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External Assessment: Higher Level ESSAY
Weighting - 20% .
HL External Assessments, first examination 2021, SL does NOT do this essay, only HL.
Students submit an essay on one non-literary text or a collection of non-literary texts by the same author, or a literary text or work studied during the course. The essay must be 1,200 - 1,500 words in length. (20 marks) 20%
The HL essay offers students an opportunity to develop as independent, critical and creative readers, thinkers and writers by exploring a literary or language topic over an extended period of time, refining their ideas by means of a process of planning, drafting and re-drafting. The essay requires students to construct a focused, analytical argument examining the work from a broad literary or linguistic perspective. It also requires them to adhere to the formal framework of an academic essay, using citations and references.
HL Essay Explained
Producing the HL Essay: IB External Assessment (April-May Junior Year)
Outlining your ideas.
HL Essay Outline, Traditional
HL Essay Graphic Organizer
MLA Formatted Graphic Organizer
Seeing Exemplars by Score
HL Exemplars by Score (Meridian Students Only Have Access)
Self or Peer Review of HL Essay
Research: Find a couple of articles in addition to your primary texts to help you support your analysis.
Ms. Van Winkle offered some helpful tips on researching for your HL essay.
Researching about Film: Check out these sources
JSTOR (currently offering 100 free articles per month to all students)
Online Film Critics Society (film & television reviews/criticism)
Learn more about literary theory and criticism at Purdue OWL
Google Scholar (proceed with care - you will find wonderful articles, but the paywalls will break your heart; Ms. V an Winkle may be able to find articles though, so check with her )
Important! When conducting research from off-campus, you’ll need passwords for our subscriptions. Find login information here.
Using these database supports will:
Reduce useless search results
Get you to better information, faster
Hone your scholarly sleuthing skills
Need a refresher on search techniques like Boolean operators, truncation/wildcards, etc.? Watch research tutorial videos here.
UT Austin has an interactive tool to help you generate search terms.
Did you know that Gale databases allow you to:
Highlight and annotate the text of an article
Export the full text of the article to Google Drive - OR export just your notes and highlights
Any articles you send to your Google Drive during the same browser session will automatically go into a single folder - keep all your research together without even thinking about it!
Higher Level Essay
Whether you are an HL Literature student or HL Lang/Lit student, the HLE requires some special attention. The good thing about this assessment is that it’s a processed – rather than on-demand – piece of writing. This means you can take your time, put in the work, and produce something that you love and makes you proud. Our students crush this assessment! Use the same resources they do and enjoy your success.
HLE Writing Guide
Writing this assessment doesn’t have to be challenging. In fact, we think it can be fun and rewarding! Let us guide you through the entire writing process, from line of inquiry to the last word of your conclusion. Our students do well on this assessment, and so can you.
Part of our IBDP English A Student Toolkit , this resource includes:
- 100-page course book with guidance on films, photos, cartoons, and many other non-literary BOWs
- 5 sample papers across genres
- Examiner scores and comments
- Line of Inquiry guidance
- Step-by-step approach to building the HLE in small and manageable chunks
- Complete set of graphic organizers to guide students from start to finish
Developing a Line of Inquiry and Thesis
The Line of Inquiry (LOI) and thesis are the cornerstone of the assessment, so don’t proceed until these are under control. Sadly, many students get off to a poor start with this step, and this means they end up writing either a shallow essay or one that doesn’t really satisfy the requirements of the task. These videos should help you unlock the task.
Start with a text you love and work toward developing a literary or linguistic perspective. Watch this video and start your pathway to success.
How To Write the Line of Inquiry
If the first method didn't work for you, please try another approach.
How to Write the Line of Inquiry (part 2)
Turn that LoI into a clear, precise, and insightful thesis statement that will drive the essay.
HLE Sample Thesis Statements and Writing
The HLE Complete Course from Start to Finish
We feel this is some of our best work. Teachers and students around the world have commented that this HLE series gets the job done and results in some powerful writing that makes students proud. Please take the time and work through the videos sequentially. Work along side with us. Let us guide you to HLE success!
Choose your text and write the LOI.
Student planning doc
Model Student planning doc
Time for brainstorming and outlining.
Completed Sample Organizer
Master the intro and conclusion.
Sample Intro and Conclusion
Learn how to write strong HLE body paragraphs.
