IB English A: Literature Individual Oral Commentary Advice

Chimdi Okpalauko

The Individual Oral Commentary assesses students’ ability to develop a focused and structured commentary using a formal register. For many students, writing a good commentary, let alone doing this orally can seem challenging. This guide aims to break down the assessment and provide students with a better understanding of how to prepare. 

Although for both courses this assessment is worth 15% of a student’s overall grade, there are some nuances in the composition of the oral exam. The assessment is out of 30 marks overall and even though it is internally assessed, it is moderated by the IB.

Unlike other IB subjects, English Literature A allows you to complete 55% of the assessment internally before sitting your final exams, therefore this assessment is a great opportunity to secure as many marks as possible towards your overall IB English grade.

There are various components to the Individual oral commentary, which are explained in more detail below. 

Preparation (20 minutes) 

During your preparation period, you will be given a blank copy of the extracts you have been studied in class with 2 guiding questions. These questions will vary from extract to extract but aim to give you direction with your commentary, you should not limit yourself to these. For example: What is the relationship between the title and the poem itself? 

Use this preparation time wisely. Firstly start by re-reading the extract and questions carefully. Some questions you should be asking yourself: What is the literal meaning of the text? What is the deeper meaning or moral message that the writer is trying to get across to you?

Then having done this, split the text into three themes you feel that you could prove your idea of the meaning of the poem; ensure you can address them within the 8 minute period you have to present. For example, Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen can be divided into physical impacts of war, mental impacts of war and the moral implications of war that Owen raises in the poem. Spend some time thinking about different themes that you could explore for each extract that your teacher has chosen for your class, this will make this stage not only easier but quicker so that you can spend more time on annotating analytical points.

Next consider how each of these themes are represented throughout the extract. To address Criterion B (Appreciation of the writer’s choices) it is essential that you include the writer’s choices of language, structure, form and stylistic features. Identify these on your extract and annotate them, colour coding them according to your chosen themes. Make as many notes as possible that will help you when delivering your commentary.

Finally, considering all your analysis start to think of the precise points you will make during your commentary. You should aim for 6 maximum (approximately 1 point per minute) so that you have 2 minutes to spare for your introduction and conclusion.

Remember your oral commentary should flow well therefore if you have any left over time during preparation, think of what order you will address your points. This will help you score highly in Criterion C (Organisation and presentation).

Delivery (8 minutes)

Now you have prepared all your notes, you will have to orally present your ideas. Start by introducing the literal meaning and deeper meaning of the poem and their contextual significance. Then move onto the points and quotations that support these points which you identified during your preparation time. Finally, end with a succinct conclusion, review the main points you have raised during your presentation. To show a personal engagement with the extract perhaps try to include very briefly how the extract has impacted you. What has it made you consider that you once overlooked? E.g The mental impacts of World War I in Wilfred Owen’s poetry. Remember to use a formal register and sophisticated vocabulary to secure marks for Criterion D (Language) 

Subsequent questions (2 minutes) 

To stretch and challenge you the teacher assessing you will ask you one or two questions to follow-up interesting points you raised during your commentary or important points you may have left out. For instance, if you forgot to talk about the contextual significance of the poem, the teacher will use this as an opportunity to prompt you to discuss this briefly. 

Discussion (10 minutes) (Higher level students only)  

After the 10 minute commentary and follow-up questions, the teacher conducting your assessment will inform you that the discussion is commencing. This section is simply a literary discussion of one of the works you have studied, an opportunity to showcase your independent understanding of the work. The teacher will ask you a series of open questions. For instance: What for you was the satisfying moment in the play? How was this achieved by the playwright? 

In this section, try to follow a verbal PEARL structure to your answers to keep them clear and succinct:

P – Point – Answer the question directly

E – Evidence – What quotations, structural features or stylistic features from that work do you remember that support your point? 

A – Analysis – How does this evidence support your point? What does the feature connote or allude to? 

R- Reader response – What was the impact of this feature on you or other readers (contemporary or modern)? 

L – Link back to the question that was asked by the teacher 

The best way to prepare for this assessment is to become comfortable discussing the extracts and the texts you have looked at in class by continually practicing every element of the exam, especially the preparation element. If you would like individual help preparing for your Individual Oral Commentary, tuition with Elite IB can give you the best possible chance of success. You will receive teaching that is completely tailored to your needs, and direct feedback on how to improve significantly between now and your assessment.