IB English HLE Explained

Free introductory guide to IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) by IB44 and IB45 graduates Lareina Shen and Saesha Grover.

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 IB44, and Saesha achieved an IB45 as well as the coveted IB7 in IB English Literature HL, so you are in safe hands.

Meet your instructor Jackson Huang, Founder of LitLearn. His mission is to make IB English as pain-free as possible with fun, practical lessons. Jackson scored an IB45 and was accepted to Harvard, Amherst, Williams Colleges, and full scholarships to University of Melbourne & Queensland.

Photo of LitLearn instructor Jackson Huang

What is IB English HLE?

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.

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).

How do I choose my text for HLE?

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.

How do I choose my line of inquiry for HLE?

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.

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.

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?

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!

examples of an hl essay

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  Learn Analysis section of LitLearn.
  • 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:

examples of an hl essay

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.

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?

examples of an hl essay

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?

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.

How do I ensure my HLE question has a good scope?

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.

Start with the basics

Start with the basic foundations of analysis for free inside LitLearn's Learn Analysis course.

Our free and Pro resources have helped IB English students skyrocket their grade in weeks, days and even overnight...   Learn Analysis for IB English , the simplest guide to a 7 in IB English.

Basic Analysis

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Level up to Advanced Analysis

Since you're in HL, you'll also be needing Advanced Analysis skills if you want to impress your examiner. We've got all of that covered inside our Pro lessons.

Advanced Analysis

Finding Quotes

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.

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 is 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 LitLearn's course  Learn Analysis for IB English   for immediate help on the exact steps to improve in IB English analysis.

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor 💪

Question​bank

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Past Paper 1 Solutions

Paper 2 Guide

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Every resource to ace IB English

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Learn Analysis

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Questionbank

Practice analysis with 60+ short questions and IB7 answers.

Exam prep guide, practice papers, past paper solutions.

Exam prep, planning and writing guide. Exemplar essay.

Individual Oral

Preparation guide, examples and full exemplar script.

Higher Level Essay

Crash course on HLE basics.

examples of an hl essay

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.

examples of an hl essay

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.

Student Organizer

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.

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Call for essays: language and literature

Calling all Diploma Programme (DP) alumni! We are looking for graduates and students, like you, to help the IB create a sample set of essays for an upcoming new Study in language and literature courses: the higher level (HL) essay. We need sample HL essays in the following languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, German, Japanese and Turkish covering 16 different topics!

Show off your writing and set an example for future IB students.  Submit a proposal  by 30 June 2018 (extended from May) to write an original 1,200-1,500-word essay on a topic you choose within the categories of language and literature, or just Literature (full details below). If your proposal is selected, completed essays will be awarded a USD 50 Amazon gift card. 

ESSAY PROPOSAL FORM

What is the HL essay?

The HL essay is a component that requires candidates to write a 1200-1500 word formal essay, following a line of inquiry of their own choice into one of the texts studied. HL Language A: language and literature candidates will have a choice between writing about a non-literary or literary text.

Why was it added to the course?

The development of the HL essay followed the elimination of both written tasks and the written assignment in Studies in language and literature courses. Without those components, there would no longer be written coursework targeting research, editing and citation skills that are of such importance for university courses.  The essay also differentiates further between SL and HL, asking HL candidates to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the nature of linguistic or literary study.

What topic should my essay discuss? (choose one from either)

Language and literature

  • On a number of columns by one same columnist
  • On an advertising campaign
  • On the body of work of a photographer
  • On a biography
  • On a collection of essays
  • On a TV series or a film
  • On a blog or any other electronic text
  • On a series of articles by one same writer

Or  Literature

  • On a work of poetry
  • On a work of fiction
  • On a work of non-fiction
  • On a work of drama
  • On a graphic novel
  • On a group of songs by one same author
  • On a work of poetry in translation
  • On a work in translation

In what language should my essay be written?

We need essays in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, German, Japanese and Turkish.

