, time periods, and genres. By engaging with texts from diverse origins, students develop critical thinking skills, broaden their perspectives, and cultivate empathy for different viewpoints.

IB English also emphasises intercultural understanding, encouraging students to appreciate the richness and complexity of human expression across different linguistic traditions.

Another advantage of taking IB English A is the development of strong communication skills in both writing and speaking. Through analysing texts, comparing works, and creative writing exercises, students learn to express their ideas effectively using appropriate language and stylistic devices.

Class discussions and presentations also require students to communicate their thoughts clearly and consider the needs of diverse audiences. These communication skills are not only valuable for academic success but also essential in professional and social settings beyond the classroom.

Assessment in IBDP English A encourages independent research and collaborative learning. Internal assessments include written tasks that allow students to explore literary topics creatively while developing their research skills.

External assessments consist of examinations that assess analytical abilities and the capacity to engage with unfamiliar texts under time constraints. By navigating these different assessment formats, students develop important skills such as adaptability, self-discipline, and resilience.

Considering these advantages, it is clear that IBDP English A provides a valuable educational experience for students who want to deepen their understanding of language, literature, and culture. This course offers not only subject-specific knowledge but also a range of transferable skills that contribute to personal growth and success in future endeavours.

The IB English Literature Syllabus

The IB English Literature course, available in the IB Diploma Programme, offers students a comprehensive exploration of literary works from diverse cultures and historical contexts. Throughout the course, students engage with various texts that include novels, plays, poems, and other literary forms.

The course aims to develop students' critical analysis, interpretation, and evaluation skills, while enhancing their appreciation for the artistic qualities of literature. By studying books like "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, students gain insights into different cultural perspectives and time periods.

Divided into Standard Level and Higher Level, the course accommodates students with varying interests and proficiency levels in literary studies. HL students explore additional texts such as "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and "A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen, delving deeper into specific aspects of literary analysis.

The course structure comprises four parts: Works in Translation, Detailed Study, Literary Genres, and Options. Students explore works like "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel, "Foe" by J.M. Coetzee, and "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys, among others, to deepen their understanding of literature from different perspectives, genres, and time periods.

By immersing themselves in these texts, students develop critical thinking skills, improve their reading and writing abilities, and broaden their cultural awareness. The IB English Literature course nurtures a lifelong appreciation for literature, while providing students with essential skills applicable to various academic and professional pursuits.

Through the exploration of diverse texts, students cultivate empathy, creativity, and a deeper understanding of the human experience across different cultures and time periods. Ultimately, this course equips students with valuable skills and knowledge that contribute to their personal growth and success in the wider world.

The IB English Language & Literature Syllabus

The IB English Language & Literature course invites students on a captivating journey of exploration, diving into the intricacies of language and literature. This course, available at both SL and HL, offers students a chance to delve into a diverse range of texts from different cultures, time periods, and genres.

In Part 1 of the course, students analyse an array of non-literary texts such as advertisements, speeches, opinion columns, and social media posts, gaining insights into their language features and persuasive techniques.

Part 2 immerses students in classic literary works from around the world. Texts like "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "1984" by George Orwell, and "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen allow students to explore themes, styles, and historical contexts, fostering a deeper appreciation for the power of literature.

For HL students, Parts 3 and 4 offer an even more enriching experience. In Part 3, students examine texts from various literary periods written by authors from diverse cultural backgrounds. They might delve into works like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, analyzing how these texts reflect societal values and perspectives.

Part 4 delves into the dynamic relationship between language and power dynamics within society. Through texts such as "Animal Farm" by George Orwell or "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, students explore how language can be used to challenge or reinforce existing power structures.

By engaging with these thought-provoking texts, students develop critical thinking skills, expand their cultural awareness, and cultivate a deeper understanding of the complexities of language and literature. The IB English Language & Literature course empowers students to become active global citizens who appreciate the beauty of language and its profound impact on society.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of IB Resources that include IB Study Notes and IB Practice Questions, developed by expert IB teachers and examiners!

Should You Choose English Lit Or English Lang & Lit?

When considering the IB English A, students face a significant decision: choosing between English Literature and English Language & Literature. It is important to understand the distinctions between these courses in order to make an informed choice based on interests and academic goals.

English Literature focuses primarily on the critical analysis of literary works from diverse time periods, genres, and cultural backgrounds. Here are the pros and cons of choosing English Literature:


  • Emphasis on analyzing and interpreting literary texts.
  • Opportunity to explore the historical and cultural contexts of literature.
  • Development of strong skills in essay writing and oral presentation.
  • In-depth study of renowned literary works.


