Higher level essay
The nature of the task
At HL, students are required to write a formal essay of 1,200-1,500 words, which develops a particular line of inquiry of their own choice in connection with a work previously studied in class.
The HL essay offers students an opportunity to develop as independent, critical and creative readers, thinkers and writers by exploring a literary topic over an extended period of time, refining their ideas by means of a process of planning, drafting and re-drafting. The essay requires students to construct a focused, analytical argument, examining the work from a broad literary perspective. It also requires them to adhere to the formal framework of the academic essay, using citations and references.
Explanation of the task
The HL essay is based on the exploration the student has carried out in the learner portfolio. During this exploration process, the student will have investigated a number of works from a variety of different perspectives. In the lead-up to the drafting of the essay, the student must decide which work to focus on for further investigation, and which topic to write about in connection with that work. In choosing the topic, the student can consult the course’s seven central concepts. Any work previously studied in class may be selected, with the exception of the works used for the internal assessment and the works the student plans to use in paper 2.
Selection of work
Candidates must select the work and topic for their essay independently; however, consultation with the teacher is essential in this process. Care must be taken to make sure that the chosen literary texts or works are rich enough to support a developed, focused, and analytical argument.
In the case of a collection of short stories, poems, song lyrics or any short literary text, candidates may choose to use just one literary text from the work as their focus. However, students and teachers should bear in mind that the assignment is a broad literary investigation rather than a more narrowly-focused stylistic commentary task. It may be necessary to use more than one literary text from the work chosen in order to achieve this. In this instance, it is possible for a student to also explore texts from the author of the work that were not studied in class provided at least one of the texts was covered in class.
Determining the topic
The chosen topic should enable a broad literary focus for the essay. In achieving this focus, the seven central concepts of the course may be a helpful starting point in generating or determining a topic for the essay. While students do not have to trace their essay back to one of the seven concepts and the assessment criteria do not require it, working with one of the seven concepts will allow students to begin their thinking about their topic as they refine their ideas and arguments. The seven concepts are briefly discussed here in relation to the assignment. The Language A teacher support material has more specific examples for further guidance.
The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of identity of a particular character or group of characters in the work, or on the way in which the work itself relates to the identity of the writer.
The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of the culture of a particular place, institution or group of people, or on the way in which the work itself relates to a particular culture.
The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of individual or collective creativity, or lack of creativity, within the work, or on the way in which the work itself represents the creativity of the writer.
The student might be interested in an aspect of 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.
The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of transformation or transformative acts in the work, or in the way in which the work itself is a transformative act either of the 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.)
The student might be interested in an aspect of the representation of a particular perspective or perspectives within the work, or on the way in which the work itself represents the writer’s perspective.
The student might be interested in an aspect of the way in which the work itself represents different themes, attitudes and concepts, or in the extent to which literature can actually represent reality.