Lectura: 6 minutos

English B. Challenges and tips for a better assessment

The IB adventure challenges yourself for a better education, where the focus is mainly on hearts and minds, with only one purpose: to meet the challenges of today’s world. Throughout this article, you will find information about the latest challenges, the least understood and researched doubts of the English B external and internal assessment.


Elena Grigorovici, IB Ambassador of English at IB Wave.

Table of Contents

Language B – Language acquisition main focus

Language B is an additional language acquisition course designed for students with some previous learning of that language. This may be studied at either SL or HL.

The main focus of this course is on language acquisition and development of language skills through the study and use of a range of written and spoken material.

Such material will extend from everyday oral exchanges to literary texts and will be related to the culture concerned.

SL and HL are differentiated by the recommended number of teaching hours, the depth of syllabus coverage, the study of literature at HL, and the level of difficulty and demands of assessment and assessment criteria.

Language B - Themes

There are five prescribed themes which are common to the syllabuses of language B which provide not only relevant contexts for study at all levels of language acquisition in the DP but also opportunities for students to communicate about matters of personal, local or national, and global interest.

The five prescribed themes for both the standard and higher level IB courses are: 

  • Identities – the nature of the self and what it is to be human.
  • Experiences – the stories of the events, experiences and journeys that shape our lives.
  • Human ingenuity – the ways in which human creativity and innovation affect our world.
  • Social organisation – the ways in which groups of people organise themselves, or are organised, through common systems or interests.
  • Sharing the planet – the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals and communities in the modern world. 


The themes allow students to compare the target language and culture(s) to other languages and cultures with which they are familiar.

The themes also provide opportunities for students to make connections to other disciplinary areas in the DP.

In addition, the study of two literary works originally written in the target language is a requirement at HL in language B.

HL students are expected to understand fundamental elements of the literary works studied, such as themes, plot and characters.

In the Internal Assessment, Part 3, the teacher asks general questions about the student’s interests, which can focus on one of the Themes mentioned above.

Language B - Language acquisition: New perspectives

According to the latest DP subject updates, the proposal for the nearest future is the IB DP language acquisition pilot study which aims to improve the oral proficiency by using computer-adaptive assessment and formative feedback.

It is meant to be a small-scale pilot study which is currently recruiting schools which offer French B SL, Spanish B SL and Mandarin B SL.

It is mainly focused on teacher’s feedback tools and strategies which are meant to assist in providing feedback after student oral/interactive activities.

On the other hand, students will receive post-activity reflective engagements.

English B- Higher Level: Tips for a better assessment

The externally assessed material requires students to show their productive skills through a written task as well listening and reading comprehension tasks that are all based on the five themes above. 

The Internal Assessment is assessed through an oral recording where students will need to engage in a conversation with the teacher.

SL students will discuss an unseen visual stimulus but HL students will need to discuss an extract from one of the literary works they have studied in class.

We are still following the subject guide launched in 2020

Paper 1: Productive skills 25% (externally assessed)

For the writing exam (which takes an hour and thirty minutes) students are meant to write one writing exercise of 450-600 words from a choice of three each from a different theme and text type choice.

At HL, the nature of the tasks is more demanding than at SL, and the responses require both the use of more complex language and structures as well as more fully developed analysis, evaluation, synthesis and interpretation skills.

This difference between SL and HL is also reflected in the assessment criteria which, at HL, take as their starting point the middle bands of the SL criteria and proceed upward from there. 

Paper 2 Receptive skills 50% (externally assessed)

This part is called Paper 2 but is actually viewed as two separate papers, Listening and Reading.

The listening section is an hour and is part of the two-hour Exam Paper 2.

Listening is worth 25% of the overall IB grade. (Reading is also 25% of the overall grade.)

Three audio texts will be played featuring any of the five IB themes

The audio may be taken from media texts (films, radio and television programs); oral texts (presentations, debates, interviews, speeches, recorded conversations); video-sharing websites.

There will be used a variety of different accents. During the audio, you will realize the level will increase in difficulty, speed and length.

  • Audio A, the first audio, will be up to 2 minutes in length.
  • Audio B will be up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • Audio C will be up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Listening comprehension: Tips before and during the exam

Before each audio, there is a reading period of four minutes. You need to know that you cannot write anything during this time (i.e., you cannot take notes or any other thing).

You need to read each question carefully and try to use context clues to figure out what each question means, and try to anticipate synonymous expressions.

Each audio will be played twice, followed each time by a two-minute pause which will allow you to answer the question.

While listening to the audio for the first time, write down verbatim as much as you can of what's being said so you can have information for fill-in-the-blank questions.

