1-1

IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) Explained

LitLearn Voted #1 IB English Resource for 2022

LEARN ANALYSIS

30+ Key Lessons

ESSAY ESSENTIALS

11+ Key Lessons

Practice Paper 1

Guided Video Solutions

Past Paper 1 Solutions

EXEMPLAR Plans & Essays

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:

  1. What is IB English HLE?
  2. How do I choose my text for HLE?
  3. How do I choose my line of inquiry for HLE?
  4. How do I ensure my HLE question has a good scope?
  5. The story of how I found my HLE question…
  6. The importance of analysis in getting a 7 in IB English HLE
  7. You need to understand the marking rubric!

What is IB English HLE?

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.

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).

ConceptSuggestions for your line of inquiry
IdentityHow is the identity of a particular character or group of characters represented?
OR, how does the text relate to the identity of the writer?
CultureHow is the culture of a particular setting, institution, or community represented?
OR, how does the text relate to a particular culture/cultural perspective?
CreativityHow does the text represent a collective or individual creativity/lack of creativity?
OR, how does the text reflect the writer’s creativity?
CommunicationHow are acts of communication/failures in communication conveyed?
OR, how does the text represent an act of communication?
TransformationHow is transformation represented?
OR, how is the text transformative to other texts through reference to them, or to the reader in terms of transforming their beliefs and values?
PerspectiveHow is a certain perspective conveyed?
OR, how does the text represent the writer’s perspective?
RepresentationHow are different themes, attitudes, and concepts represented?
OR, in what way is reality/the world represented?

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!

Is the painting on the left more creative than that of the solitary circle? Hmm, maybe, maybe not…

When formulating a HLE on the concept of creativity we have two main pointers for you. Look for:

  1. Interesting + Unique techniques or literary devices used within a text by the author. You can learn more in the Analysis Simplified course.
  2. 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:

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?

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:

  1. For each text / non-literary work, go through each concept in the table below.
  2. Write down a question for each of the two prompts for each category.
  3. Repeat for all of your texts.
  4. 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.

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.

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

Lareina’s 5-star review of Analysis Simplified for IB English

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.

Summary

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 💪 

2

Skyrocket Your IB English Grade 🚀

With a Free LitLearn Account, Get Immediate Access to...

Level 1 Techniques

Start with the 4 Basic Techniques for IB English

Diction

8 Minutes

FAQ: "Why should I learn to properly analyze diction?"

Diction is the most fundamental technique, yet most students struggle to analyze it correctly. Diction is found in every text you'll ever come across in IB English Lang & Lit and IB English Literature.

This 8-Minute lesson will cover:

  1. What is diction?
  2. Quick Example of diction in a quote
  3. Exemplar Analysis using the Diamond Analysis Formula
  4. Practical Analysis Advice for Diction
  5. A Word of Warning for IB English students

What is Diction?

Diction is the simplest literary technique, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to master.

Pay close attention!

Diction means “word choice”: the specific words that a writer deliberately chooses to use in their writing.

Actually analysing diction in your IB English assessment would sound something like this:

  • “The writer’s use of emotional diction in line 5 illustrates…”
  • “The religious diction such as ‘communion’ and ‘confession’ suggests…”

Now, the problem we face as IB English students is that every word on a page technically counts as diction. We obviously can’t analyse all of them! So we need some rules. Two to be exact.

The rules of diction

  1. Never analyse boring words.
  2. Always analyse interesting words.

So how can you tell if a word is interesting and therefore worthy of analysis?

Connotations

Every word has a denotation (i.e., a boring, literal meaning found in the dictionary) and connotations.

A word is interesting if it has interesting connotations. In analysis, we tend to care less about the denotative meaning of a word because it’s not interesting.

Take the word “gold” as an example.

Denotation: “a yellow precious metal, the chemical element of atomic number 79”

Yawn. BORING.

The word “gold” obviously means a lot more to us than just its boring denotation. The word “gold” instantly makes us think of:

wealth, money, luxury, prestige, royalty, quality, beauty, perfection, big fat Rolexes

These ideas, feelings, and impressions that we naturally associate with certain words are called connotations. They are distinct from denotations: Denotation is what the thing literally means; connotation is what we think and feel about that thing.

Big difference.

Since analysis is about wading into the deeper layers of meaning, we care much more about connotations when we analyse diction.

Let’s take a look at the diction in this sentence:

“The town was an infested den of thieves and smugglers.”

Which words have interesting connotations?

The word “infested” is interesting. When we read/hear the word “infested”, we immediately think

Ewwwwwwwwww!!!

