HL Essay

HL External Assessments, first examination 2021

SL does NOT do this essay, only HL.

HL Essay

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.


Explanation of the task

  • The HL essay is based on the exploration the student has carried out in the learner portfolio. During this

exploration process, the student will have investigated a number of works and texts from a variety of

different perspectives. In the lead-up to the drafting of the essay, the student must decide which text, texts or work to focus on for further investigation, and which topic to write about in connection with them.

  • In choosing the topic, the student can consult the course’s seven central concepts. Any text, texts or work previously studied in class may be selected, with the exception of the texts used for the internal assessment and the works the student plans to use in paper 2.

Selection of text, texts or work

  • Candidates must select the texts and topic for their essay independently; however, consultation with the teacher is essential in this process. Care must be taken to make sure that the chosen non-literary text or texts or literary texts or works are rich enough to support a developed, focused, and analytical argument.
  • In the case of a collection of short stories, poems, song lyrics or any short literary text, candidates may choose to use just one literary text from the work as their focus. However, students and teachers should remember that the assignment is a broad literary investigation rather than a more narrowly-focused stylistic commentary task. It may be necessary to use more than one literary text from the work chosen in order to achieve this.
  • In the case of short non-literary texts, it may be necessary for the candidate to use more than one from the same text type by the same authorship, for example the same creative advertising agency, cartoonist, photographer or social media user. In this instance, at least one of the texts should be studied in class. If using language texts in translation, these must be professional and published translations of the text.

Determining the topic

  • The chosen topic 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.
  • While students do not have to trace their essay back to one of the seven concepts and the assessment criteria do not require it, working with one of the seven concepts will allow students to begin thinking about their topic as they refine their ideas and arguments. The seven concepts are briefly discussed here in relation to the assignment.
    • Identity
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of identity of a particular character or group of characters in the text, or on the way in which the text relates to the identity of the writer.
    • Culture
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of the culture of a particular place,institution or group of people, or on the way in which the text itself relates to a particular culture.
    • Creativity
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of individual or collective creativity, or lack of creativity, within the text, or on the way in which the text represents the creativity of the writer.
    • Communication
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of acts of communication, or failures in communication, in the text, or on the way in which the text itself represents an act of communication.
    • Transformation
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of transformation or transformative acts in the text, or on the way in which the text itself is a transformative act either of other texts through intertextual reference to them or of reality by means of a transformative effect on the reader’s identity, relationships, goals, values, and beliefs.
    • Perspective
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of a particular perspective or perspectives within the text, or on the way in which the text represents the writer’s perspective.
    • Representation
      • The student might be interested in an aspect of the way in which the text represents different themes, attitudes and concepts, or in the extent to which language and literature can actually represent reality.


The learner portfolio and the higher level essay

  • The learner portfolio is not specifically assessed but it is an important tool in helping students prepare for formal assessment. It provides a platform for students to develop independent thinking when studying texts, reflecting on the ways their texts and responses explore cultural values, identities, relationships, and issues across a variety of topics.
  • In relation to the preparation of the HL essay, the learner portfolio provides an opportunity for students to:
    • reflect on the ways in which each text they read relates to the seven central concepts of the course
    • keep an ongoing record of themes and issues they find interesting in relation to each of the texts they read
    • explore how key passages in the texts they have studied are significant in relation to those themes and issues
    • trace the evolution of their thinking and planning in connection with their chosen topic
    • record references for, and ideas and quotations from, secondary sources they might want to mention in their essay
    • reflect on the challenges that the HL essay poses for them as individual learners.

Guidance and authenticity

  • Teachers are expected to guide students throughout the HL essay; from choice of topic to submission of the essay, monitoring and advising them on the process, giving feedback on plans, and helping them to stay on task by setting timelines and stages for the essay’s development. Help, guidance and support at the beginning of this process cannot be emphasised enough.
  • At the same time, the student must have autonomy throughout; teachers should not assign works or topics, but should give advice on the appropriateness of ideas, question students to clarify them and make suggestions for avenues which could be explored or ways in which they might adjust their approach.
  • Teachers are expected to ensure that essays are students’ own work and address any academic honesty issues arising before submission of the assessment. It is the teachers’ responsibility to make sure that all students understand the importance of academic honesty, in particular in relation to the authenticity of their work and the need to acknowledge other people’s ideas. Teachers must ensure students understand that the essay they submit for this externally assessed component must be entirely their own work.
  • While teachers should give regular feedback on students’ work, they should not edit or correct their work directly. As students draw close to the end of the writing process, teachers are allowed to give advice to students on a first complete draft in terms of suggestions as regards the way the work could be improved.
  • This could be done by annotating the draft through comments on the margin. These comments could consist in questions or prompts for further reflection and improvement. Under no circumstances can a teacher edit or rewrite the draft. The next version handed to the teacher after the first draft must be the final one.
  • Students should make detailed references to their primary source, using such references to support their broader argument about the text. The use of secondary sources is not mandatory. Any sources used must be appropriately cited. Essays must be students’ own work, adhering consistently to the IB policy on academic honesty.

Excerpt from Language A: language and literature guide, first examinations 2021