Also, mark answers you think you know—but be sure to listen carefully up through the end of the audio.

During two-minute pause afterward, use your notes to fill in answers. Also, if needed and if you have time, you may want to translate some of the harder questions into English.

While listening to the audio for the second time, again write down verbatim as much additional information as you can. Also try to fill in answers you were unable to get the first time—and check for correctness the answers you already filled in.

During the second two-minute pause, answer the rest of the questions even if you have to guess.

It is important not to leave any question in blank as IB does not penalize you for incorrect answers.

The types of questions on the listening section will be:

  • short answer/ open-ended questions
  • multiple choice
  • identify true statements
    match statements with their sources
  • gap-filling exercises (in this part, you should not use more than the words specificed for each gap, usually 3 words).

Although listening comprehension had long been assessed as an interactive skill during the individual oral assessment, it was not being assessed as a purely receptive skill.

It was determined very early in the curriculum review cycle that the lack of assessment of this skill was not providing a complete picture of the abilities of the language acquisition students. 

The addition of a discrete listening comprehension assessment section highlights not only the importance of proficiency in this skill for everyday communicative situations but also the importance of exposing learners to the wide variety that exists in oral texts.

When candidates are explicitly required to copy the answer verbatim from the texts but they eventually add a word to the target answer, they will not be awarded the mark. This applies even when the candidate’s response suggests comprehension.

Examiners will ignore underlining and brackets. Sometimes candidates use this ploy when they are unsure which part of the sentence is the answer.The same applies to additions in brackets that are not clearly crossed out.

Spelling and grammatical errors are ignored as well when marking unless they change the meaning or are specifically given under ‘do not accept’ in the markscheme

In the case of the ellipses, if a candidate uses ellipses (…) in an answer, the mark will not be awarded unless the beginning of the answer and the end are correct.

Ellipses at the beginning or the end of an answer are ignored as this is just the candidate’s way of imitating the way the example is given in the question paper.

Individual oral assessment (IA) : 25% (internally assessed, externally moderated by IB)

The IA (Internal Assessment) takes between twelve to fifteen minutes, it focuses on a conversation with the teacher, based on an extract from one of the literary works studied in class, followed by discussion based on one or more of the themes from the IB syllabus.

It should be taken into account that Criterion A applies to all parts.

Criterion B1 applies to the presentation only.

Criterion B2 and Criterion C apply to both Part 2 follow-up discussion, and Part 3 general discussion.

IA-Possible penalties

There are no set penalties for an oral exam that lasts less than the minimum length of time and the examiner should apply the criteria in the normal way.

The impact of a short oral exam on the final marks awarded depends on how short it is, and the range of language, quality of the ideas and level of interaction the student demonstrates in that time. 

If an oral is notably shorter than the minimum length of time, (e.g. 10 mins for B HL), it’s unlikely that the student will have answered the teacher’s questions in sufficient breadth and depth (criterion B2), nor demonstrate the ability to sustain their participation in the conversation (criterion C) to achieve maximum marks.

However, examiners should not look to automatically mark shorter oral exams lower than longer ones.

IA -Timing during the exam

The timings given for each part of the IA are approximate. Once the maximum 15 minutes has elapsed, examiners should allow the student to complete their sentence then stop listening, and the assessment must be based on what the student has said up to that point.

If the presentation is unduly long, and the amount of time given to discussion is limited, then it may result in lower marks for Criterion B2 and C.

IA- Pauses, rephrasing and repetition

Pauses, rephrasing and repetition are all a natural part of speaking, so students will not be marked down automatically in such cases.

Instead, IB examiners should take a holistic view as to whether these characteristics affect communication, or reflect a lack in command of language, and apply the criteria accordingly.

IA- Generic aspects

If the student gives a presentation on the whole literary text, rather than the extract, it is important to know that it is fine for students to give a brief introduction to the work as a whole to give context to the extract they are presenting on, the presentation must focus specifically to the content of the extract.

Presentations on generic aspects of a literary work, or those in the style of a “book review” that do not directly focus on the content of the extract is not the object of this assessment.

In such presentations, the response may score a maximum of 2 in Criterion B1, if the observations and opinions presented are effectively developed and supported by reference to the work (if not the extract).

If observations and opinions are not well developed or supported, a lower mark should be considered including the award of a 0, if the response does not meet the descriptors in the 1-2 mark band.



There is no doubt the information and the tips presented above will give you a better view of the English B HL requirements, and will encourage you to adopt the best strategy to improve your performance and IB results.

If you want to find out more IB tips, stay tuned for our blog updates.

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