  • Limited exposure to non-literary texts.
  • Less emphasis on the use of language in various contexts.
  • Potential for a narrower focus on literature alone.

On the other hand, English Language & Literature combines language and literature studies. It involves analysing both literary and non-literary texts, including advertisements, speeches, and news articles. Consider the pros and cons of choosing English Language & Literature:


  • Investigation of the dynamic relationship between language and society.
  • Examination of various modes of communication across cultures.
  • Critical thinking about how language shapes our understanding of the world.
  • Exposure to a broader range of texts, including both literary and non-literary sources.


  • Less intensive study of individual literary works compared to English Literature.
  • Potentially less emphasis on close textual analysis and interpretation.
  • Reduced focus on the historical and cultural contexts of literature.

When making a decision between the two courses, students should consider their personal interests, strengths, and career aspirations. If passionate about delving into the depths of literature and analyzing specific works in detail, English Literature may be the ideal choice. Conversely, if interested in exploring the multifaceted role of language in society and a broader range of text types, English Language & Literature may be more engaging.

Ultimately, both courses offer valuable opportunities to explore language, literature, and culture. Students should carefully weigh the pros and cons of each course and choose the IB subject that aligns best with their academic journey and passions.

Is IB English Hard?

The question of whether IB English is hard is subjective and can vary depending on the individual student's strengths, interests, and level of commitment. While IB English can be a challenging IB subject, it also offers valuable opportunities for personal growth, intellectual development, and a deeper understanding of language and literature.

IB English requires students to engage with complex texts, analyse them critically, and express their ideas effectively through writing and oral presentations. The coursework may involve studying a variety of literary works, exploring different genres, and considering texts from diverse cultural and historical contexts. This can be demanding, as it requires students to develop strong analytical and interpretive skills, as well as a solid understanding of grammar, vocabulary, and literary devices.

Furthermore, class discussions and assignments may tackle complex themes and issues, requiring students to think critically and engage in meaningful dialogue. This can be intellectually challenging, as it demands a willingness to explore different perspectives and consider the broader social and cultural implications of texts.

However, it is important to note that the difficulty of IB English can vary for each individual. Some students may naturally excel in literary analysis and find the coursework more manageable, while others may find certain aspects more challenging. It is essential for students to be proactive, dedicated, and willing to invest time and effort into their studies in order to succeed in IB English.

While the mean grades achieved in IB English Literature HL (4.87) and IB English Language & Literature HL (5.13) in 2021 provide insight into the overall performance of students, it is important to remember that these statistics do not solely reflect the level of difficulty of the courses. They are an indication of the average achievement, but individual experiences may differ.

Number of IB English A SL & HL candidates and mean grades in 2021

Number of IB English A SL & HL candidates and mean grades in 2021

IB English Literature Vs A-Level English Literature

In order to make informed decisions about academic pathways, it is important to compare IB English Literature with another prominent international curriculum, A-Level English Literature. By understanding the key differences between these rigorous programs, students can better determine which course aligns with their interests and goals.

One significant difference lies in the course structure. IB English Literature takes a holistic approach, exploring works from diverse genres, time periods, and cultures. Students analyse texts critically and appreciate their global significance. In contrast, A-Level English Literature primarily focuses on British literature and its historical development. Students delve deeply into specific literary movements, examining the contextual influences. Thus, while both courses emphasise literary analysis, their content coverage differs significantly.

Assessment methods also provide a basis for comparison. The IB English Literature course employs a combination of internal assessments (such as written tasks) and external assessments (such as essays and oral presentations). These varied evaluation tools aim to develop well-rounded individuals capable of effective expression across different formats. In contrast, A-Level English Literature assessments primarily consist of written examinations that assess analytical skills and comprehension of prescribed texts. Both curricula demand critical thinking, but they employ different assessment formats.

An expert A-Level English tutor said:

"As an A-Level English tutor, I tell students that A-Level English focuses deeply on British books, while IB English covers a wider range of books from all over the world. If students like learning about different cultures and histories through literature, IB English might be better for them. It's important for students to think about what kinds of books they enjoy when they choose their course."

Considering these distinctions, students should reflect on their academic preferences when choosing a course. Those who enjoy exploring diverse literary landscapes and developing versatile communication skills may find IB English Literature more suitable. Meanwhile, those with a strong interest in delving deeper into British literature may opt for A-Level English Literature.

For a further in-depth comparison for all subjects, read IB Vs A-Levels - A Comprehensive Guide.

