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The Complete IB Extended Essay Guide: Examples, Topics, and Ideas

Posted by Dora Seigel | Nov 3, 2019 12:00:00 AM

International Baccalaureate (IB)

 

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IB students around the globe fear writing the Extended Essay, but it doesn't have to be a source of stress! In this article, I'll get you excited about writing your Extended Essay and provide you with the resources you need to get an A.

If you're reading this article, I assume you're an IB Student getting ready to write your Extended Essay. If you're looking at this as a potential future IB student, I recommend reading our other introductory IB articles first: What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? and What is the IB Curriculum? What are IB Diploma Requirements?

 

Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I'm a recipient of an IB Diploma, and I happened to receive an A on my IB Extended Essay. If you don't believe me, the proof is in the IBO pudding.

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If you're confused by what this report means, EE is short for Extended Essay, and English A1 is the subject that my Extended Essay topic coordinated with. In layman's terms, my IB Diploma was graded during May 2010, I wrote my Extended Essay in the English A1 category, and I received a grade A.

 

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What Is the Extended Essay?

The IB Extended Essay (or EE) is a mini-thesis that you write under the supervision of an advisor (an IB teacher at your school), which counts towards your IB Diploma (to learn about all of the IB diploma requirements, check out our other article). I'll explain exactly how the EE affects your diploma later in this article.

For the Extended Essay, you choose a research question as a topic, conduct the research independently, then write an essay over your findings. The essay itself is a long one—while there's a cap of 4,000 words, most successful essays get very close to this limit. Keep in mind that the IBO requires this essay to be a "formal piece of academic writing," which means you'll have to do outside research and cite additional sources, too.

The IB Extended Essay must include:

  • A title page
  • Contents page
  • Introduction
  • Body of the essay
  • Conclusion
  • References and bibliography
  • Be no more than 4,000 words

Keep in mind that your research topic must fall into one of the approved DP subjects, which are one of your six chosen subjects for the IB diploma. The six groups include:

  1. Studies in language and literature
  2. Language acquisition
  3. Individuals and societies
  4. Sciences
  5. Mathematics
  6. The Arts

Once you figure out your DP and your research topic, it's time to pick your advisor, who is normally an IB teacher preferably at your school. This person will help direct your research, and they'll conduct the reflection sessions you'll have to do as part of your Extended Essay.

 

The Reflection Process

As of 2018, the IBO requires a reflection process as part of your EE supervision process. To fulfill this requirement, you have to meet at least three times with your supervisor in what the IBO calls "reflection sessions." These meetings are mandatory, and they're part of the formal assessment of the EE and your research processes.

According to the IBO, the purpose for these meetings is to "provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their engagement with the research process." In other words, these meetings are in place to allow your supervisors to give you feedback, push you to think differently, and encourage you to evaluate your own research processes.

The final reflection session is called the viva voce, and it's a short interview (10 to 15 minutes) between you and your advisor. This happens at the very end of the EE process, and it's designed to help your advisor write their report (which factors into your EE grade). The topics covered in your viva voce are:

  • A check on plagiarism and malpractice
  • Your reflection on your project's successes and difficulties
  • Your reflection on what you've learned during the EE process

Your completed Extended Essay, along with your supervisor's report, will then sent to the IBO to be graded. We'll cover the assessment criteria in just a moment.

 

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What Should You Write About in Your Extended Essay?

You can technically write about anything, so long as it falls within one of the approved DPs listed above. However, you should choose a topic that falls into one of the IB Course Categories, (such as Theatre, Film, Spanish, French, Math, Biology, etc.) which shouldn't be difficult because there are so many class subjects. Here is a range of sample topics with the attached extended essay:

You can see from how varied the topics are that you have a lot of freedom when it comes to picking a topic. So, how do you pick when the options are limitless? I'll help you with that, too!

 

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6 Tips for Writing a Grade A Extended Essay

Below are the six key tips you need to follow to write an outstanding Extended Essay.