Sample Body Paragraphs
Learn to revise, edit, and polish the final product.
Final instructions before submission
Dave’s complete sample HLE
Some Sample Papers
Sometimes it’s easier to just look at a final product, break it down, and see how other students have approached the HLE. That’s why Dave and Andrew selected some strong papers, highlighted them, and discussed their strengths and weaknesses. We’ve examined tons of these things, so listen carefully. Lots of tips and tricks in these videos to help you pick up some extra points and crack into that mark band you want and deserve. Understand the task. Work hard. Defeat the HLE and allow yourself to beam with pride. Go ahead, you’ve earned it.
You’ve probably noticed that Andrew and Dave love drama. Dialogue, stage directions, props…they’re amazing! Watch our student crush this HLE on Death and the Maiden by Dorfman. What can you steal from this essay in terms of ideas, organization, and overall approach? Document: HLE Student Sample – Drama
Poetry anyone? Andrew and Dave love poetry for the HLE. They are complete “mini works” with a clear beginning, middle, and end. They are rich in techniques. They are complex and have deep meaning. In short, they rock. Just remember that for the HLE, “short texts need friends.” Document: HLE Student Sample – Poetry
Looking For More Support?
Hey, nobody said this thing would be easy. No worries. We’ve got you covered. Perhaps you want to see some more student writing? Check. We’ve got that. Perhaps you want to know some key points to include? Check. We got that too. You’re almost there! Finish these last two videos, add some finishing touches to your work, and submit that baby in with pride and confidence.
So you watched the videos above but are still concerned about “showing deep thinking” on the HLE? It’s ok – we know this is tough. Check out this video to see several samples of how to build big thinking into your writing. Document: Showing Deep Thinking in the HLE
We know, we know. The content is overwhelming and it’s just too much at times. You just want the top ten tips for success? Fine. Here you go. But don’t forget to go back and watch the rest of these videos when you’re feeling more energy. They’re a set. Watch them all and ace the HLE.
IB English Guys
HL essay – the process
Check the Subject Guide and with your teacher for official information about the HL essay.
There are a number of different ways to develop an HL essay. Consider the following outline; it isn’t 100% comprehensive but it covers the key elements.
Preparing for the HL essay
- Carefully read through the HL essay requirements and criteria.
- Analyze HL essay samples. Make sure you understand how a particular HL essay sample addresses the requirements and criteria.
- Work very hard on your schoolwork and school assessments. Although you may not realize it early on, these are designed to build the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful on your HL essay.
- You will probably start working on your individual oral before your HL essay. The bodies of work and works you use on your individual oral CANNOT be used on your HL essay.
- As you work through bodies of work and works in your class, put a list together of ones you are considering using for your HL essay. Keep adding notes / details about the works and bodies of works on your list as you go through the course.
- Consider a few different topics (e.g. one of the course’s concepts) for your HL essay. Keep adding notes / details about the topics on your list as you go through the course.
- Once you narrow down your list of possible bodies of work and work for your HL essay, go through them and annotate them specifically for the HL essay. Your HL essay will need evidence to support your arguments – start collecting it early on.
Creating your HL essay
- Evaluate your different options, consult with your teacher and then choose a final work OR body of work that will be the focus of your HL essay. Remember that the work or body of work that you choose cannot be used for another IB assessment.
- If you are considering using a short literary text (e.g. a short story) for the HL essay check the requirements on page 43 of the Subject Guide.
- Evaluate your different options, consult with your teacher and then choose a final topic for your HL essay. The Subject Guide states that the topic you choose, “should enable a broad literary or linguistic focus for the essay. In achieving this, the course’s seven central concepts may be a helpful starting point for students in generating or determining a topic for the essay” (43).
- Create an outline of your essay. The basic outline can start with a clear thesis statement and topic sentences.
- Early in the development process make sure your ideas / arguments / evidence meet the requirements and criteria for the HL essay.
- Periodically re-read review sample HL essays.
- As you put together your first draft, make absolutely sure that all of your sources are cited properly. If you wait too long to do this properly you will drastically increase the chances of making a mistake.
- You must put together the best possible first draft. Better first draft = better feedback from your teacher.
- Your teacher will give you feedback on your first draft but the feedback is somewhat limited. Page 44 of the Subject Guide provides additional information.
- As you get closer to finishing the final draft, double check that your HL essay follows all of the IB requirements and addresses the terms in the criteria.
