English A Paper 1 Annotation (ACTS Method of Analysis)

People often ask us IB English teachers, “How do I know what I need to highlight in a Paper 1 text?” It’s not an easy question to answer because every text is different. However, it’s clear that in a 1 hour 15 minutes exam (SL) where you have to analyze an unseen text or 2 hours 15 minutes exam (HL) where 2 texts await you, time is not your friend.

Arguably, the most important aspect of any Paper 1 text is the author’s purpose. What is the author trying to tell the reader? What do they want you to think about during and after reading or viewing the text? What ideas are they trying to share with you? Have they written the text to persuade, inform or entertain (PIE)? Or is this text merely sharing an opinion or explanation? The former three purposes represent the three main surface-level types of author’s purpose (PIE) but you need to delve much deeper if you want a strong score. An advert obviously tries to persuade but to do what? More importantly, how does it persuade? Who does it try to persuade or who would such persuasive techniques more likely succeed to persuade? How do the form and meaning combine to persuade? Are there some readers who it would not manage to persuade?


Some of these questions can be answered easier than others – answers often leap out as you first read a text but other points remain elusive until after an exam and you start discussing it with your classmates. It’s easy to miss certain points within a text when you have no organized method of annotation. What you should annotate and write about is always different but always similar.

To analyze a text well, you need to comprehend it well. The following (Big 5) should be the minimum of the questions that you are trying to solve:

Audience and Purpose – Who wrote the text? Who was it written for? Why did the writer write it? 

Content and Theme – What is the text about? 

Tone and Mood – What is the writer’s tone? How does the text make the reader feel? 

Stylistic Devices / Structure – What stylistic devices does the writer use?  / What kind of text is it? What structural conventions are used?

Before the start of your IB English A Language & Literature Paper 1 exam, you are given 5 minutes to look at the texts. SL students should choose one text. HL (new curriculum) need to write two separate analyses. Firstly, go to the bottom of the text to see the text-type and author’s name – these give you hints about context before you start reading. There may also be contextual hints at the start. Next, use the time to skim both texts quickly (2 minutes). SL students, trust your gut instinct and just go with it. After skimming, read through the text slowly but don’t annotate yet. Get a feel for the author’s main idea(s) and how they try to fulfill that purpose. Then, use one of the methods of analysis (ACTS, SOAPSTONES, STATIC, etc.) and start highlighting sections like a lunatic! Use the margin to add notes – is it about stylistics or structure? Why has the author chosen it and what effect does it have on the writing? How do devices combine? What effect does the image (if there is one) have on the text and reader?

Generally, you need to show that you understand how the author fulfills their purpose but you also need to show an understanding of the importance of context and who the target audience is/are, as well as conveying that you know how all of the different parts interconnect. The ACTS model is often criticized by teachers for not being thorough enough but has also been utilized to produce level 7 responses. The truth is that teachers often have a very convoluted idea of what the IB is looking for in an English A Paper 1 answer. ACTS, STATIC or TEAPCALIM all serve the purpose of helping you quickly remember the main points to analyze. How you choose to structure an essay is much more complex.

Our advice is to always include a thesis statement at the end of the introduction. This should use the author’s purpose as the anchor point and include how the author attempts to fulfill their purpose, including the (intended) effect on the reader. Paragraphs obviously need to combine to fully answer your thesis statement but there must also be an organized flow. This shows the examiner that you understand how different features of the text combine to create meaning.

You might hear from some teachers that an analysis must have an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This is perfectly correct except that your analysis must have at least three body paragraphs. Teachers who prescribe to such stringent structures are either highly pessimistic of their students’ abilities to express themselves outwith a strict framework, have not read enough great examples of multiple body paragraph responses or have never read the rubric. It is possible to write eight (shorter) body paragraphs and score a 7. The important thing is that you take steps toward proving your thesis statement and that you follow a logical method. We recommend the PEEL (Point, Example, Elaborate and Link back to Point – which is in turn linked to the thesis statement) method for shorter paragraphs or using a topic sentence then PEEPEEL (or similar) for longer paragraphs.

In a future post, we will explore different ways to plan paragraphs.


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