Help with your English individual oral

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Help for your English IO – complete guide from an IB Examiner

As an IB English examiner, I am going to share with you some general tips and help for your English IO.

Tip 1 – Get to know the Individual Oral mark scheme.

I am sure that as you come to your IB2 your teacher will have done some practice oral marking exercises.  If not, you should take it upon yourself to be proactive and make sure you understand the marking criteria A, B, C, D. Then, with a friend, record your oral and mark and apply the criteria. Afterward, you will see where you are doing well and where you can improve.

Tip 2 – Think about narrowing the focus of your IO.

This means thinking about how we are going to bring these two texts together in an interesting way. It is difficult enough, to work in a comparative fashion.  At the same, time this brings originality, and it can make the oral exciting.

So don’t be frightened to make original links between things.

When you begin you want to move beyond your global issue and state your thesis, depending on the terminology your teacher uses.  By this I mean that if you are going to read a book on community and culture, then you will say that.

Tip 3 – Start in a simple and confident way.

You will say good afternoon, good morning. This is my individual oral.

Today I will be looking at the global issue of individual communities and cultures.

Specifically, my thesis or field of inquiry will be the way in which religious communities make an impact on the sexuality of an individual. Then I shall be exploring the idea through the following texts.

It sounds really simple, but learning this introduction by heart will allow you to start confidently, calm your nerves and set you up for a strong IO.


Tip 4 – Use your planning sheet carefully to record your Individual oral.

So, as you go forward and as you use your planning sheet, I want to encourage you to obviously use .. and bullet points and use the space in front of you.

In theory, your sheet should just be one sheet of A4.  There are no rules about the size of your font or how much you want to cram in.  However, there are rules about the way in which you record your ideas.

Think about developing your own shortcuts.  For example, instead of writing “and” put a plus sign.

So find ways that you would use if you are taking notes quickly to get the key ideas down without writing full sentences.  You don’t need to write full sentences, but you might want to put down the key terminology that you want to use in your IO. For example, a word that you want to use but find difficult to remember under pressure.


Tip 5 – Structure your Individual Oral carefully.

What I would say is that you need to approach the oral in a way that works for you.  Any comparative response, written or spoken, needs to be balanced, needs to include .. narrative, and needs to reach out to the body of work.

The way you do this is really up to you.  As an examiner, I have found that this is a structure that students use.  But there is no hard and fast rule.

Often students start with a kind of more general zoom-out.. terminology, state the text, the general kind of terms of the text and then put the extracts into context within the text and then move into the extracts and then pull back out to introduce the second text and then pull out again to a more general conclusion.

That is absolutely fine as long as it is balanced. It also needs a well-worded and thought-out personality

As I say, you have thought out the wider body of the work.  So if there is an opportunity to give this idea, this motif, this symbol that reoccurs in this body of work/ collection that’s great.

Just turn out the whole body of work and sustain your focus on the extract or the text in front of you.

practice image

Tip 6- Practice, practice, practice.

Think about how you sound, not just the language you use but also the speed that you speak, and your tone of voice.

While you are not given points for sounding excited or interested, at the same time your intonation is important.

Ideally, you want to sound engaged in the conversation you are having.  You want to sound engaged and know where you are going next.  This allows the listener – the IB IO examiner – to follow more easily. In fact, I think it also impacts the way in which we (the IB examiners) hear the structure.


Tip 7 – Speak clearly and slowly

As an examiner, if someone is speaking very, very fast then it is hard for us to note the structure. In fact, it becomes hard to follow the devices you are employing and the order in which you are structuring your own thoughts.

So, I would encourage you to go slowly. Not super slowly, but at a steady pace that is easy to listen to.


Tip 8 – Don’t worry if you stumble or pause!

Students often ask me what happens if I stumble in my English IO? Or what should I do if I can’t think? Or I freeze and don’t know what I am doing?

Firstly, this is exactly why you need your bullet points to refer to. Secondly, remember in normal speech there will be “ums and ahs” and normal pauses and that is entirely acceptable and expected.

