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 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,
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.
What Is the Extended Essay?
The IB Extended Essay (or EE) is a 4,000 word structured 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; this topic needs to be approved by IBO (which is not very difficult). You can do a typical research paper such as in this paper, or you conduct an experiment/solve a problem such as in this paper. Most schools allow you to pick your advisor (an IB teacher preferably at your school, although you can also get access to one at another school through the Pamoja Education). I'll explain how to pick your IB EE advisor below.
The IB Extended Essay must include:
- A cover page
- An abstract (one-page synopsis of your essay)
- A table of contents
- The 4,000-word essay (which will range from 10-20 pages depending on whether your topic requires illustrations such as an experiment would)
- A bibliography
What Should You Write About in Your Extended Essay?
You can technically write about anything, so long as the IBO approves it. However, you should choose a topic that falls into one of theIB 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 will help you with that next:
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 #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.
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 Math because you like to problem solve? Or do you enjoy English because you like to analyze texts?
Once you have figured out a general subject area such as Physics, 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 an hour on this type of brainstorming.
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 4000 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. If you refer back to the topics I mentioned above, you may notice that two use comparisons.
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 of not too narrow or broad because you can analyze each portion and after doing in-depth analysis on each, you compare and explain the significance of the comparison. The key here is that the comparison needs to be significant. I compared two plays to show a transition in British Theatre.
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:
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, and I want to conduct an experiment to compare the efficiency of American Hybrid Cars to Foreign Hybrid Cars. Ms. White teaches Physics, I had her a year ago, and she liked me. She could help me design my experiment. I am going to ask Ms. White!
Do NOT just ask your favorite teacher to be your advisor. They may be a hindrance to you if they teach another subject. I would not suggest asking your Biology teacher to guide you in writing your English EE.
EXCEPTION: 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.
Some IB high schools require your IB Extended Essay advisor to sign an Agreement Form. Make sure you ask your IB coordinator if there is any required paperwork. IBO does not require any 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.
Note: The IBO only allows advisors to suggest improvements to the EE, but they may not be engaged in writing the 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
IB 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. Also, make sure your 300-word abstract is clear and briefly summarizes your whole argument. An ambiguous abstract will make it more challenging for the reader to follow your essay’s argument and will also hurt the grading of your EE.
The body of your EE should make up the bulk of the essay. It should be about 8-18 pages double-spaced (again just depending on whether or not you include diagrams). 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 Comparison of 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 watching 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 Senior Year. Your school will give you your deadline; if they haven't mentioned it by February of 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 top 3).
- 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 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 the first time. Try to get this first draft into the best possible shape you can, so that you do not 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: 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.
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 36. There are "general" and "subject-specific" criteria, at a ratio of 2:1 (24 possible marks for the general criteria and 12 marks for the subject-specific one). The total mark is converted into a grade from A to E, using the below parameters:
|Rubric Assessment Points Earned||Descriptor Letter|
|Grade 30 – 36||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 2008):
% Awarded Grade
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).
So, let’s say you get an A on your EE and a B on TOK, you will get 3 points towards your diploma. Note: this chart is slightly outdated. 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. However, as of 2014 (for the first examination in May 2015), a student who scores an E on either the extended essay or TOK essay will not be eligible to receive an IB diploma.
Sample Extended Essays
In case you want a little more guidance on how to get an A EE. Here are 50 Excellent (grade A) sample extended essays for your reading pleasure:
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Welcome back to our step-by-step guide to the Extended Essay! So far in this series we’ve covered how to choose your topic and get on with your research. Here in Part 3 I want to talk all about how to make sure you have the perfect question.
I know. I’ve mentioned the question before. Some of you might have had a version of a question before you even started the research phase. But I want to go into more depth now because I think the research question is something that a lot of IB students underestimate.
It’s tempting to get excited at this point and to dive straight from the high, high ladder of research and into the pool of planning the essay. But how do you know you’re going to hit the water smoothly? How do you know you won’t end up like this:
So let’s take this opportunity to pause, reassess, and make sure you’re absolutely, ABSOLUTELY certain your question will help you to sail all the way through to Extended Essay success.
1. To start: draft your question
“The title should provide a clear indication of the focus of the essay. It should be precise and not necessarily phrased in the form of a question” – Extended Essay Guide
The only way to work out if your question is good enough is to have a question to begin with. So if you haven’t yet tried to formulate your topic into a research question, do this now. Don’t worry about writing the perfect question down yet. Just think of it as a draft.
If you aren’t sure what a research question should look like, use the Guide and past examples of titles to help you. We can see from the way that the EE Guide defines the question that the important things to consider are:
Examples of essay titles include:
How are the distribution and growth of lichens affected by sulfur dioxide and ozone levels in the atmosphere?
Will the recent policy of cutting bakery prices lead to increased revenue for the Safeway supermarket in Ryde, Sydney?
Themes and stylistic devices from Dante in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Four Quartets.