What is the deadline?

Submit your  proposal  no later than 30 June 2018, though earlier is recommended. We will review proposals on a rolling basis and contact you individually with additional details and a deadline for the final essay.

Why DP graduates?

We need creative and original examples to guide students; we know you have the skills to do this! Show off your writing and set an example for future IB students.  Submit a proposal  for an original 1,200-1,500-word essay on a topic you choose within either the categories of Language and literature, or just Literature. If your proposal is selected and you submit a completed essay, you may be eligible to receive a USD 50 Amazon gift card .

What concept should I use as a starting point for the essay?

To guide students in their choice of topic, we recommend using the seven central concepts in the course as a starting point for developing a line of inquiry. These concepts are listed here:

The representation of the identity of a particular character or group of characters in the work, or on the way in which the work relates to the identity of the writer

The representation of the culture of a particular place, institution or group of people, or on the way in which the work itself relates to a particular culture.

The representation of the individual or collective creativity, or lack of creativity, within the work, or on the way in which the work represents the creativity of the writer.

Communication

The representation of acts of communication, or failures in communication, in the work, or on the way in which the work itself represents an act of communication.

Transformation

The representation of transformation or transformative acts in the work, or on the way in which the work itself is a transformative act either of other works 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 representation of a particular perspective or perspectives within the work, or on the way in which the work represents the writer’s perspective.

Representation

The way in which the work represents different themes, attitudes and concepts, or in the extent to which literature can actually represent reality.

Questions or comments? Write to [email protected] .

About the IB

IBDP English A: Language & Literature

Website by Neil Allen

Updated 19 January 2024

P1 - Examination Questions

P2 - examination questions, individual oral, the learner portfolio, extended essay, essential knowledge,    hl essay home p1 - examination questions p2 - examination questions start here paper 1 paper 2 individual oral the learner portfolio extended essay essential knowledge resources  .

  • HL Essay - The Basics
  • HL Essay - Choosing a Topic
  • HL Essay - Great Examples (Literature)
  • HL Sample: Non-literary Body of Work - George Monbiot's Essays
  • HL Essay - Gaining Level 7
  • HL Essay - Student Samples

examples of an hl essay

 Here you will find examples of real student HL Essays. Take a read and, using the marking criteria, grade them. You can compare your marks with those of the examiner.

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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.

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

Continue Reading

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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 […]

examples of an hl essay

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. […]

examples of an hl essay

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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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, the best ib english study guide and notes for sl/hl.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

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Are you taking IB English and need some help with your studying? No need to reread all the books and poems you covered in class! This study guide is for IB English A students (students in IB English A: literature SL/HL, IB English A: language and literature SL/HL, or IB English literature and performance SL ) who are looking for additional guidance on writing their commentaries or essays.

I've compiled this IB English study guide using the best free materials available for this class. Use it to supplement your classwork and help you prepare for exams throughout the school year.

What's Tested on the IB English Exams?

The IB English courses are unique from other IB classes in that they don't have a very rigid curriculum with exact topics to cover. Instead, your class (or most likely your teacher) is given the freedom to choose what works (from a list of prescribed authors and a list of prescribed literature in translation from IBO) to teach. The exams reflect that freedom.

On the exam for all English A courses, you're asked to write essays that incorporate examples from novels, poems, plays, and other texts you've read. You're also asked to interpret a text that you've read for the first time the day of the exam.

The exact number of questions you'll have to answer varies by the course , but the types of questions asked on each all fall into the two categories listed above.

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What's Offered in This Guide?

In this guide, I have compiled materials to help teach you how to interpret poetry and how to structure your essay/commentary. I've also provided notes on several books typically taught in IB English SL/HL.

This should be most of the material you need to study for your IB exam and to study for your in-class exams.

How to Interpret Poetry Guides

Many people struggle the most with the poetry material, and if you're one of those people, we have some resources specifically for making poetry questions easier.

