In the IB Diploma Programme, students can choose one of three options in Group 1: studies in language and literature. The options are:  Language A: literature (SL/HL), Language A: language and literature (SL/HL), or Literature and performance (SL). This section will focus on one of the most popular courses, Language A: literature, which is offered at both the standard level (SL) and the higher level (HL). This section has been updated for the exam starting in 2021.

Literature is the exclusive focus of Language A Literature. Students focus exclusively on literary books from the prescribed list of authors (PLA), generally in their native language or translated to their native language from other languages.

The structure of the course for SL and HL students is the same (Table 1). HL students cover more literary books (13) than SL students (9). The exam structure is also the same for both levels (Table 2), with HL students spending more hours on the external exam (2.15 hrs vs 1.15 in paper 1) and doing one written assessment. 

Table 1 : Works in Language A Literature  

ComponentsWorkCommentTeaching Time (hrs)
Works in TranslationSL: Min. of 3 Works
HL: Min. of 4 Works
authors are from the prescribed list of authorsmore than 65
Written in the language studiedSL: Min. of 4 Works
HL: Min. of 5 Works
authors are from the prescribed list of authorsmore than 65
Free choice Genres
SL: Min. of 2 Works
HL: Min. of 4 Works
authors are from the prescribed list of authorsmore than 40
ComponentsWorks in TranslationWritten in the language studiedFree choice Genres
WorkSL: Min. of 3 Works
HL: Min. of 4 Works
SL: Min. of 4 Works
HL: Min. of 5 Works
SL: Min. of 2 Works
HL: Min. of 4 Works
Commentauthors are from the prescribed list of authorsauthors are from the prescribed list of authorsauthors are from the prescribed list of authors
Teaching Time (hrs)more than 65
more than 65
more than 40

In Paper 1, students are given two previously unseen passages from two different literary genres and preferably not from the “prescribed list of authors.” They are also given a general guiding question that shows them what aspect of the texts they must focus on. The SL students are supposed to write a guided analysis of the texts, while HL students will have to write two separate analyses for both texts.

Table 2 : Structure of English A Literature’s Exam

Type of AssessmentFormat of AssessmentTime (hrs)Weight of Final Grade (SL:70%, HL:80%)
Paper 1SL: Literary analysis of one unseen text from the choice of two

HL: Literary analysis of two unseen texts from the choice of two
SL: 1.15

HL: 2.15

Paper 2 SL: Comparative essay based on two studied works in response to one of the four question choices

HL: Comparative Essay based on 2 studied works

(Paper 2 is eliminated for 2021 exam)
SL: 1.45

HL: 1.45

Written AssignmentHL ONLY: Literary analysis and a reflective essay with the length of 1200-1500 words on one work studied NA20

In Paper 2, students are given two previously studied passages with four general guiding questions, of which they choose one, and write a comparative essay. There is more flexibility in selecting the works, but the questions will be provided on the exam paper. Paper 2 has been eliminated for May 2021 because of COVID-19.

Additionally, HL students write a literary analysis and a reflective essay on one of the works studied during the course, worth 20% of their final grade. 



Please note that, recently, there has been a significant change in the internal assessment (IA). Like all other IAs, the literature internal assessment is a requirement for both HL and SL students. Students present a prepared, 10-minute oral presentation that is followed by 5 minutes of follow-up questions concerning global issues present in the works. Audio of the entire session will be recorded. Students choose two works—one in its original language and another in translation. The works should be directly related to global issues. Students must choose the equivalent of 40 lines of material and they can bring the work to the session but with no highlights or annotations.

Authenticity is a critical aspect of the IA and it starts with selecting global issues or topics. Instructors play a crucial role in ensuring the authenticity of the student’s work. Support is necessary for the entire duration of the internal assessment. Teachers should ensure that students know the individual oral requirements, the academic honesty standards, and the assessment criteria. A conducive environment and proper teacher-student relationship fosters communication between the instructors and students, allowing the students to benefit from advice, guidance, and information. Guidance extends to selecting the assessment topic and the appropriate texts which can support the scope of the chosen global issue. Periodic feedback also enlightens the students on areas of improvement that will help fulfill the assessment criteria.