What Level Of English Should You Choose In The IB?

When considering IB English, one crucial decision students face is whether to pursue the Standard Level or Higher Level course in either English Literature or English Language & Literature. This choice significantly impacts the depth and breadth of their study in the subject. Understanding the differences between SL and HL in both English Literature and English Language & Literature can help students make an informed decision based on their language proficiency, interests, and academic goals.

In English Literature, both SL and HL provide students with an opportunity to explore and analyse a range of literary works from different genres, time periods, and cultural contexts. However, HL requires students to study a more extensive selection of texts and engage in more in-depth analysis and interpretation. HL students tackle complex themes, develop advanced analytical skills, and demonstrate a deeper understanding of the literary works studied.

In English Language & Literature, both SL and HL offer a combination of language and literature studies. SL covers a diverse range of texts, allowing students to explore how language is used and manipulated to convey meaning in different contexts. HL expands on this foundation by examining a wider variety of texts and delving deeper into the relationship between language and power dynamics within society.

The decision between SL and HL in either English Literature or English Language & Literature should be based on individual strengths, language proficiency, interests, and academic aspirations. HL is suitable for students with a strong command of English, a passion for literature, and a desire for more extensive and in-depth study. SL provides a solid foundation for students who want to develop their language and analytical skills while exploring a range of texts.

It is worth noting that HL entails a more demanding workload with additional requirements, such as an extended essay and a study of works in translation. Students should carefully consider their capabilities, commitment, and time management skills when deciding whether to pursue HL.

By carefully considering these factors, students can choose the level and course (English Literature or English Language & Literature) that best aligns with their goals for success in the IB English program.

IB English A SL & HL grade distributions in 2021

IB English A SL & HL grade distributions in 2021

IB English Lit and English Lang & Lit Grading System And Exam Format

Both IB English Literature and Language & Literature aim to develop critical thinking skills, a deep understanding of literature, and effective communication. The assessment process includes internal and external components designed to evaluate language proficiency, literary analysis, and communication skills.

The grading system in both IB courses uses a numerical scale ranging from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest). Each level corresponds to specific descriptors reflecting abilities in reading comprehension, written expression, oral communication, and analytical thinking. Attaining a high grade signifies a strong command of the English language and excellence in literary analysis and creative expression.

While both courses share similarities in their grading system, the exam format differs. In IB English Literature, written examinations include Paper 1 (Literary Commentary) and Paper 2 (Comparative Essay), which are externally assessed. These exams test critical analysis skills by analysing unseen texts and comparing works studied throughout the course.

In contrast, the exam format for IB English Language & Literature includes Paper 1 (Textual Analysis) and Paper 2 (Essay Writing), which are also externally assessed. Paper 1 focuses on analysing unseen texts, while Paper 2 requires students to produce well-structured essays that demonstrate their understanding and interpretation of the texts.

Navigating the complexities of the grading system and exam format may initially seem challenging. However, understanding these components enhances students' chances of success in IB English Literature and Language & Literature.

How To Study And Get A 7 In IB English?

After understanding the significance of achieving a desirable grade in IB English, it is important to explore effective strategies that can lead students towards excellence, with the ultimate goal of obtaining a 7 – the highest level of mastery and understanding.

To maximize their chances of success, students can employ various revision techniques and tips. A systematic approach to preparation is crucial, starting with the creation of a study schedule that allocates specific time for reading, writing, and oral assessments. This ensures an organized structure and helps maintain balance across different components of the course.

Regular practice with past exam questions is invaluable, as it familiarizes students with the format and expectations of the examination, and allows them to refine their skills.

Developing strong analytical skills is another key aspect of successful revision. In-depth analysis of texts throughout the course enables students to identify literary techniques and themes used by authors, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of the works. Engaging with secondary sources, such as critical essays, participating in group discussions and seeking guidance from teachers or professional IB tutors, can provide alternative viewpoints and deepen comprehension.

Mastering written expression is vital for achieving high scores in Paper 1 and Paper 2 examinations. Consistent practice in composing well-structured essays under timed conditions improves time management during exams and allows for valuable feedback from peers or instructors. Utilizing a varied vocabulary, constructing coherent arguments, and incorporating relevant textual evidence are essential components of producing sophisticated essays that earn top marks in IB English.

Get expert help with your IB English

The world's leading online IB English tutoring provider trusted by students, parents, and schools globally.

