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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These subject guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Assessment Criteria
An extended essay in economics provides students with an opportunity to undertake in-depth research in economics in an area of personal interest to them. It allows students to develop research skills, to apply economic theory to real-world situations, and to analyse and evaluate the outcomes of their research. The outcome of the research should be a coherent and structured analytical essay that effectively addresses the particular research question.
Choice of topic
Students should undertake an essay that uses the core principles of economics as a basis for researching a particular topic. Students should use a combination of primary and secondary research as the basis for their extended essay, and should apply the accepted theories, tools and techniques of the subject to the topic chosen.
Essays should not be historical. They should be related to economic information that is no more than three years old. Essays that are too retrospective, for example, "What was the impact of the South-East Asian crash on Thailand during 1990-1995?", almost invariably become descriptive.
Students should ensure that their research question can be answered using economic concepts and theories, and that the question does not lean too heavily towards business and management.
The topic chosen should provide opportunities for some critical analysis of the data collected. Topics that depend entirely on summarizing general secondary data should be avoided, as they are likely to lead to an essay that is essentially narrative or descriptive in nature. However, the effective use of relevant secondary data to answer the research question will be fully rewarded by the examiner.
Restricting the scope of the essay will help to ensure a clear focus, and will also provide opportunities for demonstrating detailed economic understanding and critical analysis. Choosing a research question that is made up of more than one question is unlikely to result in a successful essay—for example, "Is the café industry in Vienna an example of oligopoly and, if so, do the cafés collude with each other?" or "What is the effect of interest rate policy on aggregate demand in Greece and what should the government do to increase aggregate demand?". I n the first example, the answer to the first part of the question must be affirmative in order to proceed with the essay. If not, the second part of the question cannot be answered. In the second example, the scope of the essay is simply too wide.
The following examples of titles for economics extended essays are intended as guidance only. The pairings illustrate that focused topics (indicated by the first title) should be encouraged rather than broad topics (indicated by the second title).
- "What market form characterizes the petrol supply industry in my area of Madrid?" is better than "What is the market structure of the Spanish petroleum industry?".
- "What is the effect of the recent imposition of a minimum wage in Austria on unemployment in the fast food industry in Graz?" is better than "What has been the effect of the minimum wage on unemployment in Austria?".
- "To what extent has the fall in the exchange rate of the US dollar affected the tourist industry in Carmel , California?" is better than "How has the fall in the exchange rate of the US dollar affected the US economy?".
- "What has been the economic effect of water privatization on the farming industry in my region of Zambia?" is better than "How has the privatization of water affected Zambia?".
It may help if the student further defines the topic chosen for study in the form of a research question, followed by a statement of intent that indicates which broad process is going to be used in answering the question. In this way, the approach to the topic chosen may be even further clarified. Some examples of this could be as follows.
Topic Pricing at the local supermarket
Research question : Will the recent policy of cutting bakery prices lead to increased revenue for the Safeway supermarket in Ryde, Sydney?
Approach: Primary research is conducted through observation and supported by secondary research, such as company records and textbooks. This results in a detailed examination of elasticity and its relationship with total revenue.
Topic The economic impact of privatization
Research question : To what extent did Matav, a Hungarian telecommunications company,
become more efficient post-privatization?
Approach: Primary data is collected through interviews with company management (qualitative research) and secondary data is collected by accessing company reports. Economics texts are used for researching the economic theory of privatization.
Topic: The impact of monetary policy
Research question: Has the Kenyan central bank's policy of interest rate cuts led to a rise in new car sales in Nairobi?
Approach : A consumer questionnaire (quantitative research) is circulated and interviews (qualitative research) are carried out with sales managers of new car firms. Government macroeconomic statistics (secondary research) are also accessed.
Treatment of the topic
It is important that the topic and research question reflect a firm emphasis on economics, and that they do not become directed towards another subject area. Where topics could be approached from different viewpoints, such as business or history, the treatment of material must reflect an approach that uses economic theory and, therefore, meets the subject requirements of economics.
Students must choose a research question that can be treated effectively within the word limit and is not of a trivial nature. Research questions that do not allow a systematic and meaningful investigation using relevant economic theory, and do not demonstrate critical analysis and detailed understanding, are unlikely to be suitable in economics. In some instances, it may become clear at an early stage in the research that too little information is available to permit such an investigation. In such cases, a change of focus should be made.
Students may be encouraged to carry out original research on a topic within any of the syllabus sections in the current Economics guide.One advantage of doing an essay on a microeconomics topic is the ability to carry out primary research in the form of surveys, questionnaires or interviews. Nonetheless, it is also possible to carry out a highly successful analysis of a question related to macroeconomics, international economics or development economics, as long as the data and information collected are used to construct a clear, reasoned argument in response to a sufficiently narrow research question. The main danger of choosing a question from these areas is in choosing a research question that is inappropriately wide. In addition, it is very important that the question is original and has not already been answered in secondary sources. In this case, the danger would be that the student might simply present a summary of secondary sources rather than a new reasoned argument.
Students should integrate relevant economic theory with the evidence obtained through the research. An essay that delivers the theory as a separate section of the essay and does not apply it to the specific research question is unlikely to be successful in terms of analysis using the theory.
Good critical analysis and evaluation can be demonstrated through sound assessment and judgment of the extent to which the relevant theory is useful in answering the research question.
An extended essay in economics is a formal essay, so students must be sure to adopt one of the common standards of presentation of research essays.