We think of a gross mental image of disgusting cockroaches and rats crawling around in some old basement or sewer. To us, the diction of “infested” connotes disgust, and the writer probably chose this word precisely because it makes the town seem dirty and disgusting.

“Infested” also connotes a sense of corruption; in this case, it’s not so much the biological disease, which is the literal meaning, but instead the moral corruption of these thieves and smugglers who work in morally-questionable professions.

There’s also another really interesting layer of meaning. We usually associate the diction of “infested” with animals and insects, as opposed to humans. So the writer uses animalistic diction to dehumanise these criminals to the level of animals, making us view them with contempt (remember this word from the tone list?).

By thinking about the connotations, we got some great analysis about amorality, disgust and dehumanisation.

Recall the 5 steps of the Diamond Analysis Formula from the Analysis Foundations section. Well, all we have to do is apply them here, and voila, we cook up some decent analysis like this:

The author characterises “the town” to be “infested” with criminals. Here, the deliberate use of animalistic diction in “infested” serves to dehumanise the “thieves and smugglers” as creatures comparable to cockroaches or rats, which evokes a sense of disgust in readers. The animalistic diction thus captures the squalid, corrupted state of this “town” and builds an unsettling atmosphere.

Great new adjectives to use in your next essay to boost your Criterion D Language mark:

  • “squalid”: lacking in moral standards
  • “unsettling”: disturbing, making someone feel uneasy or anxious

When you use the word “diction”, try to precede it with an adjective. For example, avoid writing

“The diction in ‘infested’…”

Instead, write

“The animalistic diction in ‘infested’…”

The reason is because ‘diction’ itself is meaningless unless we specify a particular type of word choice. In some cases, the diction is neutral and that is when you have no choice but to just write “diction”.

The same rule applies to tone, atmosphere and mood. Add a preceding adjective. There’s no meaning behind tone unless it’s a specific tone. The same goes for atmosphere and mood.

If you get tired of writing “diction” all the time, you can vary your diction by replacing it with “language”. For example, you can write “emotional diction” or “emotional language”, “formal diction” or “formal language”. They mean the same thing.

Yes, diction is the most fundamental technique and it’s important to understand.

Many students stay stuck at Level 1 in IB English, forever analysing this word, and that word, and this diction, and that diction.

To increase your IB English grade, you must learn more techniques, and rise up in the sophistication of the techniques that you analyse. You must learn the rest of the Level 1 techniques, and from there catapult into Levels 2, 3 and 4.

Create a Free LitLearn Account for Full Access to Level 1 Techniques

Learn the Essential Techniques

Levels 2 to 4 are Premium Access only
Skyrocket your IB English grade like Aanya and Ethan
trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB6 in 12 days

"I went from a 4 to a 6 in IB English [in 12 days], something that I had not seen coming at all! LitLearn helped me understand exactly what I was doing wrong and how to improve upon those mistakes."

Aanya Vora, IB English Lang Lit student
trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB7 in 1 Week

"[LitLearn] helped immensely in terms of building up the fundamentals such as knowing the techniques and their effects, which were key for my improvement. [...] I managed to improve my grade from a 12 to a 17."

Ethan Cheng, IB English Literature student
START HERE

Level 1 Techniques

Click button to access Free lesson 👆 

📕 Free Level 1 Lesson

Learn the same analysis secrets that helped Aanya, Ethan and countless other IB English students skyrocket their grade in weeks, days and even overnight in some cases…

In the Level 1 to Level 4 Techniques lessons, you will find:

  • Refreshing examples and analysis exemplars that show you exactly how to write 7-level analysis.
  • Practical Analysis Advice on how to approach analysis for each key technique, including the common effects and purposes. This helped Ethan Cheng improve from a 12 to a 17/20 in 1 week!

Essay Essentials

11+ Key Lessons on IB English Paper 1, Paper 2 & HLE Writing

How to Craft a Strong Thesis

10 Minutes

FAQ: "Why should I learn how to write a strong thesis?"

IB teachers and examiners form a first impression of your Paper 1 (...and Paper 2, IO and HLE!) based on 1 sentence in your introduction: the thesis. First impressions are important, so your thesis better be good!

This 10-Minute lesson will cover:

  1. What is a thesis?
  2. The Two Crucial Ingredients of a Strong Thesis
  3. The Bulletproof Thesis Formula
  4. Practical Example: How to Improve a Thesis statement
  5. A Word of Warning: Depth can kill

After successfully deconstructing and interpreting a text (explained in another Essay Essential lesson), you will have three things in your hot little hands:

  1. several main ideas
  2. annotations of techniques
  3. the writer’s overall purpose

Now, the hard part…

We need to summarise these three things in a single sentence called the thesis (or subject statement). At this point, we still haven’t started writing the Paper 1 yet. We are still in the planning phase. By doing all of this planning, the writing process will be much, much easier.

