There are two papers for HL English Literature. Paper 1 is a guided literary analysis of unseen literary passages from different text types. Paper 2 is a comparative essay based on two literary works written in response to a choice of one out of four questions. For students taking the exam in May 2022, Paper 2 has been removed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. That means performing well on Paper 1 is more important than ever! Here are some tips for preparing and completing Paper 1.
Preparing for Paper 1
In Paper 1, you will be given two unseen literary texts: a poem and a prose passage. You’ll have 2 hours and 15 minutes to write a literary analysis for each of the texts. Although it may seem as if Paper 1 is too difficult, there are various ways you can prepare for it.
First, familiarize yourself with different literary devices/authorial choices. This website has a list of different literary devices with explanations and examples for each. Not all of them will come up in the passages, but make sure you know the more common ones, such as similes, metaphors, and symbolism.
Next, I recommend looking up past papers and writing just the introduction paragraph for your analysis. Start with a hook, introduce what you’ll be talking about in your analysis, and end with a strong thesis statement. Your thesis statement should not simply restate the question – instead, it should make clear what you’re trying to prove. The introduction paragraph is the most important part of your essay because it sets up everything that comes after it. By practicing writing your first paragraph, you’ll get used to forming an outline quickly and you can jump right in on exam day.
As you get closer to the exam, try doing full practice runs. Look up past papers and use them as a practice. Spend the first 15 minutes reading and annotating the passages, and then form a quick outline of your essays. In the outline for the introduction, write out your full thesis statement and set up your body paragraphs. Your thesis statement should explain what authorial choices are being used in the text and why. When you outline your body paragraphs, include topic sentences, direct quotes from the text (write only the line numbers to save time), and how the quotes support your thesis statement.
For your conclusion, think about a larger meaning to the text and why it’s important. After writing your outlines, you’ll have 2 hours to write the essays, so spend about 1 hour on each one. You might go over the time limit in the beginning, but you will get faster the more you practice! Also, familiarize yourself with the mark scheme and what the examiners are looking for.
On the Exam Day
By this point, you should have done multiple practice exams and feel fully prepared for Paper 1. Make sure you go to bed early the night before and eat a good breakfast to keep yourself energized. Don’t study too much the night before the exam – take the time to rest and clear your mind instead!
You have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete Paper 1. Use the reading time and the first 15 minutes to absorb the texts. Read each text once without annotating them. Then, go back and read them more in-depth, annotating each one and noting the literary devices used. You can even start making an outline for your analyses – draft your thesis statements and the main points of your body paragraphs.
Focus your topic sentences on authorial choice. The things that occur in the texts aren’t happening passively – the author is making these things happen. Identify what the author is doing in the text and how the author’s style, language, structure, and tone contribute to the overall meaning.
Quote the passage multiple times per paragraph. Paper 1 is a literary analysis, so your argument must be supported with evidence from the passage. Don’t choose random lines from the passage – choose quotes that demonstrate authorial choice. Try to use many short quotes instead of a few long ones, and explain how the quote supports your argument. Rather than simply restating the quote, explain what authorial choice is being used, why the author may have used that authorial choice, and what effect it has on the reader. My English teacher always tells us to “go for the low hanging fruit.” In other words, choose the quotes with the most obvious authorial choices so you’ll have an easier time explaining them. Remember that literary analysis is incredibly subjective. There is no “wrong” interpretation, as long as you can back it up with textual evidence.
Finally, use your time wisely! Try not to spend more than an hour on each analysis. If you have extra time, you can go back and proof-check or expand upon what you already wrote.
I hope you found these tips helpful and made you more confident about Paper 1. The most important thing is to do the preparation – that way, you won’t have to worry on exam day. Trust in your abilities, and I know you’ll do great! Good luck!