Extended Essay Advice: Summer Passions

At the time of year, lots of students will be coming to the end of the first year of the IBDP, and over the summer will be turning their focus to their Extended Essay. Here, OSC’s Academic Director, Keith Allen, gives some key tips and advice on getting ahead with the project. With over 30 years’ experience working and teaching in IB schools around the world, Keith knows what it takes to produce a high-quality EE.


It’s June already. Where has that first year of the IBDP gone? Many students in northern hemisphere DP schools must be asking that. At the same time, those same students are looking forward to a summer break.

But, what is planned for the holiday? Some rest and relaxation? Certainly. A week or more on OSC’s Mid IBDP Summer Courses in Boston or Cambridge to brush up on a few subjects? Probably. But, what about other academic work? What about the Extended Essay? For most DP students, the summer vacation represents a key stage in their work on their EE.


To fully achieve their Extended Essay goals, students need to be motivated to work independently. After decades in IB schools and watching thousands of students work on their EEs, I identify three main internal motivators. (There are, of course, external motivators that schools – and parents – also use!)

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Firstly, there are the students who just want to get immersed in a topic that interests them. This links very strongly to what the founders of the IB were thinking in the 1960s. They said that students needed an intellectual outlet for their “grand passion” – see Alec Peterson’s book, Schools across Frontiers (1987) – as a contrast from their classroom study. And so, the Extended Essay was born.

I remember one student who did detailed research into a medical condition from which he suffered. It didn’t meet the IB’s criteria very well, but it was something that he wanted (and, arguably, needed) to study. Truly a grand passion.

For many others, the passion is liked to a subject that they want to study after school. Choosing a topic linked to your university ambitions makes a lot of sense. University Admissions Offices are often impressed by the sophistication of research work undertaken at school. If you’re passionate about Mathematics of History at university, writing your EE in Maths or History makes perfect sense.

There are then many more students who are looking for points from their Extended Essay. As DP students will know, the EE grade, in combination with the ToK grade, can yield up to 3 points on your Diploma. Scoring 2 or 3 of those points from the Diploma Core make achieving your university target on 32 (or 35, or whatever) points easier.

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Such students should be carefully examining the IB’s assessment criteria for Extended Essays and looking at sample essays provided by the IB. (If you have not received a copy of the EE assessment criteria, ask your teachers. They should provide those. They are also very likely to let you see sample essays.) These show you the sort of style that is expected.


Obtaining good marks on the Extended Essay is then formulaic – keep a close on eye on the assessment criteria and the marks are not difficult to achieve.

  • Work closely with your Extended Essay supervisor (a teacher in your school).
  • Decide on a research question that is neither too broad nor too narrow to generate research material.
  • Make sure that it fits into one of the subjects/categories prescribed by the IB. (These are shown in the IB’s Extended Essay Guide that you should have access to.)
  • Collect your material carefully, with clear notes as to where everything came from.
  • Organise your research materials methodically and start writing your main chapters.
  • Write an introduction that sets the scene and a conclusion that wraps it all up.
  • Ensure that you have clear citations (acknowledging all your sources) and bibliography.
  • Then write your Abstract (using the assessment criteria to guide you).
  • Read it through carefully to iron out problems.
  • Then hand it in before the deadline set by your school so that you can get on with other important tasks.

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Those of you attending OSC’s Mid IBDP Summer Courses will have the opportunity to exchange ideas on any of these stages with OSC’s highly experienced teachers during July and August. But, many of you will also have ways of contacting your supervisor if you get stuck. The work must – of course – be completely your own. But, you are allowed to consult external sources.

A third group of students is motivated to work on their Extended Essays by a more distant goal. Research in the UK, USA and Canada has shown that students’ experience of writing a 4,000 word Research Paper at school gives them a significant head-start at university. Put simply, in researching and writing your Extended Essay you are developing skills that make university easier. As DP students you are more likely to get good university grades and to progress to a higher degree. The EE is one of the key foundation blocks on that path – but only if you work at it!


Finally – if you’ve read this far – a few recent tips that you might not have picked up from your school:

  • If you are writing a World Studies Extended Essay for the 2015 assessment, your school has to record which of six “global themes” it relates to you.
  • For Group 1 (i.e. Language A) Extended Essays, you need to specify which of three “categories” the essay complies with.
  • For Group 2 (primarily Language B), the IB has issued recent guidance on essays that fit into category 2b) – based on cultural artefacts. If your essay is in this area, make sure that you have a copy of the advice.

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