Here is a full explanation of how to interpret poetry for the IB exam with term definitions, descriptions of types of poems, and examples. We also have tons of poetry resources on our blog that range from explaining specific terms all the way to complete, expert analyses of poems you should know.

Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Imagery defined
  • Everything you need to know about Point of View 
  • The 20 poetic devices you should know 
  • Understanding allusion 
  • A crash course on Romantic poetry 
  • Understanding personification 
  • Famous sonnets, explained
  • An expert guide to understanding rhyme and meter, including iambic pentameter
  • The eight types of sonnets 
  • Expert analysis of "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas

This is another great resource with poetry terms defined on "flashcards" , and you can test yourself on the site by clicking "play."

How to Write Your Essay Guide

If you're not sure how to write your essay, here's a guide to what your essay should look like for the IB English SL/HL papers. This guide gives advice on how you should structure your essay and what you should include in it. It also contains a few sample questions so you can get a better idea of the types of prompts you can expect to see.

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IB English Book Notes

Based on the list of prescribed authors and literature from IBO, I picked some of the most popular books to teach and provided links to notes on those works. What's important to remember from these books is key moments, themes, motifs, and symbols, so you can discuss them on your in-class tests and the IB papers.

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Animal Farm
  • All the Pretty Horses
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Anna Karenina
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Brave New World
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Death of a Salesman
  • A Doll's House
  • Don Quixote
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • Frankenstein
  • Great Expectations
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Love Medicine
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Romeo & Juliet
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Awakening
  • The Bluest Eye
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • The Stranger
  • The Sun Also Rises
  • Waiting for Godot

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The Best Study Practices for IB English

Hopefully, this guide will be an asset to you throughout the school year for in-class quizzes as well as at the end of the year for the IB exam. Taking practice tests is also important, and you should also look at our other article for access to FREE IB English past papers to help you familiarize yourself with the types of questions asked by the IBO (and I'm sure your teacher will ask similar questions on your quizzes).

Make sure you're reading all of the novels and poetry assigned to you in class, and take detailed notes on them. This will help you remember key themes and plot points so you don't find yourself needing to reread a pile of books right before the exam.

Finally, keep up with the material you learn in class, and don't fall behind. Reading several novels the week before the IB exam won't be much help. You need to have time and let the material sink in over the course of the class, so you're able to remember it easily on the day of the IB exam.

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What's Next?

Want some more study materials for IB English? Our guide to IB English past papers has links to every free and official past IB English paper available!

Are you hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes ? Learn about the IB courses offered online by reading our guide.

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score .

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examples of an hl essay

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  • September 26, 2021

IB English, the HL Essay: All You Need to Know

examples of an hl essay

Written By Our IB++Tutor Birgitte J.

What You Need to Know

  • The HL Essay is a 1200-1500 word formal essay and it is based on a literary work studied as part of the course. You cannot use the same work for the IO or the Paper 2 [1] for this essay.
  • In the IB Language and Literature course [2] , the essay can also be based on a non-literary or collection of non literary text(s).
  • You develop a line of inquiry , a question that lends itself to an argument focused on how a theme or message is conveyed through literary features.
  • The essay is completed in your own time and you should get some feedback from your teacher during the development of the essay.
  • You do not have to incorporate secondary sources beyond the text you are working with.

examples of an hl essay

The paper is externally assessed, meaning the final grade given is from the IB Examiner, not from your teacher. However, your teacher will give a predicted grade that is sent to the IB [3] .

How to Approach the Essay

The essay requires you to construct a focused, analytical argument, examining the work from a broad literary or linguistic perspective. It also requires you to adhere to the formal framework of an academic essay, using citations and references.

Connection to the Learner Portfolio

The HL essay is based on the exploration you have engaged with in the Learner Portfolio [4] . In the lead-up to the drafting of the essay, you must decide which text to focus on for further investigation, and which topic to write about. In choosing the topic, you can consult the course’s seven central concepts. You can choose any text with the exception of the texts used for the Internal Assessment (the IO) or the Paper 2.