“OK, but what–actually–is a thesis?”

The thesis is a single sentence in the introduction of a guided analysis that states how the writer achieves his/her overall purpose. This sentence—this thesis—is also the main argument that you are trying to prove in your IB English Paper 1 guided analysis. The marker can usually judge the strength of your analytical skills from your subject statement alone, so it needs to be well-written.

A good subject statement must tick two boxes:

  • it must be clear and concise
  • it must convey the writer’s intention

1. Be clear and concise

Students often write a long, winding sentence for their thesis. This is bad because the marker cannot easily distinguish your thesis from the rest of your introduction. This is particularly bad when you realise that a marker spends only a couple of minutes reading through each essay (ain’t nobody got time for dat).

As such, you should always write a clear and concise thesis that is no longer than ~30 words.

“In the story, the author looks at how the main character is sad and how he always fights with his parents when he returns home from school.” (27 words)

This is a bad subject statement:

  • The language isn’t clear. In particular, the verb “looks” is too vague and informal. The word “how” is also informal.
  • The sentence isn’t concise. The subject statement should focus only on the main ideas: sadness and familial conflict. The contextual detail of “coming home from school” is distracting. Avoid excess information in the thesis.

A better subject statement looks like this:

“In the prose extract, the author conveys the sadness of the protagonist through the portrayal of his frequent conflict with his parents.” (21 words)

  • The language is clearer and more sophisticated. Notice how instead of writing “In the story”, we can write “In the prose extract”.
  • The sentence is also more concise. The language in “conveys” is much better than “looks at”.

Another great subject statement might look like this:

“In the prose extract, the author characterises the protagonist as a sad teenager who suffers frequent conflict with his parents.”

  • Here, the subject statement is explicit about the literary focus of the essay by including the term “characterization.”
  • In the poem/prose extract/article, (author X) explores/ criticizes/ ridicules/ portrays/ highlights/ illustrates the (subject) in order to (purpose).

In general, use this formula for clear and concise subject statements.

In the poem / play / prose extract / article (genre), the writer explores / criticises / ridicules/ portrays / highlights / illustrates (some verb) _________ (idea, effect, or meaning).

Our subject statement is now clear and concise, but there’s one problem. It feels too simplistic. There’s no depth. The reason is because we’re missing something essential.

2. Sprinkle the writer’s purpose

At the moment, our subject statement is simply saying: “In the text, the writer does this.” But that’s only half the picture. We need to add the writer’s purpose. The subject statement needs to say:

“The writer does this, this and that in order to achieve a purpose.”

By explaining not just what the writer does but also why the writer does it, the subject statement immediately becomes deeper and more complete.

For example:

“In the prose extract, the author characterises the protagonist as a sad teenager who experiences frequent conflict with his parents in order to highlight the harsh estrangement of adolescence.”

where the bolded part of the subject statement expresses the intention (why) behind the writer’s use of characterisation (what).

The subject statement sounds even better if we move the author’s intention to the beginning of the sentence:

In order to highlight the harsh estrangement of adolescence, the author characterizes the protagonist as a sad teenager who suffers frequent conflict with his parents.”

Or, we can be a little less explicit about the purpose by expressing it as a theme: .

“In the prose extract, the author explores the distressed emotional landscape of adolescence through the portrayal of the teenage protagonist’s constant melancholy and familial conflict.”

  • Here the writer’s message is expressed instead as a central theme: the distressed emotional landscape of adolescence.

We now have a new template for writing strong subject statements that have both clarity and depth.

In the poem / play / prose extract / article (some genre), the writer explores / criticises / ridicules/ portrays / highlights / illustrates (some verb) _________ (idea, effect, or meaning) in order to __________ (some purpose).

After you get used to using this template, it will start to feel formulaic and boring. At that stage, feel free to do away with the training wheels and express your thesis however you like, as long as it is clear, concise and conveys the writer’s intention.

Improving a real subject statement by a real student

Student’s version
“Banville utilises situational irony created by the characterisation of the parents, and the situational irony of the narrator’s depressing holiday to express a bittersweet tone by the narrator.” (28 words)

One of our lovely LitLearn students wrote this subject statement for a Higher Level Paper 1 guided analysis. We are going to identify what’s wrong with it, and then we will improve on it.