- Before submitting your final essay make absolutely sure that all of your sources are cited properly.
- Submit your final draft to your teacher / IB according to the instructions you have been given. Each school has a slightly different process.
IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) Explained
- Last updated on June 29, 2022
LitLearn Voted #1 IB English Resource for 2022
In this guide, LitLearn students (and 2022 IB grads!) Lareina Shen and Saesha Grover share their wisdom on how to conquer the IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE). Lareina achieved an incredible IB44, and Saesha achieved the coveted IB7 in her IB English Literature HL, so you are in safe hands.
Here are the burning questions we’ll answer in the HLE Explained guide:
What is IB English HLE?
How do i choose my text for hle, how do i choose my line of inquiry for hle, how do i ensure my hle question has a good scope.
- The story of how I found my HLE question…
- The importance of analysis in getting a 7 in IB English HLE
- You need to understand the marking rubric!
The HLE will make up 25% of your final IB English HL grade , and it is graded externally. You must choose your own line of inquiry (i.e. a question that you will answer in your HLE–more on this later).
The HL Essay (HLE) is a 1200-1500 word essay about a text studied in the IB English course. For Lang Lit, the work you choose to analyze can be literary or non-literary, but for IB English Literature the text must be literary.
Do NOT choose the “easiest” text. Life is always better when you do things you’re interested in, and that advice applies to the HLE, too. Choose the literary / non-literary work that interests you the most, so that you can (semi?)-enjoy the HLE planning and writing process.
You could start by thinking of a theme that you find particularly interesting and determining which text studied in class demonstrates this theme well.
The line of inquiry is the core question that you will answer in your essay. A quick example might be:
To what extent is masculinity undermined by the characterisation of Little Thomas?
Now, it’s your job to forge your destiny and come up with your own line of inquiry. But it’s not a complete free-for all! There are rules. The main rule is that your line of inquiry must fall under one of the 7 main concepts of IB English (see below for a quick summary).
This summary is vague, so let’s go in-depth on a couple of these concepts to really show you what you should be doing in the HLE.
Deep Dive: Identity
Identity is what makes you, YOU. Here are some questions the concern your own personal identity:
- What is your favourite colour? And why is it your favourite?
- What makes you different from others? Why do you think these qualities came to be?
- How would someone describe you in three words?
Now apply this same logic to characters within your text.
- How would you describe this character in three words?
- How do their actions within a text influence your view of their identity?
- How has the author crafted this character to make you view the character in a certain way?
Let’s take a look at a concrete example of how we might choose evidence and quotes for a HLE on cultural identity. This example is based on a Vietnamese work in translation “Ru” by author Kim Thúy. For context, “Ru” is an autobiographical fictional account which explores Kim Thúy’s move from Vietnam to Canada as an immigrant and her consequent struggles. The structure of her novel is largely lyrical and poetic.
Let’s look at a section from her novel that may help us come up with an essay idea based on the concept of Identity. When she returns to Vietnam, she attends a restaurant, however this becomes a major awakening for her in terms of how she views her own personal identity. Kim narrates within her novel:
The first time I carried a briefcase, the first time I went to a restaurant school for young adults in Hanoi, wearing heels and a straight skirt, the waiter for my table didn’t understand why I was speaking Vietnamese with him. Page 77, Rú
This is a perfect quote for the Identity concept. Can you see why? Let’s think through it together…
Why would the waiter be confused if Kim, a “briefcase”-carrying individual in “heels” and a “straight skirt”, was speaking Vietnamese with him?
What does being “Vietnamese” look like to the waiter? Why does Kim not conform to his expectation? Was it perhaps due to what she was wearing?
Now, if we look at the section which follows this in the novel, we are able to see the impact this had on the character of Kim’s sense of identity.
the young waiter reminded me that I couldn’t have everything, that I no longer had the right to declare I was Vietnamese because I no longer had their fragility, their uncertainty, their fears. And he was right to remind me. Page 77, Rú
Here, we can clearly see that this character is now questioning her Vietnamese cultural identity. This is just one example that demonstrates the concept of Identity.
Deep Dive: Culture
Culture seems to be this confusing thing. Does it have to do with religion? Race? Beliefs? What does it mean? Does the monster from Frankenstein fit into a certain culture?
