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Hle assessment criteria, criterion a: knowledge, understanding and interpretation.

  • To what extent does the essay show knowledge and understanding of the work or body of work?
  • To what extent are interpretations drawn from the work or body of work to explore the topic?
  • To what extent are interpretations supported by relevant references to the work or body of work?

Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation

  • To what extent does the essay show analysis and evaluation of how the author uses stylistic and structural features to construct meaning on the topic?

Criterion C: Coherence, focus and organisation

  • To what extent does the essay show coherence, focus and organisation?

Criterion D: Language

  • To what extent is the student’s use of vocabulary, tone, syntax, style and terminology accurate, varied and effective?

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IB English A Language and Literature: HL Essay Assessment Considerations

Please note:  The purpose of this information is to elaborate on the nature of the IB assessment task, define and explain the assessment criteria and their implications, share observed challenges in students’ submitted assessment work, and offer strategies and approaches for assessment preparation. 

This post is not meant to replace a reading of the IB Language A Subject Guides or the Teacher Support Materials available on MYIB.  Those resources should always be a first stop for teachers when checking the requirements of each assessment task and how the task should be facilitated. 

HL Essay Overview

Nature of the task.

  • Students are asked to develop a line of inquiry of their choice in connection with a work or body of work studied in the course.
  • In this context, teachers serve as advisors.  The HL essay is an opportunity for students “to develop as independent, critical and creative readers, thinkers and writers” [1] which suggests there should be some degree of autonomy in choosing a work or body of work and determining the line of inquiry.
  • The final essay is a focused argument critically examining a broad literary or linguistic perspective in one of the works or bodies of work studied in the course.  The focus of the critical examination should be appropriate for the discipline; while there may be some overlap with other disciplines (e.g., art or film), teachers will need to use their professional judgement to evaluate appropriate boundaries for the line of inquiry [2] .
  • The essay should be developed “over an extended period of time” [3] .  Adequate time should be given for students to refine their ideas, plan their arguments, draft, and revise their essays.  Teachers are expected to play an active role guiding and facilitating this process.
  • The essay is formal and should adhere to the conventions of an academic essay in its structure and use of citations.  
  • In the marking of the assessment task, there is equal quantitative value placed on the ideas presented in the essay (10 marks) and the essay’s organization and use of language (10 marks).  Maximum: 20 marks. [4]
  • The final essay produced for submission needs to be 1200-1500 words in length.  Examiners will not read more than 1500 words. [5]

Explanation of the task

  • It is important that students develop a line of inquiry that is focused, analytical, and (when relevant) literary before they begin researching and writing.  Students do not need to name literary or textual features in their question; however, the question should lend itself to an analytical investigation of the work that is appropriate for the discipline.
  • The seven course concepts (identity, culture, creativity, communication, transformation, perspective, and representation) may serve as a starting point when developing a line of inquiry. [6]
  • The discussion, ideas, and inspiration for the HL Essay will ideally come from the student’s Learner Portfolio.  Students may expand on an idea, activity, or smaller-scale assessment explored in class as inspiration for selecting a topic and developing a line of inquiry.  Students may also explore their own, self-generated lines of inquiry.
  • Each student’s line of inquiry should develop from their own work or ideas about the work.  Ideally, the learner portfolio will document this evolution (in some form).

Selection of work

  • Students base their essays on one work or body of work studied in the course. Students may choose any work or body of work, except for the works/body of work used for the Individual Oral or the works chosen for the Paper 2 exam. 
  • Students should consult with their teachers when selecting a text, work, or body of work to ensure the material is rich enough to support a focused, analytical argument of this length.
  • Documentaries and full features films are full, non-literary “works” and are acceptable material on which to base a line of inquiry for the HL Essay.
  • Literary bodies of work include collections of short stories, poetry, essays, graphic narratives, etc.
  • Non-literary bodies of work may include an advertising campaign, a journalist’s published articles or editorials, a photojournalist’s series of photographs, related public service announcements or campaigns, research and relevant publications by an organization (such as Human Rights Watch), a series of texts or shows by an interviewer, commentator or satirist, a podcast series, an editorial cartoonist’s publications, etc. [7]  
  • The texts in the body of work must share authorship.  This means the texts are written or produced by a single author or are written and produced by collaborators that share a single authorship (such as an advertising agency, corporation, non-profit organization, television show, writer and graphic illustrator, etc.) [8]
  • Students may base their essay on one text in a body of work (e.g., one short story in a collection), however students need to be careful to sustain a “broad literary [or linguistic] investigation” as opposed to a close reading or commentary.  They are expected to make explicit connections in the essay between the text and the author’s body of work. [9]  
  • In most cases, it will be appropriate for a student to reference at least 2-3 texts in an author’s body of work. 
  • Students may explore and use any texts from an author studied in class, even if the specific texts were not part of the course study.  This might be appropriate if the student’s specific literary investigation cannot be supported with the specific texts studied but could be supported with other texts by the author. [10]