4.92/5 based on480 reviews

Overview Of the IB English Literature Internal Assessment

The internal assessment is a vital part of the IB English Literature program, offering students an opportunity to showcase their analytical and interpretative skills beyond the exams. Comprising 30% of the final grade, the Individual Oral Commentary (IOC) requires students to provide a detailed analysis of a passage from one of their studied works, demonstrating a deep understanding of literary devices and their connections to form, meaning, and context.

To excel in the IOC, students are advised to practice extensively, engaging with passages from each work studied. Mock IOCs and guidance from teachers are valuable, but self-directed practice is also crucial. By honing analytical skills and improving oral expression, students gain confidence in discerning significant features within texts and articulating their observations effectively.

Through diligent preparation, persistent practice, and a commitment to growth, students can attain success in the internal assessment, contributing to their overall achievement in the IB English Literature program.

Overview Of the IB English Language And Literature Internal Assessment

Within the vast landscape of IB English Language and Literature, the internal assessment stands as a significant component. This crucial element allows students to deepen their understanding and appreciation of literary and linguistic works.

The internal assessment aims to foster independent exploration and critical thinking, encouraging students to actively engage in their intellectual journey. It consists of two main components: the Individual Oral Commentary and the Written Task 1. The oral presentation involves analyzing an unseen passage from a studied text, while the written task requires creating a creative piece inspired by course materials.

Evaluation criteria encompass understanding and interpretation, analysis, language use, and presentation skills. Students must demonstrate comprehension, identify literary techniques, support arguments with evidence, and effectively communicate ideas.

By embracing the challenges and meeting the standards of the internal assessment, students can progress towards mastery in the IB English Language and Literature program.

Top Resources For IB English Preparation

Preparing for the International Baccalaureate (IB) English course can be overwhelming due to the abundance of available resources. However, focusing on the most valuable ones can greatly enhance your preparation and set you up for success. This list provides an overview of essential resources that will guide you through your IB English journey. By utilizing these resources, you can improve your understanding of the subject, develop important skills, and increase your chances of achieving academic excellence.

1. Official IB materials:

  • Past papers: Reviewing past papers provides insight into the structure and style of questions, allowing you to practice under timed conditions.
  • Examiner reports: These reports highlight common errors and areas where students often struggle, offering guidance for targeted revision strategies.
  • Subject guides: Subject guides outline what is expected from students in terms of knowledge and skills development.
  • Assessment criteria: Familiarise yourself with the assessment criteria to understand how your work will be evaluated.

2. Online platforms:

  • IB Prepared: A comprehensive platform designed by experienced educators offering study guides, exam-style questions, video tutorials, and more.
  • Kognity: An interactive digital textbook that combines engaging content with automated assessments, providing instant feedback on your progress.
  • InThinking: A subscription-based service that grants access to detailed resources created by experienced IB teachers across all subjects, including English.

3. Revision guides and textbooks:

  • "IB English A: Language and Literature" by Rob Allison and Brian Chanen: This comprehensive guide covers the entire IB English A Language and Literature syllabus, providing in-depth analysis of texts, practice activities, and exam-style questions.
  • "IB English A: Literature Course Book" by David James and Nic Amy: This course book offers a thorough exploration of literature texts, including analysis, discussion questions, and guidance for written tasks.
  • "IB English A: Language and Literature Skills and Practice" by Hannah Tyson and Mark Beverley: This workbook focuses on developing essential skills for IB English, such as essay writing, textual analysis, and oral presentations.

4. Literary analysis websites:

  • Shmoop: This website provides in-depth analysis and explanations of complex texts studied in the course, helping you better understand the literature.
  • SparkNotes: SparkNotes offers study guides, summaries, and analysis of literary works, supporting your comprehension and interpretation of texts.

5. Study groups with peers: Collaborating with classmates through study groups allows for deep discussions about texts, fosters critical thinking skills, and provides a supportive learning environment.

6. Private tutors: Hiring a private IB English tutor can provide personalized guidance and support tailored to your specific needs, helping you improve your understanding, skills, and exam performance.

These resources cover a range of materials, including practice papers, study guides, textbooks, online platforms, literary analysis websites, and private tutors. By incorporating these top resources into your study routine, you'll gain valuable insights, receive targeted feedback, and have access to comprehensive materials tailored to the IB English curriculum. Maximise your preparation and excel in your IB English journey with these essential resources.

Exploring Career and University Opportunities With IB English

Embarking on the English journey as part of the IB curriculum not only enriches your understanding of language and literature but also opens up a world of career and university opportunities. The skills and knowledge gained from studying IB English can be applied to various fields and pathways, giving you a competitive edge in the ever-evolving global landscape.