 

Tip #1: Write About Something You Enjoy

I love British theatre and ended up writing mine about a revolution in post-WWII British theatre. (Yes, I'm definitely a #TheatreNerd.)

I really encourage anyone who pursues an IB Diploma to take the Extended Essay seriously. I ended up receiving a full-tuition merit scholarship to USC's School of Dramatic Arts program and in my interview for the scholarship, I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay. I genuinely think my Extended Essay helped me get my scholarship.

So, how do you find a topic you are passionate about? Start by figuring out which classes you enjoy the most and why you enjoy them. Do you like your math because you like to problem solve? Or do you enjoy English because you like to analyze texts?

Keep in mind there's no right or wrong answer to choosing your Extended Essay topic. You're not more likely to get highest marks because you're writing about science, just like you're not doomed to failure because you've chosen to tackle an area of the social sciences. The quality of what you produce—not the DP you choose to research within—will determine your grade.

Once you have figured out your DP area, you should brainstorm more specific topics by putting pen to paper. What was your favorite chapter you learned in that class? Was it astrophysics or mechanics? What did you like about that specific chapter? Is there something you want to learn more about? I recommend spending a few hours on this type of brainstorming.

One last note: if you're truly stumped on what to research, pick a topic that will help you in your future major or career. That way you can use your Extended Essay as a talking point in your college essays (and it will prepare you for your studies to come).

 

Tip #2: Chose a Topic That Is Not Too Broad or Too Narrow

This is a fine line. You need to write about something specific, but not so specific that you can't write 4,000 words on it. You can't write about WWII because that would be a book's worth of material. You don't want to write about what type of soup prisoners of war received in POW camps because you probably can't come up with 4,000 words on it. However, you could possibly write about how the conditions in German POW camps were directly affected by the Nazis successes and failures. This may be too obvious of a topic, but you get my point.

If you're really stuck trying to find a not too broad or narrow topic, I recommend trying to brainstorm a topic that uses a comparison. Once you begin looking through the list of sample essays below, you may notice that many use comparisons to formulate their research argument.

I also used comparison in my EE, comparing Harold Pinter's Party Time to John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in order to show a transition in British Theatre. Topics with comparisons of 2-3 plays/books/diets/etc. tend to be in the sweet spot. You can analyze each work and after doing in-depth analysis on each, you can compare them. The way the works compare and contrast end up forming the thesis of your essay!

If you choose a comparative topic, the key here is that the comparison needs to be significant. I compared two plays to show a transition in British Theatre, but you could compare the ways different regional dialects affect people's job prospects or how different temperatures may (or may not) affect the mating patterns of lightning bugs. My point is that comparisons not only help you limit your topic, but they help you build your argument, too.

Comparisons are not the only way to get a grade A EE. If after brainstorming, you pick a non-comparison based topic and you are still unsure if a topic is too broad or narrow, spend 30 minutes doing some basic research and see how much material is out there. If there are over 1,000 books/articles/documentaries out there on the exact topic, it may be too broad. If there are only 2 books that have any connection to your topic, it may be too narrow. If you are still unsure, ask your advisor! Speaking of advisors...

 

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Don't get stuck with a narrow topic!

 

Tip #3: Choose an Advisor Who Is Familiar With Your Topic

If you are not certain of who you would like to be your advisor, I would start by creating a list of your top three choices. Next, create a list of pros and cons (I know this sounds tedious, but it really helps!).

For example, Mr. Green is my favorite teacher, and we get along really well, but he teaches English. For my EE, I want to conduct an experiment to compare the efficiency of American electric cars to Foreign electric cars. Ms. White teaches Physics, I had her a year ago, and she liked me. Unlike Mr. Green, Ms. White could help me design my experiment.

Based on my topic and what I need from my advisor, Ms. White is a better fit for me than Mr. Green (even though I like him a lot.)

The moral of my story is this: do NOT just ask your favorite teacher to be your advisor. They may be a hindrance to you if they teach another subject. For example, I would not suggest asking your Biology teacher to guide you in writing your English EE.

