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

Posted by Dora Seigel | Mar 22, 2020 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 on it.

If you're reading this article, I'm going to 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 introductory IB articles first, including our guide to what the IB program is and our full coverage of the IB curriculum.

 

2020 IB Changes Due to COVID-19

Because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, IB exams for May 2020 have been canceled and coursework deadlines have been extended for schools that have closed. Stay up to date with the latest information on what this means for IB diplomas, course credit for IB classes, and more with our IB COVID-19 FAQ article.

 

IB Extended Essay: Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I myself am a recipient of an IB Diploma, and I happened to receive an A on my IB Extended Essay. 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 in May 2010, I wrote my Extended Essay in the English A1 category, and I received an A grade on it.

 

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What Is the Extended Essay in the IB Diploma Programme?

The IB Extended Essay, or EE, is a mini-thesis you write under the supervision of an IB advisor (an IB teacher at your school), which counts toward your IB Diploma (learn more about the major IB Diploma requirements in our guide). I will explain exactly how the EE affects your Diploma later in this article.

For the Extended Essay, you will choose a research question as a topic, conduct the research independently, then write an essay on your findings. The essay itself is a long one—although there's a cap of 4,000 words, most successful essays get very close to this limit.

Keep in mind that the IB requires this essay to be a "formal piece of academic writing," meaning you'll have to do outside research and cite additional sources.

The IB Extended Essay must include the following:

  • A title page
  • Contents page
  • Introduction
  • Body of the essay
  • Conclusion
  • References and bibliography

Additionally, your research topic must fall into one of the six approved DP categories, or IB subject groups, which are as follows:

  • Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature
  • Group 2: Language Acquisition
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies
  • Group 4: Sciences
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: The Arts

Once you figure out your category and have identified a potential research topic, it's time to pick your advisor, who is normally an IB teacher at your school (though you can also find one online). 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.

As of 2018, the IB 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 IB calls "reflection sessions." These meetings are not only mandatory but are also part of the formal assessment of the EE and your research methods.

According to the IB, the purpose of these meetings is to "provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their engagement with the research process." Basically, these meetings give your supervisor the opportunity to offer feedback, push you to think differently, and encourage you to evaluate your research process.

The final reflection session is called the viva voce, and it's a short 10- to 15-minute interview 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.

Here are the topics covered in your viva voce:

  • 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 be sent to the IB to be graded. We'll cover the assessment criteria in just a moment.

 

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What Should You Write About in Your IB Extended Essay?

You can technically write about anything, so long as it falls within one of the approved categories listed above.

It's best to choose a topic that matches one of the IB courses, (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?

 

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How to Write a Stellar IB Extended Essay: 6 Essential Tips

Below are six key tips to keep in mind as you work on your Extended Essay for the IB DP. Follow these and you're sure to get an A!

 

#1: Write About Something You Enjoy

You can't expect to write a compelling essay if you're not a fan of the topic on which you're writing. For example, I just love British theatre and ended up writing my Extended Essay on 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 was fortunate enough to receive a full-tuition merit scholarship to USC's School of Dramatic Arts program. In my interview for the scholarship, I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay; thus, I genuinely think my Extended Essay helped me get my scholarship.

But how do you find a topic you're passionate about? Start by thinking about which classes you enjoy the most and why. Do you like math classes because you like to solve problems? Or do you enjoy English because you like to analyze literary texts?

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

Once you've figured out your category, 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 too!).

 

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#2: Select a Topic That Is Neither Too Broad nor Too Narrow

There's a fine line between broad and narrow. 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 will be unable to 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 might be too obvious of a topic, but you get my point.

If you're really stuck trying to pinpoint a not-too-broad-or-too-narrow topic, I suggest trying to brainstorm a topic that uses a comparison. Once you begin looking through the list of sample essays below, you'll notice that many use comparisons to formulate their main arguments.

I also used a comparison in my EE, contrasting Harold Pinter's Party Time with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in order to show a transition in British theatre. Topics with comparisons of two to three plays, books, and so on tend to be the sweet spot. You can analyze each item and then compare them with one another after doing some in-depth analysis of each individually. The ways these items compare and contrast will end up forming the thesis of your essay!

When choosing a comparative topic, the key is that the comparison should be significant. I compared two plays to illustrate the 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. The point here is that comparisons not only help you limit your topic, but they also help you build your argument.

Comparisons are not the only way to get a grade A EE, though. If after brainstorming, you pick a non-comparison-based topic and are still unsure whether your topic is too broad or narrow, spend about 30 minutes doing some basic research and see how much material is out there.