How to choose a text

Don’t wait until the last minute and talk with your teacher about the text you want to use and the focus you are considering. Write your ideas out to make sure your line of inquiry is focused and appropriate for an analytical argument of a paper of this length.

In the case of a collection of short stories, poems, song lyrics or any short literary text, you may choose to use just one literary text from the work. However, It may be necessary to use more than one literary text from the work chosen.

The Language and Literature course only *

In the case of short non-literary texts, it may be necessary to use more than one from the same text type by the same author, for example the same creative advertising agency, cartoonist, photographer or social media user. At least one of these texts must have been studied in class. (If using a text in translation it must be a professional and published translation).

Determining the Topic and the 7 Course Concepts

It’s helpful but not mandatory to start with the seven central concepts of the course in generating or determining a topic for the essay. The questions below are meant as starting points for the focus of the essay, not as complete lines of inquiry which should be more specific to the chosen text (see examples of lines of inquiry below).

Questions may include; How is identity represented in the text? How are the characters in the text representative of a group? How does the text reflect the identity of the writer?

Questions may include; How is an aspect of the text representative of a culture or a particular place? How is a group of people or an institution conveyed? How is the text representative of a cultural perspective?

3-Creativity

Questions may include; How is the text representative of an individual or collective creativity, or lack of creativity? How is the text a reflection of the creativity of the writer?

4-Communication

How is communication or lack of communication conveyed in the text? How does the text itself communicate with the reader? How are aspects of communication illustrated through literary features?

5-Transformation

How is change or development illustrated in the text? How are characters transformed through action, communication or events in the text? What is the relationship between transformation and the goals, values and beliefs conveyed in the text?

6-Perspective

How is a perspective or different perspectives represented in the text? How is a shift in perspective portrayed? How is the writer’s perspective revealed through the text?

7-Representation

How does the text represent a particular theme or message? How are attitudes conveyed? In what way is reality or the world within the text represented?

IB English Language and Literature Guide examples of lines of inquiry

  • Identity —how does Ralph Ellison, in his novel Invisible Man, succeed in making his narrator a convincing spokesperson for the concerns of African-Americans in the 20th century?
  • Culture —how does Robert Capa represent post-Second World War France to qualify/exemplify the brutalities of the French population on former Nazi collaborators in La Femme Tondue? (Language A: language and literature only)
  • Creativity —how do Mario Testino’s portraits manage to convey the personalities of those portrayed in original ways? (Language A: language and literature only)
  • Communication– which view of love does Matt Groening convey in Love is Hell? (Language A: language and literature only)
  • Transformation– in what ways does The Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination offer a transformative re-reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales?
  • Perspective– how does Mary Shelley’s protagonist in Frankenstein use the motif of dangerous knowledge to show the perspective of fear and anxiety of excesses in scientific enterprise in early 19th century Europe?
  • Representation– through what means does Juan Rulfo successfully convey the representation of realistic and non-realistic characters and situations in Pedro Páramo?​

A Final Note on the Learner Portfolio and the HL Essay

The Learner Portfolio is not assessed but schools are required to keep it on file. It is intended to be a platform for reflecting on the texts studied, facilitating development of independent thinking. The reflections may include responses to cultural perspectives and values, inter-relationships and identities as it relates to topics and themes in the texts studied. The reflections may serve as a springboard for the line of inquiry in the HL essay. For example, you may keep a record of themes present, reflections on how particular passages within the texts reflect those themes, or how themes and passages convey one of the 7 central concepts.

[1] Paper 2 is cancelled for the 2022 cohort. No announcement has been made for the 2023 at the time this article was written.

[2] There are 3 IB English courses. The two most common are IB English A: Literature SL/HL, a course focused on literature (Poetry, drama, short stories and novels) and the IB English Language and Literature SL/HL course, focused on literature AND a variety of non-literary (non-fiction) text types.

