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

  1. Carefully read through the HL essay requirements and criteria.
  2. Analyze HL essay samples. Make sure you understand how a particular HL essay sample addresses the requirements and criteria.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).  
  4. Create an outline of your essay. The basic outline can start with a clear thesis statement and topic sentences.
  5. Early in the development process make sure your ideas / arguments / evidence meet the requirements and criteria for the HL essay.
  6. Periodically re-read review sample HL essays.
  7. 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.
  8. You must put together the best possible first draft. Better first draft = better feedback from your teacher.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Before submitting your final essay make absolutely sure that all of your sources are cited properly.
  12. 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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