If there are more than 1,000 books, articles, or documentaries out there on that exact topic, it may be too broad. But if there are only two books that have any connection to your topic, it may be too narrow. If you're still unsure, ask your advisor—it's what they're there for! Speaking of advisors ...

 

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Don't get stuck with a narrow topic!

 

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

If you're not certain of who you would like to be your advisor, create a list of your top three choices. Next, write down the pros and cons of each possibility (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 that compares the efficiency of American electric cars with foreign electric cars.

I had Ms. White a year ago. She teaches physics and enjoyed having me in her class. Unlike Mr. Green, Ms. White could help me design my experiment.

Based on my topic and what I need from my advisor, Ms. White would be a better fit for me than would 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 might be a hindrance to you if they teach another subject. For example, I would not advise asking your biology teacher to guide you in writing an English literature-based EE.

There are of course exceptions to this rule, though. If you have a teacher who's passionate and knowledgeable about your topic (as my English teacher was about my theatre topic), you could ask that instructor. Consider all your options before you do this. There was no theatre teacher at my high school, so I couldn't 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 high 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 that you ask your IB coordinator whether there is any required paperwork to fill out. If your school needs a specific form signed, bring it with you when you ask your teacher to be your EE advisor.

 

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

Some teachers might just take on students because they have to and aren't very passionate about reading drafts, only giving you minimal feedback. Choose a teacher who will take the time to read several drafts of your essay and give you extensive notes. I would not have gotten my A without being pushed to make my Extended Essay draft better.

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

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

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

 

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

The IB likes structure. Your EE needs a clear introduction (which should be one to two double-spaced pages), research question/focus (i.e., what you're investigating), a body, and a conclusion (about one double-spaced page). An essay with unclear organization will be graded poorly.

The body of your EE should make up the bulk of the essay. It should be about eight to 18 pages long (again, depending on your topic). Your body can be split into multiple parts. For example, if you were doing a comparison, you might have one third of your body as Novel A Analysis, another third as Novel B Analysis, and the final third as your comparison of Novels A and B.

If you're conducting an experiment or analyzing data, such as in this EE, your EE body should have a clear structure that aligns with the scientific method; you should state the research question, discuss your method, present the data, analyze the data, explain any uncertainties, and draw a conclusion and/or evaluate the success of the experiment.

 

#6: Start Writing Sooner Rather Than Later!

You will not be able to crank out a 4,000-word essay in just a week and get an A on it. You'll be reading many, many articles (and, depending on your topic, possibly books and plays as well!). As such, it's imperative that you start your research 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 late as February. Your school will tell you what your deadline is. If they haven't mentioned it by February of your junior year, ask your IB coordinator about it.

Some high schools will provide you with 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 this. Ask your IB coordinator if you are unsure whether you are on a specific timeline.

Below is my recommended EE timeline. While it's earlier than most schools, it'll save you a ton of heartache (trust me, I remember how hard this process was!):

  • 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 they decline, 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 seven to 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 fall when you are busy with college applications and other 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 4,000 articulate words on the first attempt. Try to get this first draft into the best possible shape so you don't have to work on too many revisions during the school year on top of your homework, college applications, and extracurriculars.
  • 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 look at 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 the IB. 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 IB.)

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 Is the IB Extended Essay Graded?

Extended Essays are graded by 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 EE scoring works 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 grade you get for your EE. You must earn at least a D to be eligible to receive your IB Diploma.

Although each criterion has a point value, the IB explicitly states that graders are not converting point totals into grades; instead, they're using qualitative grade descriptors to determine the final grade of your Extended Essay. Grade descriptors are on page 103 of this document.

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

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

 

Here is the breakdown of EE scores (from the May 2019 bulletin):

Extended Essay Grade % of Students Awarded Grade
A 10.9%
B 23.5%
C 38.0%
D 25.1%
E 1.5%
N (No Grade Awarded) 1.0%

 

 

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 toward your IB Diploma.

To learn about Theory of Knowledge or how many points you need to receive an IB Diploma, read our complete guide to the IB program and our guide to the 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 get your IB Diploma, you have to earn 24 points across both categories (the TOK and EE). The highest score anyone can earn is 45 points.

TOK_matrix

Let's say you get an A on your EE and a B on TOK. You will get 3 points toward 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 IB breaks everything down here in this document. (The assessment information begins on page 219.)

 

40+ Sample Extended Essays for the IB Diploma Programme

In case you want a little more guidance on how to get an A on your EE, here are over 40 excellent (grade A) sample extended essays for your reading pleasure. Essays are grouped by IB subject.

 

What's Next?

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

Studying for the SAT? Check out our expert study guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in a month or so? Learn how to cram effectively for this important test.

Not sure where you want to go to college? Read our guide to finding your target school. Also, determine 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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