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English Commentaries

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Do you mean this to be in the Language A1 category? It'd be useful if you could say which level you're taking it at so people know what sort of help to offer :blink:

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get the English A1 Oxford Course Companion on Amazon. Step by step shows you EVERYTHING.

That sounds so helpful. I just might do that. Apparently our English teachers have not been teaching up to IB standard the past few years, as our most recent graduating class had very poor performance on their exams. They're all stepping up their workloads, but my teacher in particular has taken on commentaries with a vengeance. 500 to 900 words, assigned every night for three weeks straight, always due the next class with no feedback before the next one. Then a 1500-word extended commentary for a major written on only one poem. Compared to other classes: one commentary a week, 300 words most of the time, 500 max, always graded and returned before the next one. And 750 words for their "extended". IB therefore I BS never was so true. I think I need this guide!

Edited by rjh4509

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Yes, the Oxford Course Companion is very helpful!

Also, I think it is helpful when you have a few (3-5) major claims that you think are most significant inthe poem/extract. From those top features and claims you can analyze so many features! Do not analyze the poem verse by verse, it is just re-telling what the poem means. The examiners are looking for your understanding of the work, your analysis.

This might have a been slightly off-topic, but many people miss this point.

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I find it easier to start by looking at overarching themes, maybe 2 or 3, and then delving into techniques from there. I've done quite well (7) on all the commentaries i've done this year by following this technique.

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Do not analyze the poem verse by verse, it is just re-telling what the poem means. The examiners are looking for your understanding of the work, your analysis.

This might have a been slightly off-topic, but many people miss this point.

^^ I think if your teacher tells you that you're just re-telling what the poem means, you were never really "analysing" the poem verse by verse anyway! xP

Verse-by-verse, provided you do actually analyse it rather than explaining what it means or some other form of re-telling, can be very effective. You don't miss out a single thing because you're not having to distill just a few major points (assuming you can write fast enough!), don't have to waste exam time planning or structuring your essay and can do extremely close textual analysis. Actually I found it helped me pick up on things I would otherwise have missed :P You should do whatever is easiest for you, but don't dismiss one version or the other. Both ways of writing a commentary can get you a 7 no problem (after all you're making the same points in both of them), you just have to know which you're more suited to.

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Well, my teacher says that it is much eaqsier to miss your major point when you analyze the poem verse by verse. I mean, when you are focused on one major feature at a time and then you use little features to back up your point (giving examples in order as poem flows) then it is much more clear and more effective. I agree with my teacher. Well, last year (in IB1) I analyzed poems verse by verse and this year I focus on a few major fetures and I find it much better and easier to focus on analyzing the effect of the author's and speaker's purpose and perspective.

Edited by Peachez

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Once you crack the IB commentaries, it should be smooth sailing from there. Generally, go for the poem first, because it is more loaded with meaning and literary devices and is easier to approach. Incorporate elements of setting, character, action (less important) and ideas in your commentary, and constantly support all of your points with evidence, through literary analysis or quoting. The key here is to understand what message the author/poet is trying to deliver, and most importantly, how.

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As Peachez mentioned above, the Oxford Course companion is not a bad idea. However, overall, I have found that rigid methods of approaching commentaries are not particularly useful. My outline for any sort of commentary tends to be:

  • Introduction (sum up main points, also mention authors and type/style of poem/book etc.)
  • Main point 1
  • Main point 2
  • Main point 3
  • . . .
  • Conclusion (reiterate main points. try to make some sort of concluding remark that doesn't sound like you're restating something said before.)

And basically that is it. I don't use lists for poetic devices and stuff like that.

But I think that 'cracking' the commentary is quite a good way to approach it. The best way to crack any commentary, especially the type you will have to write in an exam, is to do it slowly and with an almost obscene pedanticism at home. Once you can do it perfectly with all the time in the world, you can do it well in a structured environment.

In terms of poems, there is basically one single book that for me changed completely what a poem meant and how I looked at it. After reading Sound and Sense (multiple versions are available, but it is originally by Laurence Perrine, who is a genius) I was able to write poetry commentaries which got A+s from my teacher. Before that I was stuck with Bs and B+s, and I was very inconsistent. So if there is any possibility of buying this book, buy it!!

In my own case I haven't yet succeeded in cracking the passage 'nut'. I tend to think of prose as pretty straightforward and can never find things to explain, because it seems evident. But when I really look for it there's all sorts of interesting things... for example structure and development and also juxtaposition and bifurcation and stuff like that. But like I said, I am not confident with passages. Sometimes I wish the exams would give us a good old traditional poem that has a ton of things to analyze, instead of these often obscure postmodernist things, which tend to push me towards the passage, which I'm not that good at. I guess it just means I have to practice though...

And finally the essay. This one depends mostly on how well you know the books. For my IB1 end-of-year English exam the only preparation I did was re-read the Great Gatsby (which is mercifully short!) and go from there. I hadn't really studied any quotes but one or two that I had used in my internal essay on the Great Gatsby came to mind, and they were really useful. But yeah for this I think you have to read the books at least twice, preferably three times, and preferably the last reading should be not too long before the actual exam.

Hope this has helped a little, and gl,

Edited by Daedalus

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another tip from me is that you should keep in mind always to relate the literary features you mention to the effect they create, e.g. aliiteration emphasizes the specific phrase, in order to ... a common mistake students do (including myself!) is that they tend to narrate rather than analyze. and when it comes to profound analysis, it's definitely OK to insist upon certain points if you think they are very signifant. justanotherone says it : you may find some things straightforward or evident, especially in proze. first of all, no problem, state the obvious. but there must be an extension to that, which you're asked to find. (:

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