The requirements and recommendations for both standard level and higher-level learners during the IA are almost identical as both SL and HL students are subjected to the same assessment criteria. However, the IA for SL students is worth 30% of their final grade, while it is only worth 20% for those in HL. As it makes up a significant portion of the final grade, the IA necessitates allocating appropriate time to impart the knowledge, skill, and comprehension vital to taking the test. The teacher should explain the IA requirements and help students prepare for the assessment, while also making time for teacher-student consultations, progress reviews, authentications, and conducting the orals.

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Understanding the IA assessment criteria’s scope is paramount, considering they are similar for SL and HL students. Each criterion has multiple descriptors to look for during the assessment. Teachers should note that a student’s work may not fit all the descriptors. Therefore, the assessment takes the best-fit approach, which entails looking for the descriptor that best explains the student’s achievement level for each criterion. A mark is awarded by how well a student’s work reflects this criterion’s descriptors. Teachers are urged to go through each criterion’s descriptors while reflecting on the student’s work to identify the one that describes the work level under assessment. Various descriptors may appear to fit the work at times. In such cases, it is advisable to analyze these descriptors and choose one which best describes the student’s work.

The processes of delivering an effective individual oral presentation require an understanding of the internal assessment details. Several key aspects of delivering a good individual oral presentation include understanding the prompts, selecting an appropriate global issue, and choosing the right literature that connects with the global issue. Determining global issues is fundamental to all further downstream steps of assessment planning and delivery. The global issue must fit three properties: it should exhibit widescale impact, the impact should be felt daily on a local basis, and it should be transnational. A student may explore diverse fields of inquiry, including “beliefs, values, and education,” “politics, power and justice,” “science, technology and the environment,” and “culture, identity, and community.” Each of these fields provides endless topics to choose from. For instance, the students may explore global issues related to family, class, race, religion, gender, and sexuality in the field of “culture, identity, and community.” The field of “science, technology, and the environment,” on the other hand, provides an opportunity to explore the interaction between humans, technology, and the environment. Global issues also differ concerning the exploration approach. For instance, handling aesthetic topics will differ from gender-related issues. Such considerations are vital when choosing the two literary works relevant to the global issue to ensure they are sufficient to develop a well-supported argument.

The following are the three level descriptors for getting 9-10 in each criterion in IA of Languages:

Criterion A: Knowledge, understand and interpretation:
This criterion determines the student’s comprehension of the extracts and the texts, as well as how well the student is able to connect them to the chosen global issue. The primary determining factor of Criterion A is the implementation of quotations and citations from the extracts and texts in a manner that convincingly bolsters the student’s argument and ideas.
Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation
This criterion determines the student’s ability to analyze and present the extracts and texts in a way that is both meaningful and applicable to the chosen global issue. Specifically, the student must display a detailed comprehension of how the author (or authors) handles the global issue in the extracts and texts.
Criterion C: Focus and organization
This criterion determines the student’s technical and creative language skills. Not only must the student be mostly error-free, but their language must be engaging, coherent, and appropriate to the emotion and tone of the topic. Criterion C evaluates word choice, sentence structure, and style (both in voice and rhetoric) to determine how well the student utilizes these elements to communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively.

Getting a high score in IA literature is achievable by following certain guidelines (Table 3). High scores start with exhibiting knowledge and understanding of the global issue and chosen texts. The student should strive to portray a deep understanding and evaluation of those texts, which must also provide substantial insight into the issue. Paying attention to the organization of one’s oral presentation is also vital. The structure should be clear and display a flow of ideas with a balanced reflection of the texts. Additionally, the student should exhibit an appropriate use of language: tone, rhetorical devices, register, and other style elements should be well incorporated in the final work to enhance its quality. Proper language use ensures that the substance and meaning in the oral presentation endures, regardless of occasional errors.