Study literary devices and conventions of the genre - It goes without saying that to get anything about a 3/7, you need to have a sharp knowledge of literary devices. The IB rubrics state that you need to appreciate the “technique” choices of the author, which is referring directly to literary devices.
To annotate a poem/prose properly, or to compare texts effectively, you should be familiar with the following:
Sound Level: Alliteration, Onomatopoeia,
(HL Students: Sibilant sounds, Euphony, Plosive sounds, Cacophony)
Word/Phrase Level: Diction, Connotation, Oxymoron, Repetition, Homophone
Image Level: Imagery, Simile, Metaphor, Personification
(HL Students: Anthropomorphism)
Sentence Level: Litotes, Paradox, Ambiguity, Hyperbole, Irony
(HL Students: Allusion, Euphemism, Situational Irony, Verbal Irony)
Story Level: Extended Metaphor, Allegory, Anomaly, Motif, Theme
(HL Students: Anachronism, Archaism)
Also, you should be familiar with the conventions of the genre that you are studying. For instance, in poetry, there are additional poetic devices, such as enjambment and caesura, which are used exclusively in poetry. Studying Shakespeare, you might have to be familiar with Iambic Pentameter, as well as other dramatic devices (if studying a Shakespearean play). These will depend on what text your teacher chooses, so pay attention to these in class.
Find a niche in class - English Literature is all the more interesting for everyone involved if you can find your niche in class. There are so many literary theories and valid approaches to analysing literary works, but studying all of these by simply reading about them would be boring and dull. Also, finding your own niche allows you to become an expert at one area of English Literature to share in class, and to expertly present in your assignments.
For instance, being quite familiar with Biblical studies, my niche in class was identifying Biblical allusions and religious motifs, which were prevalent in almost all works we studied. The worldview presented in almost all of Shakespeare’s plays reflects a profoundly religious time, and the plays often portray deeply Biblical allusions and motifs. Plays like Waiting for Godot, or much of poetry allowed me to explore this niche in great depth. Most of my assignments used this to inform my analysis, as I attempted to analyse the effect of Biblical allusions and motifs. In fact, even my Extended Essay was about Biblical allusions and motifs in my chosen novel.
One of my more existentialist friends would often use his philosophical expertise to influence his own readings. I can remember often having disagreements about how to interpret certain images - but this was a way of learning from each other’s niches. Many friends were familiar with Greek/Roman mythology, and when these were mentioned in the text, they often used this familiarity to interpret their texts. As a result, we had a diverse body of different readings and interpretations of the same text.
Finding a niche will not only make class more vibrant, but strategically, will also ensure that you perform well in IB assessments, because it will ensure that you can show your expertise in a particular area - an area even the examiner may know very little about. Remember - many IB rubrics talk about a “personal” reading, which really means that you should give your unique interpretation of the text at hand.
Actually read the novels/plays - I know - how disappointing! - but trust me - it pays off. To do well without reading the texts, you’d probably have to do just as much reading on Sparknotes and LitCharts anyway - so just read the full text. At least that way, you’ll be far more confident, and give your own, more personal interpretation.
On that note, if you’re in MYP (or just about to enter DP), I’d recommend messaging someone you know in DP at your school, or the DP English Lit. teacher to ask them about what books/plays are used. (These are chosen by the Lit. teachers in each school, so I have no idea which texts you might have). Read these texts early on, so you don’t need to struggle through studying for other exams, whilst having to read hundreds of pages of novels or plays.
Our school started Paper 2 books quite close to exams, so I started a study group that read Paper 2 plays every other lunch time. If you really want to do well in English Lit (especially as a HL student), you really should read your novels and plays as early as you can, so you don’t rush and risk messing up other subjects.