  • First, the subject statement is not concise. Situational irony is mentioned too many times, and the overall idea of the narrator’s depressing memories can be conveyed more succinctly.
  • Second, there’s an issue with the purpose. The student has made the bittersweet tone the writer’s core purpose. But tone is never the purpose. Ever. Tone is a technique used as a means, a vehicle, a way to achieve a purpose. So the purpose needs to change.
Fixed version
“Banville ironically constructs the narrator’s depressing memories of her childhood holidays in order to portray the fractured relationships within her family.” (21 words)
  • This version is clearer and more concise. It’s seven words shorter. The two uses of situational irony have been replaced by just one use of “ironically”. The reason for doing so is because situational irony is distracting detail that is irrelevant in the thesis but can be mentioned later in the introduction or in the points of the commentary.
  • Also, the purpose is now an actual purpose. The message of the story was really about the horrible relationship between the narrator and her parents, and this purpose is now adequately summarised in the phrase, “fractured relationships within her family.” Notice how an accurate understanding of the writer’s purpose is starting to become important just in the introduction; make sure you’ve deconstructed a text well before you even attempt to write the subject statement, because otherwise your interpretation will be wrong and your Knowledge and Understanding Criterion will go down.
  • Also, we removed the reference to tone from the thesis. The reason why tone is removed entirely from the thesis is because, like situational irony, tone is a distracting detail that is not important at the Big Picture level and should instead be mentioned later in the introduction and body paragraphs.

Depth can kill

A common question that students ask is this, and you might have wondered about it many times before…

The question is this:

“Hey <Teacher / Tutor / LitLearn>, does the subject statement (or thesis, or argument) have to be really, really deep?”

In other words, does the writer’s purpose need to be highly philosophical message about things like, “What is the meaning of life?”

I’m sure you will be glad to hear that the answer is a definite “No.”

Don’t try to make up some deep message that doesn’t exist in the text. It might sound impressive, but it won’t help you at all. In your subject statement, simply write down what the writer’s purpose is, and as accurately as you can. If you have genuinely interpreted the writer’s purpose to be a deep message, like “the meaning of life”, then great. But if the writer’s purpose is clearly just characterisation, then simply use that as the purpose and don’t make up some corny, cheesy message that doesn’t even represent the text at all.

Accuracy is what you should be worrying about, and you should not be worrying about whether the purpose in your subject statement sounds intellectual or philosophical.

Essay Essentials

This lesson is only available to Free LitLearn members.
Start with the Thesis Lesson. No Sign Up Needed.

IB English Practice Papers

Detailed Video Solutions to help you prepare for Paper 1

Lang & Lit: Poster Ad

Get hints when you’re stuck:
  • Language Hints video (3 min)
  • Visual Hints video (3 min)
Check your answer with the full solution:
  • Full Annotation & Analysis video (20 min)
  • Exemplar 20/20 Essay Plan video (10 min)
  • Exemplar 20/20 Essay Response (1000 words)

Literature: Prose

Get hints when you’re stuck:
  • Knowledge & Interpretation video (7 min)
Check your answer with the full solution:
  • Annotation & Analysis Video Part 1 (20 min)
  • Annotation & Analysis Video Part 2 (20 min)
  • Exemplar 20/20 Essay Plan Guide
  • How to Write Analysis Paragraph (10 min)
+ More Practice Papers for Lang Lit and Literature
Speeches, Prose, Poems, Ads
trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB7 in 1 Week

"[LitLearn] helped immensely in terms of building up the fundamentals such as knowing the techniques and their effects, which were key for my improvement. [...] I managed to improve my grade from a 12 to a 17."

Ethan Cheng, IB English Literature student
trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB6 in 12 days

"I went from a 4 to a 6 in IB English [in 12 days], something that I had not seen coming at all! LitLearn helped me understand exactly what I was doing wrong and how to improve upon those mistakes."

IB English Past Paper Solutions

LitLearn's exemplar Breakdowns, Plans & Full Essay Responses help you prepare for Paper 1 with confidence.
Past Paper Solutions are Premium Access only

IB English Lang & Lit

IB English Literature

None available yet. Coming soon after November 2022.

trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB7 in 1 Week

"[LitLearn] helped immensely in terms of building up the fundamentals such as knowing the techniques and their effects, which were key for my improvement. [...] I managed to improve my grade from a 12 to a 17."

Ethan Cheng, IB English Literature student
trustpilot-5stars-1
IB4 to IB6 in 12 days

"I went from a 4 to a 6 in IB English [in 12 days], something that I had not seen coming at all! LitLearn helped me understand exactly what I was doing wrong and how to improve upon those mistakes."

2

Skyrocket Your IB English Grade 🚀

Get Immediate Access to...
2

Skyrocket Your IB English Grade 🚀

With a Free LitLearn Account, Get Immediate Access to...