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IB makes literary analysis with commentaries

November 9, 2022

A big part of Central’s curriculum is teaching literary analysis from the beginning of freshman
year. Occasionally, students sit down to write an analytical essay, called themes, in about 45
minutes. One of my first assignments in my English class was to buy a Style Book and Theme
paper from the school store in order to write these essays. While timed writing has been useful as
I went into my junior year and my first year in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program,
the rest of the specifics regarding themes are not used at all.
In IB, instead of themes, students write commentaries. These essays are also timed in order to
help prepare students for the exams at the end of their senior year. But commentaries are much
easier for several reasons.
The main reason is the flexibility these essays have. Instead of the Point, Illustration,
Explanation (PIE) format used in themes, commentaries do not have a specific format. Instead,
the way the essay is structured is up to the writer. The writer may choose to continue using the
PIE structure, but they also have the option not to do so. The process of preparing for a
commentary is much easier, too. Outlines for commentaries do not need a specific format, unlike
those for themes, and there is no need for a Quotes Page. The student has the literary work they
are analyzing with them while writing. Since commentaries are only written about an extract of
the work, usually about a page or two, all the writer needs is the page numbers for the extract.
Additionally, themes are written about an entire literary work, while as stated previously, commentaries are only about an extract. IB emphasizes how one must avoid talking about information outside of the extract. While this may seem difficult at first, it solves a major issue I have personally encountered when writing themes. I would get downgraded for the amount of context I would imbue in my writing. I found it more difficult to find the right amount of context to include. My English teacher freshman year would tell us that we needed to write as if the reader did not know anything about the work we were discussing, but summarizing the work was not the point of the essay either. By only focusing on a page or two of a literary work, summaries do not take as long. Having the extract be all the context needed takes away the feeling of providing it directly in the essay. IB has a reputation of being the elite of academic levels, and that may seem intimidating to most students. But themes are much more difficult to write and get a good grade on compared to commentaries. The latter focuses more the analytical content being written while the former focuses on having the right format. Because of this, I prefer writing commentaries instead of themes

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