The easiest way to put it is this: Culture is the way someone lives. It is their “way of life.” Think of it as an umbrella term. “Culture” can include so many different things; the list just goes on, for example religion, values, customs, beliefs, cuisine, etc.
Now think, how would I form an essay from this concept?
- When you read a text in class, you will notice that authors let you form an opinion on the culture of certain characters or groups within a text, but how is this done?
- How does the author represent the culture of a certain community?
- What types of patterns in daily routines are discussed?
Deep Dive: Creativity
It seems odd writing an essay about “creativity” because… like… how can anyone definitively say what ‘counts’ as being creative–or not? When I say the word creativity , I think of new inventions, or maybe those weird and wacky art installations living inside those ‘modern art’ museums. But hey, what’s creative to me might not be creative to you!
When formulating a HLE on the concept of creativity we have two main pointers for you. Look for:
- Interesting + Unique techniques or literary devices used within a text by the author. You can learn more in the Analysis Simplified course.
- Recurring stylistic choices by the author
Now, for this concept, let’s look at how we might select supportive evidence and quotations for a HLE on creativity within the narrative style of author Mary Shelley in “Frankenstein”. The narrative style uses epistolary narration . This is a narrative technique in which a story is told through letters. This was something that I found both interesting and recurring within Frankenstein, which I believe worked to create a personal touch within the novel.
Additionally, Mary Shelley allows different characters to narrate Frankenstein during different volumes. Let’s investigate this! I have written out different character profiles of the narrators below:
These 3 characters, each relate a part of the novel Frankenstein. This is an example of a creative authorial choice that allows us, as readers to explore different points of view within the text. This is just one example of a creative aspect of a text which you can analyze for your HLE.
Deep Dive: Representation
Representation is all about how something is portrayed, conveyed, shown, described, illustrated, depicted . There are many different things that can be ‘represented’ within a text, and it doesn’t have to be tangible.
For instance, you can look at how a belief, idea or attitude is depicted within a text through different characters or devices.
Again, let’s explore a concrete example to make things clear: this time the graphic novel “Persepolis”. We’ll consider an HLE on how a text represents the impact of political turmoil on society .
Chapter 10 of “Persepolis” highlights societal changes occurring due to the Iranian Revolution. The panels below list the authorial choices relevant to the negative representation of political change in a society. When looking at the techniques highlighted in the slides below, think about how you feel when you look at the panels below. Can you sense a more positive or negative feeling?
Cool, but what do we do to turn all this into an actual HL essay? Here is a sample response. The introduction might begin like this:
In the captivating graphic novel “Persepolis,” the author Marjane Satrapi explores the social and political impacts of the Iranian revolution. In particular, Satrapi conveys a disapproving viewpoint on political turmoil within the text. Throughout the graphic novel, Satrapi carefully represents how social isolation, hypocrisy and confusion is experienced by a young girl living in Tehran, as a result of political turmoil. Example HLE Introduction
Then, in a body paragraph, on one of the key ideas mentioned above, we could analyze the different literary techniques. For example, Panel 1 is a great representation of the experience of confusion in the midst of political turmoil:
Marji is the younger girl pictured in the panels above. While her parents appear quite concerned by the news on the TV, she appears to not be in full comprehension of the cause for their distress. This is demonstrated by the visual imagery and dialogue, in panel 7, for instance, if you observe the facial expressions by each of the characters. Example of analysis in body paragraph
This is just a short example from one particular text. To help you unpack any text, try look for the following when analyzing chapter to chapter:
- What is the main idea of the chapter?
- Why did the author write it? What purpose does it serve?
- What do you believe is the overarching importance of the passage?
Overall Brainstorming Tips
If you’re having trouble picking your text and line of inquiry, then use this simple 20-minute process to brainstorm potential questions for your HLE:
- For each text / non-literary work, go through each concept in the table below.
- Write down a question for each of the two prompts for each category.
- Repeat for all of your texts.
- Pick the question-text combination that has the greatest potential for strong analysis.
Choosing a question with good scope is extremely important, and it’s one of the biggest challenges in the HLE. Here’s why:
- If your scope is too broad , you may have too much to write about in order to answer the question, and therefore you won’t be able to write deep analysis (which is super important–more on this later…)
- If your scope is too narrow , you may not have enough to write about and end up overanalyzing unnecessary and obscure details. Also something to avoid!
