Individual Oral (IO) Recommendations for IB students

By Brad Philpot, Philpot Education, Frankfurt, Germany


May 2022 was a unique exam session for students taking their International Baccalaureate Diploma, and it produced some unique insights into learning, teaching and examining. Due to Covid accommodations, all individual oral exams – a component usually marked internally by teachers – were marked externally by examiners. After uploading recordings and submitting my marks and comments, I waited, like all teachers, eagerly for the results. When they came out in July, they were… interesting.


For those who are not familiar with the nature of the task, the instructions ask students to examine, in a 10-minute presentation and 5-minute discussion, how a global issue of choice is presented through a literary work, a non-literary body of work, and extracts from each of these. I cannot help but hear the Mission Impossible theme song when explaining the individual oral (IO) to my students. There are a lot of moving parts. In fact, there are five: 1) an extract from a literary work; 2) the rest of the literary work; 3) an extract from a non-literary body of work (BOW); 4) the rest of the non-literary body of work; and 5) the global issue that runs through all four elements. Despite all these moving parts, my students and I find this form of assessment the most fun because the task asks you to curate texts and make connections, like creating a murder wall with string and tacks. Good performances are exciting to listen to!


With so many moving parts, it’s not strange that the IB awarded high grades to IOs that sounded like well-oiled machines. Students who memorised a script did well. Students who clearly announced their organisational plan did well. Students who used IB-speak, such as ‘global issue’, ‘BOW’ and ‘extract’, did well.


But what about students who got all the parts mixed up? What if they failed to explore the non-literary body of work, define their global issue, or submit a proper extract? Examiners saw and heard a range of ’non-standard’ practices: extracts based on music scores, outlines submitted instead of extracts, screenshots of movies without captions, 7-minute performances and teacher interruptions, just to name a few.


I had two students deliver similar, mediocre performances. Both did not reference the rest of the non-literary body of work at all, which is a common pitfall. One received a 6 and the other a 2 (on a scale of 1 to 7). In my opinion, they should have both earned a 4. But what does this erratic marking tell us? Stick to a script!


The official IB line claims there is no formula to performing well on the IO. Results prove otherwise. Here is a link to two organisational methods that have proved successful for students. When using scaffolds like this, students are not going to get a 2. Do these methods guarantee a 7? Of course not. But they do enable students to get 7s.


What’s more, students should hear what a level 7 performances sounds like. Here are two orals that scored a 7: The first one is insightful, articulate, and analytical. She’s the student we all dream of having in our class. But be careful. To weaker students, her performance may make a 7 sound unattainable. The second performance is methodical, rehearsed and calculated. He shows how a 7 is attainable, even for the average student.


Do scripts and methods kill creativity? They can, but they do not have to. Scripts and methods are like training wheels on a bike. No one has won the Tour-de-France with training wheels, but we all learned to bike with a little help.


I hope these insights help you to help your students. If you like the links to the free resources, use the following code ICTE to get a discount on my Support Site for English A: Language and Literature: Add this code to your basket as you check out for a 20% discount.

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Fall 2022 IB Workshop Discount for ICTE Members

Brad Philpot is running two online workshops this fall for which he would like to offer ICTE members with a 20% discount. Use the code ICTE.

(ICTE is the same code to receive a 20% discount on English A: Language and Literature Support Site. You will find more information on this discount opportunity at the end of Brad’s story above)

The workshops will consist of four live, interactive sessions x 1.5 hours with Brad Philpot. Participants can choose to attend real time or watch the recordings afterwards. Find out more via the links below.

New to teaching English A: Language and Literature on 22-23-29-30 September 2022 (4 sessions x 1.5h)

Teaching English A: ATLs and Portfolios (for experienced teachers) on 10-11-17-18 November 2022 (4 sessions x 1.5h)



Brad Philpot has a passion for language, learning and creativity. He is the author of English A: Language and Literature and English B for the IB Diploma with Cambridge University Press. He is the Director of Philpot Education, a provider of resources and workshops for the International Baccalaureate. He has held various roles in international education such as teacher, diploma coordinator, textbook author, examiner, consultant, workshop leader and authorisation visitor. Since 2008, he has organised professional-development events for over 5,000 educators worldwide. He has personally trained over 3,000 teachers. He has an MA in Education and an MA in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Amsterdam. Brad has lived and worked in the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. He currently teaches at Frankfurt International School. .



Editor's note: This story was featured in our 2022 ICTE fall newsletter..Click here to see the entire issue.