Download the Official Extended Essay Guide (192 page PDF)
The Nature of the Extended Essay
The extended essay is defined as an in-depth study of a limited topic within a subject. Its
purpose is to provide candidates with an opportunity to engage in independent research.
Emphasis is placed on the process of engaging in personal research, on the communication of
ideas and information in a logical and coherent manner, and on the overall presentation of the
extended essay in compliance with these guidelines. Many of these general issues, such as the
way in which information is handled, the level of analysis and the quality of argument, are
assessed through the general assessment criteria. This is reflected in the relative weighting of
2:1 between the general and subject assessment criteria.
The Choice of Subject
The subject in which the extended essay is registered must be chosen from the list of available
subjects given in the Vade Mecum.
It is advisable to choose the subject for the extended essay before deciding what the topic or
research question of the extended essay will be. Since the IBO specifies the range of
permitted subjects, certain topics may not be appropriate for an extended essay.
The subject chosen for the extended essay does not have to be one of the subjects being
studied by the candidate for the diploma, but care should be taken to choose a subject about
which the candidate has sufficient knowledge and skills.
Candidates should also base the choice of subject on the level of personal interest they have
in that subject.
Preparing the Essay
The Choice of Topic
The topic of the extended essay is the particular area of study within the chosen subject.
Before a final decision is made about the choice of topic the relevant subject guidelines
should be carefully considered.
Candidates should aim to choose a topic that is both interesting and challenging to them. The
topic chosen should be limited in scope and sufficiently narrow to allow candidates to
examine an issue or problem in depth. It should present the candidate with the opportunity to
collect or generate information and/or data for analysis and evaluation. Candidates are not
expected to make a contribution to knowledge within a subject.
A broad topic is unlikely to result in a successful extended essay. A topic which requires no
personal research and/or requires an essentially narrative or descriptive approach is not
suitable for an extended essay. Similarly, although a reliance on secondary sources is
sometimes necessary, an extended essay which only provides a summary of such sources will
not be successful. Writing a précis of a well-documented topic is unlikely to result in a
successful extended essay.
The Research Question
When an appropriate topic has been chosen, candidates should narrow the focus of the
investigation and formulate a specific research question. For many extended essays this will
be phrased in the form of a question, but alternatives such as launching the investigation with
a hypothesis are acceptable. By frequently referring to this research question, candidates
should be able to maintain the purpose and orientation of the investigation.
Candidates are encouraged to formulate a challenging research question but to ensure that it
can be explored within the constraints of essay length, time and resources available to them.
The Research Process
Owing to the diversity of subjects and the different approaches to research, this guide does
not offer detailed advice on the methods and skills of research. However, a systematic
process, shaped by the nature of the subject, is essential to generate and gather information
and ideas that can be used to develop a convincing answer to the specified research question.
Organizing the Essay
After careful outlining and drafting, it is likely that the majority of extended essays will
follow a structure similar to that described below.
The introduction should include:
* an indication of why the topic chosen is interesting, important or worthy of study
* some background information and an attempt to place the topic in an appropriate context
* an indication of whether the topic has been narrowed to a focus of more manageable
* a clearly and precisely stated research question
* a clear concluding statement of the thesis and argument, i.e. the response to the research
question that will subsequently be developed in the body of the essay.
The essential feature of the major section, or body, of the essay is the systematic development
of a convincing answer to the research question. The structure and the approach to this section
will be shaped by the conventions of the particular subject in which the extended essay is
being undertaken. Some subjects may require sub-headings for major sections within the
main body. For example, scientific investigations will usually have separate sections for
method and results. In some other subjects, however, sub-headings should be avoided because
they disrupt the flow and unity of an essay.
The requirements of the conclusion are that it
* is clearly stated
* is relevant to the research question being investigated
* is substantiated by the evidence presented
* indicates issues, unresolved questions and new questions that have emerged from the
The extended essay should be written in a clear, correct and formal style appropriate to the
subject from which the topic is drawn. The use of a word processor is
The Length of the Extended Essay
The upper limit is 4000 words for all extended essays. This upper limit includes the
introduction, the body, the conclusion and any quotations, but does not include:
* the abstract
* the contents page
* maps, charts, diagrams, annotated illustrations and tables
* the references/bibliography
Essays in excess of 4000 words are subject to penalties and examiners are not required to read
material in excess of the word limit.
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.
An abstract not exceeding 300 words must be included. It does not serve as an introduction
but presents a synopsis of the extended essay, and therefore should be written last.
The inclusion of an abstract is intended to encourage candidates to examine closely the
development of an argument within the extended essay and the pertinence of any conclusions
that are reached. It is also designed to allow readers to understand quickly the contents of the
The minimum requirements for the abstract are to state clearly:
* the research question being investigated
* the scope of the investigation
* the conclusion/s of the extended essay.
The abstract should be typed or word processed on one side of a sheet of paper, and placed
immediately after the title page.
A contents page must be provided at the beginning of the extended essay and all pages should
be numbered. An index is not required.