Determining the topic (and line of inquiry)

  • The essay needs to be focused on a broad literary or linguistic investigation that addresses a concept developed in the work or body of work. 
  • Students who struggle to identify a suitable concept can use one of the seven course concepts as a starting place to develop their line of inquiry (e.g., What does the work communicate about…? In what ways does the work transform our perspective on…?  To what extent does the work represent…? )
  • Students should be encouraged to explore a concept that is significant to them and their reading of the work. 
  • Teachers can advise and coach students through the process of selecting a topic and developing a line of inquiry, but teachers are not supposed to assign topics (or works) to students. [11]

What is the HL Essay Assessing?

Criterion a:  knowledge, understanding, and interpretation (5 marks), defined terms.

  • Students need a clear, cohesive thesis statement in the introduction of the essay that states the conclusions the student has drawn in response to the line of inquiry.  The “conclusions” are the student’s central argument for the essay. 
  • Students need to understand the difference between demonstrating understanding of a work and offering interpretations of the work’s meanings.  An essay must offer interpretations of the work’s implications to score at least a “satisfactory” mark in Criterion A.
  • Good to excellent knowledge and understanding comes from knowing the works very well which usually requires multiple readings .  Clear references, explanations, and detailed analysis in support of asserted interpretations are a more effective demonstration of knowledge and understanding than summary.  
  • When analyzing texts from a “body of work”, students are expected to make claims and connections to the body of work.  If the focus of the essay is on an individual text (such as a short story or poem), it is important that the analysis be treated as a “broad literary [or linguistic] investigation”.  Teachers will need to evaluate the extent to which this is possible for each individual text.  It may be helpful for teachers and students to consult articles in scholarly journals to see examples of how a broad literary investigation can be approached with a shorter, individual text.

Activities and protocols that develop skills related to knowledge, understanding, and interpretation.

hl essay rubric 2021

Formulating Interpretive Statements

This activity scaffolds the process of developing an “interpretive statement” in response to a text or work.  This is achieved through a sentence completion exercise […]

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hl essay rubric 2021

Concept Formation

In this activity, students use small examples to establish what a concept is (and is not).  This inductive strategy works to give depth, ownership, and […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Critical Lenses

Critical lenses help students engage with different perspectives with which to approach the reading and interpretation of a work.  Each lens contains questions that provoke […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Journal Writing

Journal writing helps students develop important thinking skills.  There are the traditional approaches used in the younger years, like imagining a minor character’s point of […]

Criterion B:  Analysis and evaluation (5 marks)

  • This criterion asks students to critically analyze, evaluate, and compare how meaning is constructed and communicated in a work or body of work.
  • The discussion, analysis, and evaluation of literary or linguistic features must work to develop the line in inquiry and central argument for the essay.  This is a common shortcoming in student essays.
  • The interrelationships of authorial choices and their effects may be complex, which requires thoughtful organization in the planning stage of the essay. 
  • Assertions that make judgements about a writer’s competency or simply state a preference for an author or style are not literary evaluations.
  • An insightful literary analysis usually includes an appreciation of form-specific features.

Activities and protocols that develop skills related to analysis and evaluation

hl essay rubric 2021

Why might this detail matter?

This activity gets students to think about the significance of minor details in a work.  These details can be used as evidence to form the […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Ladder of Abstraction

This activity allows students to process the ways in which details from a work might represent larger abstract ideas. Process Divide students in groups of […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Appoint a Devil’s Advocate

This protocol invites divergent thinking in a group and works to facilitate a culture where different ideas are viewed as collaborative rather than combative.  Preparation […]

hl essay rubric 2021

This activity helps students visually see and appreciate the ways in which parts make up a whole.  One of the challenges many students have is […]

Criterion C:  Focus, organization, and development (5 marks)

  • The line of inquiry (which includes the topic) should be clearly stated either as the title or in the introductory paragraph of the essay. 
  • The thesis (or argument) for the essay should be clearly communicated in the introductory paragraph. 
  • Effective organization helps students maintain focus, achieve cohesion, and develop claims.  This means considering the most effective way to present the argument and its supporting evidence and analysis (chronologically, most persuasive evidence first, by sub-topic, cause and effect relationships, first impressions vs. later reflections, claims and counter claims, etc.).
  • Each paragraph should be a point of development that supports the conclusions drawn from the line of inquiry (i.e., the essay’s central argument).  The nature of the argument and the substance of the analysis should determine the number of paragraphs, their length, and their order.  Forcing an argument into a formulaic essay structure can be limiting.
  • Purposeful transitions create cohesion and logically take the reader through the essay’s evidence-based claims.
  • Essays organized by authorial choices tend to be limiting because they struggle to appreciate the interdependency of features’ effects.
  • One citation method should be sustained throughout the essay.

