IB HL Essay & Everything IB Students Needs

IB Pros Blog
September 1, 2023
IB HL Essay & Everything IB Students Needs

What You Must Understand

The HL Essay is a formal essay of 1200–1500 words that is based on a literary work that was examined for the semester. The work you submitted for the IO or Paper 2[1] cannot be used for this essay.
The essay can also be based on a non-literary text or group of non-literary texts in the IB Language and Literature course[2].

  • You create a line of inquiry and a question that can be used to support an argument on the way literary devices are employed to communicate a theme or message.
  • You write the essay on your own time, but you should obtain input from your teacher while it is being developed.
  • Beyond the material you are using, you are not required to use secondary sources.
  • You can get up to 5 points in each of the five categories listed below, and the essay counts for 20% of your overall mark in the HL course:

Reference : IB Language and Literature Guide (New Curriculum, 2021)

HL Essay

The paper is externally examined, thus the IB Examiner, not your teacher, determines the final grade. Your teacher will nevertheless provide a predicted grade that is forwarded to the IB[3].

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Techniques for Writing an Essay

You must write a focused, critical essay that analyzes the work from a broad literary or linguistic vantage point. Additionally, you must follow the formatted guidelines for an academic essay by using citations and references.

Association with the Learner Portfolio

The research you conducted for your Learner Portfolio will serve as the foundation for your HL essay[4]. Prior to starting to write the essay, you must choose which literature to examine in more detail and what subject to address. You can refer to the seven major principles covered in the course while selecting a topic. Except for the texts used for the Internal Assessment (the IO) or the Paper 2, you may select any text.

How to Pick a Text for HL Essay

Don't wait until the last minute to discuss the text you want to utilize and the focus you are thinking about with your teacher. Make sure your path of inquiry is focused and acceptable for an analytical argument in a paper of this length by writing your ideas out.

You may decide to use just one literary text from a work if it is a collection of short stories, poems, song lyrics, or another type of brief literary text. However, it can be required to draw from more than one piece of literature in the selected work.

Just the Language and Literature class only*

It could be essential to use more than one short non-literary text from the same author, such as an advertising agency, cartoonist, photographer, or social media user, if the text is of the same sort. These books must have been studied in class at least once. (If employing a text in translation it must be a professional and published translation).

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The Topic and the Seven Course Concepts

Starting with one of the course's seven major themes can be useful but it is not required when choosing an essay topic. The following inquiries are not meant to be comprehensive lines of inquiry, which should be more particular to the selected material (see examples of lines of inquiry below); rather, they are meant to serve as a jumping-off point for the essay's main arguments.


How is identity portrayed in the text, for example? What aspects of a group do the characters in the text represent? How does the author's identify appear in the text?


How does a certain component of the text reflect a culture or location, for example? How can you convey a group of people or an organization? How does the book reflect a particular cultural viewpoint?


The text may be analyzed for its representation of individual or group creativity, or lack thereof. How does the writing show the author's creativity?


How does the text express communication or a lack thereof? What message does the text itself convey to the reader? What literary devices are used to demonstrate various aspects of communication?


How does the text depict change or development? How are characters changed by dialogue, interactions, or other textual events? What connection exists between the text's goals, ideals, and beliefs, and transformation?


What is the text's representation of one or more perspectives? How is a change of viewpoint represented? How does the text indicate the author's point of view?


What subject or message does the text attempt to convey? How do attitudes come across? How is the world of the text or reality represented?.

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Illustrative lines of research from the IB English Language and Literature Guide

  1. 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?
  2. 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)
  3. Creativity—how do Mario Testino’s portraits manage to convey the personalities of those portrayed in original ways? (Language A: language and literature only)
  4. Communication–which view of love does Matt Groening convey in Love is Hell? (Language A: language and literature only)
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. Representation–through what means does Juan Rulfo successfully convey the representation of realistic and non-realistic characters and situations in Pedro Páramo?​

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A Final Word on the HL Essay and the Learner Portfolio

Schools are required to retain the Learner Portfolio on file even though it is not evaluated. It is meant to serve as a forum for reflection on the texts being studied, promoting the growth of independent thought. The answers to cultural perspectives, values, interrelationships, and identities as they relate to the issues and themes in the texts being studied may be included in the reflections. The line of inquiry in the HL essay can be launched by the reflections. You could, for instance, keep track of the themes that are present, your thoughts on how specific passages within the texts reflect those themes, or your observations on how themes and passages transmit one of the seven main ideas.


[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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