[3] The examiner’s grade is independent from your teacher’s predicted grade.

[4] An individual collection of student work compiled during the course in which you explore and reflect on the texts throughout the course.

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IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) Explained

  • Last updated on June 29, 2022

LitLearn Voted #1 IB English Resource for 2022

examples of an hl essay

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!

examples of an hl essay

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:

examples of an hl essay

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?

examples of an hl essay

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.

examples of an hl essay

Lareina joined Analysis Simplified in 2022 to sharpen her Paper 1 analysis. She loved the experience.

examples of an hl essay

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 💪 

Jackson Huang

Jackson Huang

examples of an hl essay

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IB Language and Literature: Excellent Exemplars

  • IB Language and Literature General Resources & Information
  • Books in the library
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  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • The World's Wife
  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • A Doll's House

Excellent Exemplars

  • The Social Dilemma
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examples of an hl essay

Exemplar Podcasts

examples of an hl essay

  • Podcast Exemplar 1 Stephanie Cho

Exemplar PDFs

examples of an hl essay

  • Exemplar Mock HL Essay 1 Demonstrating the Ability & Disruptive Power of Photography Giles Peress Challenges the Underlying Causes of Global Complacency & Ignorance Through the Use of Photographic Journalism
  • Exemplar Mock HL Essay 2 How Does the Amanda Knox Documentary Highlight the Way in Which the Media Manipulates Legal Cases?
  • Exemplar Mock HL Essay 3 In What Way Does Judith Wright Challenge Contemporary Attitudes Towards the Australian Landscape?
  • Exemplar Paper 1 response to Alex Perry Extract From Alex Perry's 'Oscar Pistorius & South Africa's Culture of Violence' - How Does Perry Alert Readers To The Problems in south Africa?
  • Exemplar Paper 1 Response to Monbiot
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DP Language A Language and Literature

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.

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English A: Language and Literature Support Site

The great gatsby (hle).

The following HL Essay aims to answer the line of inquiry: 

Read the essay carefully. Apply the HLE assessment criteria and discuss the marks you would award the script before reading the examiner's marks and comments. How different were your marks and comments from the examiner's marks and comments? What improvements would you make to this essay to achieve better results?

This essay is good because it has a clear angle or focus on a 'topic'. Look carefully at the assessment criteria, and you will see that you need to explore a 'topic' through your HL Essay. In this case, it is the role of higher education in the novel The Great Gatsby. This level of specificity is good when considering your topic.  

Related pages

  • HL Essay: Assessment criteria
  • HL Essay: Skills: HLE Builder
  • Literary works: The Great Gatsby

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  • HL Essay: final checklist
  • Higher Level Essay

HL Essay: final checklist for students before submission This page is designed for students as a guide for a final check of their essay before submission.These guidelines can also be downloaded as a document here: HL Essay: final checklist HL Essay: final checklistIt is vitally important that you take time before final submission to ensure your work is of the best possible standard. At this stage it is not advisable...

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IMAGES

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COMMENTS

  1. IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) Explained

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  2. Higher Level Essay

    IB English: HL Essay Thesis Statements 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.

  3. IB English A (Lang & Lit) Notes: hl essay

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  4. HL Essay Student Resources and Sample Work

    Posted on March 27, 2021 by Jennifer Brooke These resources are ready to hand to students. They offer a description of the assignment and take students through a step by step process to complete a draft of their HL Essay. Literature Course IB Literature HL Essay Assignment (PDF) IB Literature HL Essay Assignment (Word)

  5. HL Essay

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  6. Top 8 Tips for Earning a Level 7 on the IB English HL Essay

    8 Tips for Earning a Level 7 on the IB English HL Essay (with Examples) Improve your grades immediately with these 8 important IB English HL Essay strategies, tips and examples shared by our expert IB English tutors.

  7. DP English A: Language & Literature: HL Essay: Exemplar 3 ...

    Sample HL Essay Sample HL Essay. Sample HL Essay with teacher's comments Sample HL Essay with teacher's comments . All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of ...