Presentation and overall neatness are important, and it is essential that illustrative material, if
included, is well set out and used effectively. Graphs, diagrams, tables and maps are effective
only if they are well labelled and can be interpreted with ease. All such material which is
incorporated into the extended essay must be directly related to the text and acknowledged
where appropriate. The use of photographs and postcards is acceptable only if they are
captioned and/or annotated and are used to illustrate a specific point made in the extended
The direct or indirect use of the words of another person, written, oral or electronic, must be
acknowledged appropriately as must visual material in the essay, derived from another
source. A candidate’s failure to comply with this requirement will be viewed as plagiarism,
and will therefore be treated as a case of malpractice.
The bibliography or list of references should include only those works, such as books and
journals, that have been consulted by the candidate. An accepted form of quoting and
documenting sources, should be applied consistently. The major documentation systems are
divided into two groups, parenthetical in-text systems and numbered systems; either may be
used, provided this is done consistently and clearly. It is good practice to require candidates
to study a major style guide appropriate to the subject of the extended essay so that they can
present their list of references professionally.
Each work consulted, regardless of whether or not it has already been cited as a reference,
must be listed in the bibliography. The bibliography should specify: author/s, title, date and
place of publication, and the name of the publisher, following consistently one standard
method of listing sources. Possible examples are:
Peterson, A. D. C. Schools Across Frontiers: the story of the International
Baccalaureate and the United World College. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1987.
Peterson, A. D. C. (1987), Schools Across Frontiers: the story of the International
Baccalaureate and the United World College, Open Court: La Salle, Illinois.
Use of Assessment Criteria
All extended essays are externally assessed by examiners appointed by the IBO. All extended
essays are marked on a scale from 0 to 36. This maximum score is made up of the total
criterion levels available for each essay, and is divided between general and subject
assessment criteria in the ratio 2:1. Criterion levels will be awarded to each extended essay
using a best match model. For each criterion, examiners are instructed to identify the level
descriptor that is most appropriate (i.e. the best match) for the extended essay under
consideration, rather than to progress upwards through the levels until the essay fails to meet
one or more aspects of the descriptor. The best match model will be used for both the general
assessment criteria and the subject assessment criteria.
General Assessment Criteria
There are eight general assessment criteria. These are concerned with how candidates manage
general aspects of the extended essay, such as the writing of the abstract and conclusion, the
use of information and data, and the overall presentation.
For each of the general assessment criteria, different degrees of quality are described by a set
of achievement level descriptors. Some of the criteria are more important than others and
have more achievement levels. The general quality of an extended essay is measured by
adding together the achievement levels attained on each of the eight general assessment
criteria. An extended essay may score up to 24 on the general assessment criteria.
Inappropriate Research Questions
General assessment criteria A, C and D refer to inappropriate research questions, which fall
into two main types. There are some research questions which are too broad in scope to be
dealt with effectively, on more than a superficial descriptive level, within the limits of an
extended essay. Many examples of such research questions are given in the subject
guidelines. Such research questions will not achieve greater than level 1 on criterion A, and
may well fail to successfully address some of the other general and subject assessment
The other category of inappropriate research question involves those studies which are too
simplistic, too limited in scope or too speculative, providing either an easily accomplished or
insignificant outcome, or a self-evident outcome which should have been predicted in
advance. Such extended essays will be awarded a level 0 on criterion A and, because they can
in theory satisfy the requirements of criteria C and D with some ease, they will be restricted to
a maximum of level 2 in both these cases.
Subject Assessment Criteria
The subject assessment criteria are concerned with how candidates manage the chosen topic
within the context of the subject in which the extended essay is registered.
Each subject has its own set of assessment criteria. Each extended essay will be assessed
against the subject assessment criteria for the subject in which it is registered.
For each of the subject assessment criteria, different degrees of quality are described by a set
of achievement levels. As for the general assessment criteria, some of the criteria may be
more important than others and so may have more achievement levels. The subject quality of
an extended essay is measured by adding together the achievement levels attained on each of
the subject assessment criteria. An extended essay may score up to 12 on the subject
An extended essay which is inappropriate to the subject in which it is submitted will score
zero on the subject assessment criteria.
The total score obtained, on the scale 0 to 36, will be used to determine in which of the
following bands the extended essay is placed. This band, in conjunction with the band for
Theory of Knowledge, determines the diploma points awarded for these two requirements.
See Award of Diploma Points below for further details.
The band descriptions are:
A Work of an excellent standard
B Work of a good standard
C Work of a satisfactory standard
D Work of a mediocre standard
E Work of an elementary standard
The band description provides the basis of reporting back to schools on each candidate’s
performance in the extended essay requirement.
Award of Diploma Points
The extended essay contributes to the overall diploma score through the award of points in
conjunction with Theory of Knowledge. A maximum of three points are awarded according to
a candidate’s combined performance in both the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge.
Both Theory of Knowledge and the extended essay are measured against published
assessment criteria. According to the quality of the work, based on the application of these
assessment criteria, a candidate’s performance in each of the extended essay and Theory of
Knowledge will fall into one of the five bands described above.
A candidate who, for example, writes a good extended essay and whose performance in Theory of
Knowledge is judged to be satisfactory will be awarded 1 point, while a candidate who writes a
mediocre extended essay and whose performance in Theory of Knowledge is judged to be excellent
will be awarded 2 points.
A candidate who fails to submit an extended essay will be awarded N for the extended essay, will
score no points, and will not be awarded a diploma.
Performance in both the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge of an elementary standard is a
failing condition for the award of the diploma.
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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