1. Publishing Professional: With strong literary analysis and communication skills, you can pursue careers as editors, literary agents, or content creators in the publishing industry. You will contribute to shaping and promoting literary works for publication.

2. Journalist: The critical analysis and effective communication skills developed in IB English make you well-suited for journalism careers. You can work as a reporter, editor, or news writer, delivering informative and engaging stories to the public.

3. English Teacher: IB English provides a solid foundation for becoming an English teacher or online tutor. You can inspire and educate future generations, sharing your passion for literature and language with students.

4. Advertising and Marketing Specialist: The persuasive writing and audience engagement skills cultivated in IB English are valuable in the advertising and marketing industry. You can create compelling content and develop effective communication strategies to promote products or services.

5. Public Relations Professional: Leveraging your strong oral and written communication skills, you can excel in public relations roles. You will manage communication and build relationships between organisations and their target audiences.

6. Content Writer: The ability to analyze and interpret texts acquired in IB English opens doors to content writing roles. You can create impactful written materials for various platforms, including websites, blogs, and social media.

University Degrees:

1. English Literature: IB English prepares you for degrees in English literature, where you can explore the rich literary tradition and analyze diverse texts from different time periods and cultures.

2. Comparative Literature: Studying IB English provides a strong foundation for pursuing degrees in comparative literature, allowing you to examine the connections and contrasts between various literary works and traditions.

3. Creative Writing: With the skills developed in IB English, you can pursue a degree in creative writing, honing your craft in writing poetry, fiction, or plays.

4. Linguistics: IB English complements studies in linguistics, where you can delve into the scientific study of language, its structure, and its role in communication.

5. Translation Studies: The exploration of language in IB English provides a strong foundation for studies in translation, preparing you for a career as a professional translator or interpreter.

6. Humanities and Social Sciences: The skills and knowledge gained in IB English complement various disciplines within the humanities and social sciences, offering a solid academic background for degrees in fields such as history, sociology, psychology, or political science.

The skills developed in IB English, including critical thinking, analysis, research, and effective communication, are highly valued by universities and employers alike. Whether you choose a career directly related to literature and language or pursue other fields, IB English equips you with transferable skills that are applicable across diverse industries. By embracing the opportunities provided by IB English, you can carve a path towards a fulfilling career and gain admission to reputable universities around the world.


What Is A Good IB English Literature Score?

A good IB English Literature score is typically achieved by earning a grade of 5 or higher. This indicates a strong performance in the subject and exceeds the average HL grade, which is 4.87. Scoring 5 or above reflects a solid understanding of literary concepts, effective analysis, and the ability to articulate ideas coherently.

To attain such a score, students should demonstrate proficiency in areas such as literary analysis, critical interpretation, and effective written communication. Achieving a good score in IB English Literature showcases a strong command of the subject and contributes to a successful overall performance.

What Is A Good IB English Language & Literature Score?

A good IB English Language & Literature score is typically achieved by earning a grade of 6 or higher. This reflects a strong performance in the subject and exceeds the average high-level (HL) grade, which is 5.13. Scoring 6 or above signifies a solid understanding of language, literature analysis, and effective communication skills. It demonstrates the ability to critically analyze texts, interpret their meaning, and express ideas coherently.

To attain a good score in IB English Language & Literature, students should showcase proficiency in areas such as textual analysis, language features, and writing techniques. Achieving a score of 6 or higher showcases excellence in the subject and contributes to a successful overall performance.

Need help from an expert?

4.92/5 based on480 reviews

The world’s top online tutoring provider trusted by students, parents, and schools globally.

Study and Practice for Free

Trusted by 100,000+ Students Worldwide

Achieve Top Grades in your Exams with our Free Resources.

Practice Questions, Study Notes, and Past Exam Papers for all Subjects!

Need Expert IB Help?

If you’re looking to boost your IB grades, get in touch with the TutorChase team and we’ll be able to provide you with an expert IB English tutor. We’ll be there every step of the way!



Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Charles Whitehouse

Written by: Charles Whitehouse

Oxford University - Masters Biochemistry

Charles scored 45/45 on the International Baccalaureate and has six years' experience tutoring IB and IGCSE students and advising them with their university applications. He studied a double integrated Masters at Magdalen College Oxford and has worked as a research scientist and strategy consultant.

Get Expert Help
background image

Hire a tutor

Please fill out the form and we'll find a tutor for you

Phone number (with country code)

Still have questions? Let’s get in touch.