All of these are very specific, very detailed and very concise. In other words, clear and precise.
Exercise 1: draft three different versions of your question. If there are different angles you could take in the question and different words you could use to express it, write each option down. Keep these three options to hand throughout the rest of the process, but for now just pick the one which you think is clearest and the most precise.
2. What is your question actually about?
“A good research question is one that asks something worth asking” – Extended Essay Guide
It can be easy, after digging through mountains of research and writing an elegantly worded question, to forget what the original point of your topic was. It’s also easy to let the research and information take you far away from your original intention. This is absolutely fine, and even to be expected; often in-depth research and thinking takes us to a more interesting place than we ever could have reached originally. Except that it’s important to take a step back from all of that work and really question whether the place you have ended up is what you want to be writing about.
The first step is to know what your question is really about, beneath the fancy words and clever ideas.
The second step is to ask yourself if your question is truly interesting. Does it present a possibility that intrigues you?
If you either can’t pin down the point of your question, or you admit to yourself that actually that point is rather boring, it’s time to reassess. A good way to refine your question in a way that will solve this, without throwing away all the work that you have done, is to start picking the question apart. Work out the different elements being addressed in the question so that you will be able to dig as deeply as you can into the situation being examined. If this feels like effort, the thing to remember is that a good question will make it a lot easier to score points when you are answering the question in your essay.
Exercise 2: take your draft question and pick out the keywords. Combined, do they make a good summary of your topic? More importantly, do they point towards just one topic? The keywords of your question should encompass all the main things you will address in your essay, so keep these to-hand throughout the writing process and use them as a guide for what you should and shouldn’t include in your plan.
3. Is your question specific enough?
“The Extended Essay is an in-depth study of a focused topic” – Extended Essay Guide
Your question should define its own limits. In other words it should be specific enough that you can answer it in 4,000 words. And any IB graduate will tell you that 4,000 words is not a lot. It’s okay if some aspects of your question need further explanation, and in fact the Guide itself recommends that you analyse your title during the essay. However the key is to choose which variables you leave open. There is no point wasting time explaining a phrase or word in your essay when a simple change of word would solve everything. And if every word could mean two different things, this means there are two different essays you could be writing and the essay will feel unfocused as a result.
Different types of words that create ambiguities include:
Subjective words such as: success, failure, influence, significant
Words that could refer to multiple things such as: novels, lichens, lower-middle class
Words that you’ll need to define such as: themes, soul, tradition
A good Extended Essay question should contain just a few of these ambiguities.
Exercise 3: Identify all the possible variables in your question, and write down all of the possible things that it could mean. Then, write down ways that you could eliminate some of the variables. For example, an analysis of reduced prices in a supermarket can be narrowed down to the reduced prices of bakery items only.
4. Can you answer your question?
“Structure a reasoned argument in response to the research question on the basis of the material gathered” – Extended Essay Guide
When writing the essay you’ll need to make sure that every idea you include links back to the question. You’ll need to show over and over again how each paragraph digs that little bit deeper into the question you laid out at the beginning. With that in mind, it’s a good idea, now you’ve done your research, to really make sure that the material, ideas and information you will be using is still answering the question that you set out to answer.
For example, imagine that you’d originally wanted to compare the pH levels of rainwater in London and in Spain. Perhaps during your background research phase you realised that there is very little second-hand information that could help you answer this question, but there is a ten year-old study about the pH levels of rainwater in London compared with Scotland. A possible option could be that you change your investigation to look at whether the pH levels of rainwater throughout the UK has changed in the past ten years. Alternatively, maybe you have already begun your first-hand research, but couldn’t collect any rainwater during your trip to Spain. In this scenario a ‘plan B’ might be to compare the pH levels of rainwater in different parts of London.
Exercise 4: Write down a super rough plan for what you will cover in your answer to the question. This isn’t the outline (I’ll go into way more depth on this in a later post) but just a way to make sure you know how the question will work. Write one sentence, or better yet one word, for every paragraph in your essay. Don’t worry about the order of the paragraphs yet, but do make sure that you have enough to talk about that relates directly to the question.
5. Will the IB examiner approve?
Your question can score up to 2 marks out of the total 36 points. This might sound like a lot, but consider that this is over 5% of your total score which you can earn before you write a single word of your essay. With this in mind it’s important to go back to the Extended Essay Guide to check that your question is doing everything that they want it to.
Exercise 5: Double-check that your question is fulfilling every criteria that it can. And to make this as easy as it can possibly be for you, we’ve made a handy checklist right here:
- Is it specific?
- Can you answer it?
- Can you address any variables?
- Can you justify any assumptions that it makes?
- Do you have enough research to back up your investigation?
- Is it interesting?
Once you’ve made certain your question is as brilliant as it can be, the next step is to start planning the essay itself! Watch this space for our next post in the series all about creating the perfect plan and structure.
Read Part 4: Structure and Planning