There are exceptions to this rule, though. If you have a teacher who is passionate and knowledgeable about your topic (as my English teacher was about my Theatre topic), you can ask that instructor. Consider all of your options first before you do. There was no theatre teacher at my school, so I could not find a theatre-specific advisor, but I chose the next best thing.

Before you approach a teacher to serve as your advisor, check with your school to see what requirements they have for this process. Some IB high schools require your IB Extended Essay advisor to sign an Agreement Form, for instance. Make sure you ask your IB coordinator if there is any required paperwork. If your school needs a form signed, make sure you bring it with you when you ask a teacher to be your EE advisor.

 

Tip #4: Choose an Advisor Who Will Push You to Be Your Best

Some teachers may just take on students because they have to and may not be passionate about reading drafts and may not give you a lot of feedback. Choose a teacher who will take the time to read several drafts and give you extensive notes. I would not have gotten my A without being pushed to make the draft better.

Ask a teacher that you have experience with through class or an extracurricular activity. Do not ask a teacher that you have no connection to; a teacher who does not know you is unlikely to push you.

Also keep in mind that your supervisor's assessment is a part of your overall EE score. If you're meeting with someone who pushes you to do better—and then you actually take their advice—they'll have more impressive things to say about you than a supervisor who doesn't know you and/or isn't involved in your research process.

Note: The IBO only allows advisors to suggest improvements to the EE. Your teacher cannot actually help you write your EE. The IBO recommends that the supervisor spends approximately two to three hours in total with the candidate discussing the EE.

 

Tip #5: Make Sure Your Essay Has a Clear Structure and Flow

The IBO likes structure. Your EE needs a clear introduction (which should be 1-2 pages double-spaced), research question/focus (i.e. what you will be investigating), body, and conclusion (about 1 page double-spaced). An essay that has unclear or poor organization will be graded poorly.

The body of your EE should make up the bulk of the essay. It should be about 8-18 pages double-spaced (again depending on your topic). Your body can be split into multiple parts. For example, if you are doing a comparison, you might have 1/3 of your body as Novel A Analysis, 1/3 as Novel B Analysis, and the last 1/3 as your comparison of your Novel A and B analysis.

If you are conducting an experiment or analyzing data such as in this EE, your EE body will have a clear and obvious parts following the scientific method: stating the research question, discussing your method, showing the data, analyzing the data, discussing uncertainties, and drawing a conclusion/evaluating the experiment.

 

Tip #6: Start Writing Sooner Rather Than Later!

You will not be able to crank out a 4,000-word essay in a week and get an A. You will be reading many, many articles (and, depending on your topic, possibly books, plays, and movies). Start the research possible as soon as possible.

Each school has a slightly different deadline for the Extended Essay. Some schools want them as soon as November of your senior year; others will take them as later as February of your senior year. Your school will give you your deadline; if they haven't mentioned it by February of your junior year, ask your IB coordinator.

Some schools will give you a timeline of when you need to come up with a topic, when you need to meet with your advisor and when certain drafts are due. Not all schools do. Ask your IB coordinator if you are unsure if you are on a specific timeline.

Here is my recommended timeline, it is earlier than most schools, but it will save you so much heartache (trust me, I remember):

  • January/February of Junior Year: Come up with your final research topic (or at least your top three options).
  • February of Junior Year: Approach a teacher about being your EE advisor (if he or she says no, keep asking others until you find one. See my notes above on how to pick an EE advisor).
  • April/May of Junior Year: Submit an outline of your EE and a bibliography of potential research sources (I recommend at least 7-10) to your EE advisor. Meet with your EE advisor to discuss your outline.
  • Summer Between Junior and Senior Year: Complete your first full draft over the summer between your junior and senior year! I know, I know—no one wants to work during the summer, but trust me...this will save you so much stress come the fall when you are busy with college applications and other IB internal assessments for your IB classes.

