Surviving IB: SL Language and Literature


SL Lang Lit, the subject that we had to take because it was an IB requirement and there was no way around it. For those aiming for the 45 dream, getting that 7 could be your only barrier to reaching it. And for those who just want to improve but don’t know how to, there is hope!

My experience

Don’t get me wrong, I am terrible at anything language related. In fact, I hated it. From my writing so far, you can probably tell that I am not a natural writer.

Having always enjoyed math and science, I only worked hard on those subjects. LL was a pain in the neck and I always left it to a few days before the exam to pick up my copies of The Great Gatsby or The Outsider. I never scored anything above 5 for LL all the way till prelims.

But I realised that no matter how well I did for physics, chem and math, it was no use if I was getting a 4 for LL. Determined to improve, I tried all sorts of different methods and have collated a list of tips that I found most useful.


My guess is that LL was the subject that you always chucked aside because you thought that there was it was not a secure 7 no matter how hard you studied. I will tell you here that there is a practical way to do so.

General tips:

  1. Read your Rubrics. Make sure you understand the requirements. Write it down 5 times if you need to. GET IT IN YOUR HEAD!! For example, showing understanding of the stylistic devices used in the novels is part of criterion C for LL P2. So make sure your essay has words like simile, personification, visual/kinaesthetic imagery, polysyndeton, etc. Also, it helps to decide the study methods you want to take (see point 2 under LL P2 below!)
  2. Studying for any subject is pretty much the same. Study the content then practice.
  3. Be proactive! Look at your mistakes and make plans to correct them.
  4. Make learning personalised.
  5. Start Early! LL is a lot of work especially if you are not strong in languages.

For LL P2 (Essays for Gatsby and Outsider):

  1. Read your novels at least You need to know your book at your fingertips. There is no way out; trust me, I’ve tried.
  2. Write/type your own notes for both TGG and Outsider. You can rely on seniors’ notes as a guide, but do not just study from it. It does not work (again, tried and tested). Creating your own notes helps you develop a deeper understanding of the novels, forcing you to analyse every detail in the book. Do it thematically, chronologically, or by literary devices… whichever suits you best! Have quotes, explanations and chapter numbers in your notes. A word of caution, however: do be selective in memorising quotes. You can’t memorise the entire book! You will spend at least 1-2 weeks doing this so decide so start early! To do my Gatsby notes, I got the Penguin critical studies by Kathleen Parkinson from the school bookshop. To improve my understanding of stylistic devices (criterion C), I noted the device used for each quote. Example:
    Driving metaphor: Nick claims to be “full of interior rules that act as brakes on [his] desires”
  3. Analyse past essay questions and try to group them according to their type. E.g. context, thematic, techniques/devices, characterisation…
  4. Practice at least 2-3 essays for each type before IB and have it marked by your teacher. You will realise that much of the essay content will repeat, but remember to show understanding of the question (criterion B) by linking it back and explaining how the quote/incident you chose effectively makes your point. Start by doing it without timing, but begin to do timed practices when you start becoming confident. Things to include in your essay:
    • Introduction: a sentence referring to the question, mention the novels and year of publish and how they apply to the question, a brief explanation of context for both novels, relevant themes you will be using, your approach to the question, etc.
    • Body paragraphs: topic sentence that links to the novel and question, quote, stylistic device, some context (not necessarily for all paragraphs unless it is a context question), explanation in relation to the question, link.
    • Conclusion: concluding sentence, short summary of your points (not necessary), a comparison between novels.
  5. Read model essays (from seniors or the tickninja website) for each essay type. See here for an example: LLP2 Essay
  6. If you are one month away from IB and have not done anything about LL, one possible option is to find model essays for each essay type and memorise them. I strongly advise against this because each essay question is different. You will risk vomiting what you have memorised, only to realise that it is totally off topic. So please do not procrastinate!

For LL P1 (textual analysis):

My advice is pretty much similar to what has been mentioned above.

  1. Practise and study for different types of texts (advertisements, blogs, interview transcripts…)
  2. Find resources for propaganda techniques, fallacies, advertising techniques, symbolism of different colours, terms of the features in newspapers, comic strips, webpages, etc. Learn and memorise.
  3. Write notes for each device and their effects that are applicable to almost any text. For example, the use of the first-person pronoun “we” is a collective pronoun that creates a sense of inclusiveness.
  4. Create a list of synonyms for “shows”, “emphasises”, and “effectively”. You want to show that you have a wide vocabulary.
  5. When analysing a text, find central ideas/themes that you can ground your essay on.
  6. Always refer back to the purpose of the text and sensibility of the reader/audience. How does this appeal to a specific group of people?
  7. State the feature, followed by the effect on the reader.
  8. Keep it succinct.
  9. Vary your sentence structure.


  1. Find friends to make notes with. Divide and conquer. Share it on google docs.
  2. Memorise your points. Do this with your book beside you.
  3. Practice each poem/extract and time yourself. Practice the entire process (annotating then speaking) at least once.
  4. Watch the movie, especially if you are a visual learner. It helps you understand the plot and emotions in the characters. Be mindful that the movie does not follow the book exactly.
  5. Be prepared for any poem or extract. Though that extract in Macbeth may not seem significant, it could come out (that happened to me hahaha-)
  6. Sleep Early the night before. No point cramming if you can’t think properly the next day.
  7. Relax when you go in. Don’t panic!! You will do fine 🙂

For FOA and Written task, I suggest that you choose topics that you are most confident in, not one that you think is easiest to score. Practise presenting your FOA multiple times, and don’t speed up during the actual thing.

All the above would not work if you do not make a conscious effort to improve and learn from your mistakes. Evidently, it takes a lot of hard work and you must be committed. My tips are just a guideline, so do create your own customised solutions.

Some words of encouragement 🙂

If at this point you are not performing as well as you hope, don’t worry!! I started working on LL in early Y6 and wrote proper notes a month before IB (please do not do that). It is never too late to start. The earlier you start, the more secure your 7 will be.

Believe in yourself!! Your hard work will pay off in the end.

Remember that the 2-digit number does not define who you are. Make sure you spend time with your loved ones and friends. Do things you like and don’t lock yourself up at home.

All the best for IB! While we all want to do well, remember that it really is only a stepping stone to whatever is in store for you. Hope to see many of you stepping out and making change in our world!

(Anon) does not read novels, barely reads the newspaper, but still got 7 for Langlit. Doesn’t mean that you should do that, but it does mean that you should use her advice. 

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