So, to help you get the balance just right , here are three examples of HLE questions, specifically for the concept of Identity which we mentioned in the table above (by the way, the example is a made-up novel for illustration purposes).
- Too broad: “How does Irene Majov in her novel Deadly Men effectively make her narrator a powerful mouthpiece?”
- Too narrow: “How does Irene Majov in her novel Deadly Men effectively make her narrator a powerful mouthpiece for the concerns of Asian-Americans toward discrimination in the workforce in the 21st century?”
- Just right: “How does Irene Majov in her novel Deadly Men effectively make her narrator a powerful mouthpiece for the concerns of Asian-Americans in the 21st century?”
How to get a 7 on IB English HLE
There are many things that contribute to a 7 in your HLE and your IB English grade overall. But if we had to boil it down to one secret, one essential fact… then it’d have to be this: Get really good at analysis .
Analysis is the key to a 7 in IB English. It doesn’t matter if it’s Paper 1, Paper 2, HLE, IO… You must learn how to analyze quotes at a deep level, and structure your analysis in a way that flows and delights your teachers and examiners.
The first step of writing 7-level analysis is to choose the right quotes . Use the following rules of thumb when selecting quotes for your IB English Higher Level Essay:
- Quotes should contain strong literary or visual techniques .
- Quotes should relate to the thesis and question of your HLE.
- Smoothly integrate your quotes into your analysis.
You can start learning these skills for free inside Analysis Simplified , the simplest guide to a 7 in IB English.
Also, you’ll need to find good quotes for your text. Some good sources where you can find relevant quotes include Goodreads , SparkNotes , LitCharts , and Cliffnotes . Of course, you could just find quotes yourself directly–this will ensure your quotes are unique.
How do I write good analysis?
Explaining the ins-and-outs of writing amazing analysis is a bit too intense for this HLE guide. You can start learning all of this in Analysis Simplified –LitLearn’s flagship course that teaches you step-by-step how to write 7-level analysis in IB English, with short practice questions and real feedback on how you can improve your analysis responses.
Analysis Simplified helped Saesha improve immediately from a 6 to a 7 in IB English HL Literature. Check out her review.
Lareina joined Analysis Simplified in 2022 to sharpen her Paper 1 analysis. She loved the experience.
Understanding the IB English HLE rubric
An essential step to getting a high mark on the HL Essay is understanding the rubric! It is SO important that you know what IB English examiners are looking for when grading your essay, as this helps you to shape the content of your essay to match (or even exceed) their expectations.
The IB English HL Essay is graded out of 20 marks . There are 4 criteria, each worth 5 marks.
Use the checklist below to make sure you’re not making simple mistakes! Note that this is not the official marking criteria, and I strongly recommend that you reading the official rubric provided by your teacher.
Criterion A: Knowledge, understanding, and interpretation
- Accurate summary of text in introduction
- Focused and informative thesis statement
- Effective and relevant quotes
- Relevant and effective summary and ending statement in conclusion
Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation
- Relevant analysis of a variety of stylistic features
- Relevant analysis of tone and/or atmosphere
- Relevant analysis of broader authorial choices i.e. characterization, point of view, syntax, irony, etc.
Criterion C: Focus, organization, and development
- Introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion
- Organized body paragraphs – topic sentence, evidence, concluding statement/link to question
- Appropriate progression of ideas and arguments in which evidence (i.e. quotes) are effectively implemented
Criterion D: Language
- Use expansions (e.g. “do not”) instead of contractions (e.g. “don’t”)
- Use of a variety of connecting phrases e.g. “furthermore”, “nonetheless”, “however”, etc.
- Complete sentence structures and subject-verb agreement
- Correct usage of punctuation
- Appropriate register – no slang
- Historic present tense : the use of present tense when recounting past events. For example, we want to write “In The Hunger Games , Peeta and Katniss work together to win as a district” instead of using the word “worked”.
- Avoid flowery/dictionary language just to sound smart; it is distracting and difficult to read. As long as you concisely communicate your message using appropriate language, you will score a high mark under this criterion.
Here’s everything we discussed:
- IB English HLE tough work! Start early.
- Brainstorm using the table of concepts to come up with a strong HLE question. Don’t give up on this!
- Analysis is the key to a 7 in IB English HLE (and in fact ALL IB English assessment). Check out Analysis Simplified for immediate help on the exact steps to improve in IB English analysis.
Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor 💪
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