    You will want to have this first full draft done because you will want to complete a couple of draft cycles as you likely won't be able to get everything you want to say into 4000 articulate words on the first try. Try to get this first draft into the best possible shape you can so that you don't have to work on too many revisions during the school year on top of your homework/college applications/work/extracurriculars/etc.
  • August/September of Senior Year: Turn in your first draft of your EE to your advisor and receive feedback. Work on incorporating their feedback into your essay. If they have a lot of suggestions for improvement, ask if they will read one more draft before the final draft.
  • September/October of Senior Year: Submit second draft of EE to your advisor (if necessary) and receive their feedback. Work on creating the best possible final draft.
  • November-February of Senior Year: Schedule your viva voce. Submit two copies of your final draft to your school to be sent off to IBO. You likely will not get your grade until after you graduate.

Remember that in the middle of these milestones, you'll need to schedule two other reflection sessions with your advisor. (Your teachers will actually take notes on these sessions on a form like this one, which then get submitted to the IBO.) I recommend doing them when you get feedback on your drafts, but these meetings will ultimately be up to your supervisor. Just don't forget to do them!

 

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The early bird DOES get the worm!

 

How's the Extended Essay Graded?

Extended essays are marked by external assessors (examiners appointed by the IB) on a scale of 0 to 34. You'll be graded on five criteria, each with its own set of points. You can learn more about how you'll be graded on each criterion by reading the IB guide to extended essays.

  • Criterion A: Focus and method (6 points maximum)
  • Criterion B: Knowledge and understanding (6 points maximum)
  • Criterion C: Critical Thinking (12 points maximum)
  • Criterion D: Presentation (4 points maximum)
  • Criterion E: Engagement (6 points maximum)

How well you do on each of these criteria will determine the final letter value you get for your essay. Although each criterion has a point value, IB explicitly states that graders are not converting point totals into grades; instead, they use qualitative grade descriptors to determine the final grade of your EE. Grade descriptors are on page 103 of this document.

However, here's a rough estimate of how different point values translate to letter grades, based on previous scoring methods for EE. Remember though, this is just an estimate, and you should read and understand the grade descriptors so you know exactly what the scorers are looking for.

Rubric Assessment Points Earned Descriptor Letter
Grade 30 – 34 Excellent: A
25 – 29 Good: B
17 – 24 Satisfactory: C
9 – 16 Mediocre: D
0 - 8 Elementary: E

 

Here is the typical breakdown of scores (from 2014):

Extended Essay

% Awarded Grade

A 13%
B 24%
C 38%
D 22%
E 2%

 

How Does the Extended Essay Grade Affect Your IB Diploma?

The Extended Essay grade is combined with your TOK (Theory of Knowledge) grade to determine how many points you get towards your IB Diploma. To learn about Theory of Knowledge or how many points you need to receive your IB Diploma, read our other articles on What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? or IB Diploma Requirements.

This diagram shows how the two scores are combined to determine how many points you receive for your IB diploma (3 being the most, 0 being the least). In order to be awarded your IB Diploma, you have to 24 points across both categories (the TOK and EE). The highest score anyone can earn is 45 points.

 

TOK_matrix

So, let's say you get an A on your EE and a B on TOK, you will get 3 points towards your diploma. As of 2014, a student who scores an E on either the extended essay or TOK essay will not be eligible to receive an IB diploma. Prior to the class of 2010, a diploma candidate could receive a failing grade in either the extended essay or theory of knowledge and still be awarded a diploma, but this is no longer true.

Figuring out how you're assessed can be a little tricky. Luckily, the IBO breaks everything down for you in this document. (The assessment information begins on page 219.)

 

Sample Extended Essays

In case you want a little more guidance on how to get an A EE. Here are over 50 Excellent (grade A) sample extended essays for your reading pleasure:

 

What's Next?

Trying to figure out what extracurricular you should do? Learn more about participating in Science Olympiad, starting a club, doing volunteer work, and joining Student Government.

Studying for the SAT? Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check out our guide to cramming.

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score.

 

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.



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