Interpreting the assessment criteria
Criterion A: research question
In economics, it is strongly recommended that the research question is stated in the form of a question: this is a reliable way of avoiding excessively descriptive essays. It must be possible to answer the question using contemporary economic theory. It must be clearly focused and sufficiently narrow so that it is possible to answer it within the word limit. The question should not be trivial, nor should the answer to the question be patently obvious. It should not be a "double-barrelled" question with two parts or a "yes/no" question.
Criterion B: introduction
The introduction should explain succinctly the significance of the subject, why it is worthy of investigation, and how the research question is appropriate for economic analysis. The introduction should not be seen as an excuse for padding out an essay with a lengthy superficial account of the reasons for choosing the subject. The student's personal experience or particular opinion is rarely relevant here.
Criterion C: investigation
The range of resources available will be influenced by various factors, but above all by the topic. At the very least, there should be some evidence that appropriate economic sources have been consulted.
Wherever possible, primary sources should be used, with secondary sources as evidential support. Statistical data collected from books or the Internet (for example, from national statistical agencies, the IMF, the ILO, the World Bank, the WTO) may be very valuable and can be effectively used to answer the question.
If surveys are carried out, the questions must reflect appropriate and sensible economic analysis. For example, any conclusions about the elasticity of demand for a good would be highly suspect if a survey asked about the hypothetical change in a quantity demanded based on a hypothetical change in price.
Good planning may be demonstrated by the use of appropriate information to support a well-structured argument. The essay should not include theory or information that is not used to answer the research question directly. For example, it would not be appropriate to include large sections of textbook economic theory without showing how and why the theory can be applied to the particular research question.
Criterion D: knowledge and understanding of the topic studied
Having chosen a topic of interest and carried out an appropriate amount of research, the student should be able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the topic. This is another reason why the research question has to be suitably focused. The essay should be comprehensive and thorough.
Axes and curves/lines on diagrams should be fully labelled. Relationships between curves/lines should be accurately drawn. For example, the relationship between marginal and average values should always show the correct mathematical link. If appropriate, there should be an appreciation of the ideological underpinning of a diagram. For example, an essay looking at demand management as a way of reducing unemployment should use an appropriate AS curve.
Criterion E: reasoned argument
It should be evident throughout the entire essay that the research question is being answered. Relevant economic theory, concepts and data/information must be integrated in a logical and coherent manner. A valid and persuasive argument needs to be developed in a clear and structured way, with some awareness that there may be alternative viewpoints.
Criterion F: application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject
Data/information must be used in the context of appropriate economic concepts and theories. Effective analysis occurs if the information gathered is examined using economic theories. Essays that are highly descriptive will score poorly here.
Students should show critical awareness of the validity of their information and the possible limitations of their argument. Very importantly, the essay should clearly note any assumptions that have been made in setting out the argument and reaching the conclusions.
Diagrams should rarely be included if there is no evidence to support their relevance to the research question. For example, an essay looking at a non-collusive oligopoly should not indiscriminately include a kinked demand curve if there is no evidence of the behaviour associated with such a curve
theories or diagrams are included that are not supported by evidence, the student should note that soItuation might be explained by the theory, but that there is no evidence to prove firmly that the theory Is valid. For example, where it appears that a firm is operating in a monopolistically competitive t and is not making abnormal profits but the student does not have proof of this, then the nation should make clear that it is an assumption and that it has not been empirically proven.
diagrams must be integrated into the essay. Real data should be used on diagrams wherever possible.
example, if the essay is about using taxes to reduce the negative externalities caused by smoking in canada, then the y-axis should show "the price of cigarettes (C5 per package)" and any real numbers (for example, 25% tax) should show on the diagram. When real values are known, they should be shown.
Criterion G: use of language appropriate to the subject
It is extremely important that economic terminology is used and that definitions of key terms are provided. This will clearly enhance the academic tone of the essay.
Definitions should be precise. For example, a discussion of elasticity should refer to percentage or proportionate changes as opposed to "big" or "small" changes.
Criterion H: conclusion
'Consistent" is the key word here: the conclusion should develop out of the argument and not introduce any new material. Any obvious limitations to the analysis/argument should be restated here, as evidence of critical awareness. For example, if a survey is carried out but the sample size is deemed to be rather small, then it could be stated that the sample size might limit the validity of the conclusion drawn. If interviews are carried out, it could be noted that the ideological bias of the interviewees might limit the validity of the conclusions drawn.
Criterion I:formal presentation
This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references for quotations is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1). Additionally, if diagrams are poorly presented or if the information shown on the diagram is unclear, one mark should be deducted.
Criterion J: abstract
The abstract is judged on the clarity with which it states the research question, explains how the investigation was carried out and summarizes the conclusion. However, the quality of the research question or the conclusion is not judged here. For example, an essay with a very broad research question, such as "What were the effects of the Asian financial crisis?", is likely to score poorly on several of the criteria simply because it is far too broad and unfocused. However, if the student clearly states the (poor) question and includes the other two required elements, then the abstract can still receive full marks.
Criterion K: holistic judgment
Qualities that are rewarded under this criterion include the following.
- Intellectual initiative: Ways of demonstrating this in economics essays include undertaking appropriate primary research, for example, the construction of a meaningful and relevant survey with an appropriate sample, or interview(s) with relevant people, drawing meaningful conclusions based on an analysis of a large amount of statistical data and the choice of an original topic (although it should be noted that less original topics should not be penalized here).
- Insight and depth of understanding: These are most likely to be demonstrated as a consequence of making mature and balanced conclusions from the research undertaken, showing awareness of the limitations of the research and evaluating the applicability of economic theory.
From:International Baccalaureate Organization. (2007). Economics. In IBO Extended essay guide, First examinations 2009, (pp. 79-83). New York: International Baccalaureate Organization.