Missing the Mark

It is the end of another IB session and the scripts have been written and marked and assignments moderated. Students are waiting with baited breadth for the grades to be published and for clarity to be brought to their immediate futures. At this point I would like to reflect on the session, with this post focusing on the extended essay in Business and Management.

The extended essay continues to cause problems for both students and teachers on a number of fronts – even though these problems are not new and are referred to in examiner reports year on year. Indeed this post is merely going to repeat and refocus what I have said in earlier posts about this topic.

There is a continuing misunderstanding about the nature of the task itself. Perhaps this can be summarised by stating that the Business and Management extended essay is NOT an internal assignment. The extended essay is designed to be an academic research paper akin to a university dissertation, whereas the IA is a practical examination intended to support decision makers in an organisation. During the last major review of the extended essay it was felt that the Business and Management internal assessment and extended essay too often replicated each other and were not testing different skills. As a consequence, the extended essay guide and internal assessment instructions were rewritten and revised to clarify the differences and to provide a clear distinction in assessment through revised criteria. The extended essay should focus on business theory and it is expected that the candidates use a variety of secondary sources and do not solely, or mainly, use text books/ theoretical internet sites as their secondary sources. Examples of possible sources are given in the extended essay guide.

Ultimately, students are judged according to clearly stated assessment criteria, which are published and available in physical form and online through the OCC. I am surprised, therefore, that so many students still produce extended essays in Business and Management focused on an analysis of limited questionnaires, despite the clarity of the materials released by the IB. Supervisors really need guidance and training using IB materials before they are assigned to students, so that advice given at the start of the process is valid.

The choice of research question is instrumental in the success, or otherwise, of the essay. Students should not work with a research question that is too broad or too vague, too narrow, too difficult or inappropriate. A good research question is one that asks something worth asking and that is answerable within 40 hours/4,000 words. It seems inappropriate, for example, to investigate the worldwide marketing strategy of a major multinational (often over a long period), yet this is commonly attempted. It is helpful for students, and supervisors, to check that there is an academic basis for the essay being proposed before deciding on the research question, which must be included verbatim in both the abstract and the introduction (and possibly the conclusion). Whichever research area is chosen, it should be firmly rooted in the realms of accepted business and management theory. The extended essay provides students with an opportunity to develop research skills by reviewing business theory, concepts and principles, and critically analysing how these have been put into practice in the business world and the resultant impact on business activity. This will involve broad and detailed research using a range of sources.

In summary, students MUST know that:

  • the focus for the essay must be secondary data and not primary research and that any essay that focuses on primary research such as interviews, surveys and questionnaires will be penalised under criterion C and possible other criteria, such as knowledge and understanding, analysis and evaluation and holistic judgment.

The following are extracts from the assessment criteria that are relevant:

Criterion C: This criterion assesses the extent to which the investigation is planned and an appropriate range of sources has been consulted, or data has been gathered, that is relevant to the research question.

Criterion D:  The essay demonstrates a very good knowledge and understanding of the topic studied. Where appropriate, the essay clearly and precisely locates the investigation in an academic context.

Criterion K:   The purpose of this criterion is to assess the qualities that distinguish an essay from the average, such as
intellectual initiative, depth of understanding and insight.

Please do not miss the subject specific advice later in the extended essay guide:

Subject specific details:

Students should use as the basis of their extended essay secondary data, supported, where appropriate, by primary research. The sole use of secondary sources will allow students access to all levels of the extended essay assessment criteria. (Note that this is the reverse of the approach required in the HL internal assessment component of the business and management course, where primary research takes precedence.) Students should apply the accepted theories, tools and techniques of the subject to the topic/research question chosen.

Criterion C: investigation:
The range of resources available will be influenced by various factors, but above all by the topic chosen. Students should use secondary sources in the first instance… Where primary research is used, it must be carefully planned to ensure that it will enhance the value of the research undertaken, and provide specific quantitative and qualitative analysis directly related to the research question.

  • Jane EAGERS
    June 26, 2012

    Thanks Paul.Very helpful as we are just doing 3 days on extended essays before they go off to work on them over the hols. A reminder on the focus from a third party should help as I sometimes think I can talk about this till I’m blue in the face and they will still go off and do whatever they want regardless of advice and the IB guides.

  • Liam
    November 2, 2012

    I am doing an Extended Essay on Marketing, on a local retailer. They were unable to provide me with P & L Accounts, Balance Sheets etc. due to confidentiality issues. Consequently, I conducted primary research (interviews with the owner and customer-based questionnaires) and gathered information on the company (online) and forecasted descriptions of revenues etc. from them. In terms, of marks for Criterion C what would this so far achieve?

    • Paul Clark
      November 8, 2012

      Liam – obviously it would be difficult for me to provide a grade outside of the context of the essay – your teacher should be able to support you in this. However, as I have written above, the extended essay should be focused in secondary not primary research; which is what you seem to be using. My immediate question is whether you have chosen the correct business to investigate if they are unable to share information with you? Marketing is a very big topic, and I would suggest you focus down to one or two elements of the marketing mix, rather than focus on all of it. You can of course, find secondary research online in terms of:

      – the market in which the retailer operates and competitors that exist
      – secondary data on the firm as you say you have done
      – the nature of the economy, especially how this is affecting local businesses
      – secondary information on the business tools and theories to be applied

      I would always suggest that a student spends time looking online for useful articles or commentaries before selecting the firm or topic. If there is no secondary data available for an extended essay topic, I would advise against investigating it.

      Do not confuse the extended essay with an internal assessment – it sounds like your topic might be better suited to an IA, although I am making comments without knowing anything about the firm or your research, or whether you are an HL or SL student. The internal assessment for HL is based on primary data although for SL, this is more secondary focused with primary support.

      The extended essay guide can be accessed online and you need to look at the marking criteria and also the section that clarifies how these are interpreted for Business and Management – then assess your work against these. The examiner will be using these marking criteria from the guide, so you must be aware of these and make sure you do not lose marks by focusing on primary data, or not including vital elements in the executive summary, etc. I have covered these issues in other posts.

  • Liam
    November 13, 2013

    Hi Paul, it doesn’t seem like it’s been a year on since I posted on (and forgot to look at)this page. Yes, I received my diploma results in the summer- did very well, including an A in this EE, which in the end focused on two elements of the marketing mix. As mentioned, I did forget to look at your feedback, but was guided in the right direction by my mentor. Alongside my vast primary data I also went onto gather an equal balance of secondary data, which really helped develop my investigation and answer this question. Thanks for your feedback though, I’m sure (had I looked at it) that it would have been very useful.

  • Paul Clark
    December 1, 2013

    Hi Liam

    Great news – well done on the A in the EE and receiving your diploma. Best wishes.

  • nial
    August 16, 2015

    i am doing my extended essay in business and management about Nike benefits vs its ethical implications of having factories in a specific country overseas i am mainly using secondary research and and i will be discussing this over nikes long period of operating mentioning its benefits against the ethical implications then using swot analysis. is this considered to be good ?

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