If you begin to panic and if you fall into silence and, unfortunately, your teacher will leave you in that silence because it has to be an unbroken recording, I would encourage you to say something like, I am terribly sorry, I need a moment to gather my thoughts. Alternatively, you could say forgive me, I just need a moment to reflect.

What you need to do is to stay in your academic register.  So, you are not going to say “oh dear I don’t know what to say, etc, etc.”

You are going to say: “I am just taking a moment here to refer to my notes or I am just going to, take a moment to reflect.”

So, keep that academic tone, that academic register throughout, even when it is when you are saying I don’t know what to say next.


Tip 9 – Record yourself and identify key improvements you can make to your IO.

You must remember that the oral has criteria A and B, but it is much more about your knowledge and your analysis.  C and D in language and language and literature are about your language use and your structure. These are easy marks to get.

So, just keep your language formal and employ as much literature terminology as possible. For example, if you are talking about a graphic novel in which you deconstruct a cartoon, make sure that you drop in that terminology.

In addition, this is something that you can retrospectively put into an oral if you have recorded yourself and listened to yourself.

By recording yourself you can also hear your timing.  You will be able to listen to your own language.

Once your oral is as good as it can be, then I encourage you to ask a supportive friend or family member to listen to it.

Ask them “does it make sense to you?  Are you able to follow what I am saying?” As they don’t know what you are trying to say because they can be a great sounding board.

Because they will be able to tell you that they don’t understand why you have moved from this subject to that. Or perhaps they get lost as they don’t understand the connection you are making.


Tip 10 – Choose your text form or text type carefully.

It is very important that you discuss the way in which the different form or text type impacts the author’s decision in terms of their message.  Especially, regarding your chosen thesis or field of inquiry. In addition to discussing the impact that has on the reader or viewer.

It is beneficial to select texts that have differences. If you are studying a poem in translation and have a choice of other texts to bring to it, perhaps it would be more interesting if you move to a drama text.

This would add more interest to the discussion rather than using a text that is poetic prose.

The choice is entirely yours and in the end, the decision should be made based upon the way in which the works relate to your field of inquiry.

Similarly, in lang lit, as this year’s examiner, I was struck by the extraordinary quality of some of the orals.

They often coupled a literary text with a non-literary text that was very visual in nature.

So even beyond the multi-model text which employs both the visual and language as a form of communication the students were deconstructing photographs or images.

This forced them to bring texts together in an interesting way and forced a conversation on the effectiveness or lack thereof of the chosen form of the artist in question.


Tip 11 – Prepare responses to questions.

Lastly, I encourage you to prepare some responses to questions.

It is very likely that your teacher will try to help you to cover areas of your model material that you, perhaps, haven’t delved deeply enough into.

Therefore, the questions are undoubtedly going to be about going back into the text that you have chosen and digging a bit deeper in terms of analysis.

So, you might have an element of the text that you are not going to share in the oral but are going to bring out in the follow-up questions. It is also very likely that the teacher is going to ask you to make links or further links to the wider body of work.

In summary, I encourage you to have already thought about various chapters of the novel that you are studying. Essentially, identifying those that can also be linked to this idea or to another scene in a play or a different cartoon.

By having this up your sleeve you can guide the questions. Don’t be afraid to be a bit proactive here and take control.

For example you can steer the conversation. So you can say “I think that is a good question, in fact, if we think about x, and y.” In that way, you can share the ideas that you have already prepared.

So, I wish you all the greatest of luck!

All IB examiners are human beings. And we are here to listen constructively. By which I mean that we mark positively. In other words, we mark what we hear and give you points where we can. This is rather than marking to take away points.

Enjoy the opportunity to delve into a discussion that is structured around your own interests and thoughts.

Get help for your English IO with Tao & TutorsPlus.


Tao English Tutor


Tao is an IB English Examiner and Tutor with TutorsPlus. For help in your IB English individual oral, or to book a lesson with Tao, click HERE

To find out more about the IB English Oral click HERE.

To find out more about the IB click HERE


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