Activities and protocols that develop skills related to organization and development

hl essay rubric 2021

Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate: Concept Mapping IDEAS in a Work

This activity asks students to individually identify ideas and issues developed in a work and collaboratively connect and develop one another’s ideas.  This ultimately helps […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Making a Précis

This activity guides students on how to distill a text into 100-200-word précis or summary.  This is a helpful skill for preparing a passage response […]

hl essay rubric 2021

This protocol helps students consider which ideas, issues, and feelings are playing a significant role in shaping their personal response to a work. Process Give […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Sort Card Activity

This activity helps students organize information and identify conceptual trends.  This activity models a process that students can use when planning their own essays and […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Significant Quotes

Who said it?  What is the context? and Why is this quote significant? may seem like an archaic exercise in today’s educational landscape, but the […]

Criterion D:  Language (5 marks)

  • A wider vocabulary and knowledge of sentence structures gives students more language tools to express abstract and complex thoughts. 
  • Correct use of terminology may be considered in awarding marks in this criterion; however, jargon is not the sole focus. 
  • When students use vocabulary and sentence structures that are comfortably in their repertoire, they usually express their thinking more clearly.  When students stretch to use words or sentences structures with which they are not familiar, they risk miscommunication.
  • An essay does not need to be flawless to earn top marks in this criterion, however the expectation for language to be clear, varied, and accurate is higher in this component.  This is because students have an opportunity to revise their essays.
  • Voice is welcomed in all IB assessment tasks: formal writing does not need to be turgid.

Activities and protocols that develop skills related to use of language

hl essay rubric 2021

Interpretive Statement Wall

This protocol helps students develop revision skills by asking clarifying and critical questions about each other’s interpretive statements or thesis statements.  This helps students develop […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Evaluating Thesis Statements

This activity helps students understand the role language plays in communicating specific and complex ideas in a thesis statement.  The approach invites active collaboration, and […]

hl essay rubric 2021

Discussion Posts and Personalized Learning

This formative assessment gives students an opportunity to personalize their learning while engaging in collaborative discussion with their peers around their chosen text(s) or work. […]

hl essay rubric 2021

This protocol helps students generate ideas in response to a work. Process Give students a writing task, asking them to identify one thing they think […]

[1] Language A: Language and Literature Guide, First assessment 2021 , IBO: 2019. pp. 42.

[2] To gain an understanding or confidence in evaluating analysis that is “appropriate for the discipline”, teachers may want to invest some time perusing scholarly articles written on works they teach or are familiar with using a database such as JSTOR or Ebscohost.  These titles and articles an also be shared with students as guides and exemplars.

[4] Ibid, pp. 45.

[5] Ibid, p. 42.

[6] Ibid, p. 43.

[7] A list of text types can be found on p. 22 of the Language A: Language and Literature Guide.  As mentioned in the guide, the list is not exhaustive.

[8] “Selection of work”. Language A: Language and Literature Guide, First assessment 2021 , IBO: 2019, p. 43.

[11] Language A: Language and Literature Guide, First assessment 2021 , IBO: 2019. p. 44.

[12] Definition:  a short statement of the main points.

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  1. English A: Lang Lit: HLE Assessment criteria

    Descriptor. 1. The essay shows little analysis and evaluation of how the author uses stylistic and structural features to construct meaning on the topic. 2. The essay shows some analysis and evaluation of how the author uses stylistic and structural features to construct meaning on the topic. 3.

  2. Grade descriptors

    Language B (HL) Grade 7 Students speak with clarity and fluency; use a richly varied and idiomatic range of language very accurately; handle ideas effectively and skillfully with active and complex interaction; demonstrate a thorough understanding of the meaning and purpose of written texts; have little difficulty with the most difficult

  3. IB English A Language and Literature: HL Essay Assessment

    The discussion, ideas, and inspiration for the HL Essay will ideally come from the student’s Learner Portfolio. Students may expand on an idea, activity, or smaller-scale assessment explored in class as inspiration for selecting a topic and developing a line of inquiry. Students may also explore their own, self-generated lines of inquiry.