  8. IB English: HL Essay

    Introduction IB English: HL Essay - From Start to Finish - Video 1 of 5 IB English Guys 18.1K subscribers Subscribe Subscribed Share 32K views 1 year ago HL Essay - From Start to Finish...

  9. Call for essays: language and literature

    We need sample HL essays in the following languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, German, Japanese and Turkish covering 16 different topics! Show off your writing and set an example for future IB students.

  10. HL Essay

    HL Essay - Choosing a Topic. HL Essay - Student Samples. HL Essay - Gaining Level 7. HL Essay. HL Essay - Student Samples. Here you will find examples of real student HL Essays. Take a read and, using the marking criteria, grade them. You can compare your marks with those of the examiner.

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

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  12. English A Language and Literature HL Essay Topic Ideas + Examples

    English A Language and Literature HL Essay Ideas Child labour: In this topic, you could explore how the visual features and captions used in Lewis Hine's photographic body of work transformed the public's opinion on child labour in early 20th-century America.

  13. The Best IB English Study Guide and Notes for SL/HL

    In this guide, I have compiled materials to help teach you how to interpret poetry and how to structure your essay/commentary. I've also provided notes on several books typically taught in IB English SL/HL. This should be most of the material you need to study for your IB exam and to study for your in-class exams.

  14. IB English, the HL Essay: All You Need to Know

    The HL Essay is a 1200-1500 word formal essay and it is based on a literary work studied as part of the course. You cannot use the same work for the IO or the Paper 2 [1] for this essay. In the IB Language and Literature course [2], the essay can also be based on a non-literary or collection of non literary text (s).

  15. Sample hl english essay

    IB English HL paper 1- Example 1 Sophocles oed - noo Printable-table - noo English 4 - EJE 4 - week 10 Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin Presentation Notes © David McIntyrethinkib/englishalanglit, InThinking

  16. DP English A: Language & Literature: HL Essay: Exemplar 9 (The World's

    The Higher Level (HL) Essay published the this page the okay for all greetings, but there are obvious opportunities required further improvement. It is written on Carol Ann Duffy's collection of poems - popular among IBDP students - The World's Female. The essay has, is universal, a good focus, if slight broader expressed in its title. It would been helpful are the student expressing ...

  17. DP English A Literature: HL essay: sample responses

    Theory of Knowledge (TOK) The TOK exhibition: literary objects. TOK: 'truth' in literary non-fiction. Sample HL essay responsesLinked from this page are some Higher Level essay sample responses with teacher marks and comments. We will be looking to add more examples, covering a range of different questions and different literary forms.

  18. IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) Explained

    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. How do I choose my text for HLE? Do NOT choose the "easiest" text.

  19. LibGuides: IB Language and Literature: Excellent Exemplars

    Exemplar PDFs. Exemplar Mock HL Essay 1. Demonstrating the Ability & Disruptive Power of Photography Giles Peress Challenges the Underlying Causes of Global Complacency & Ignorance Through the Use of Photographic Journalism. Exemplar Mock HL Essay 2. How Does the Amanda Knox Documentary Highlight the Way in Which the Media Manipulates Legal Cases?

  20. DP English A Literature: HL essay

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  21. HL essay

    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.

  22. English A: Lang Lit: The Great Gatsby (HLE)

    This essay is good because it has a clear angle or focus on a 'topic'. Look carefully at the assessment criteria, and you will see that you need to explore a 'topic' through your HL Essay. In this case, it is the role of higher education in the novel The Great Gatsby. This level of specificity is good when considering your topic.

  23. DP English A Literature: HL Essay: final checklist

    Paper 1: a guide for students. Paper 2: Comparative essay. Paper 2 question bank. Paper 2: applying the concepts. Paper 2: sample responses. Paper 2: a guide for students. Higher Level Essay. Higher Level coursework essay: a student guide. HL essay: the importance of planning.