The Complete IB Extended Essay Guide

The Extended Essay is a source of anxiety for many IB students around the world, but it doesn’t have to be! I’ll get you excited about writing your Extended Essay and give you the resources you need to get an A on it in this article.

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you’re an IB student getting ready to write your Extended Essay. 

IB Extended Essay: Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I am an IB extended essay tutor. I am an ex-pupil barrister who left the Bar due to family illness and bgan tutoring online, I have not looked back and I love helping students to achieve their goals. 

My own academic background – I hold a first class LLB, an LLM with a distinction and a Very Competent classification for my BPTC. I achieved 40 points for my IB and 10 A*- A grades at GCSE. 

As well as IB tutoring specialising in English and Business Studies. Of course, I also teach law from GCSE to post-graduate level. Philosophy, Criminology, Film Studies and Media Studies are among the other subjects I also tutor.

I can also help you with the extra skills needed to launch your legal career including applying to university, obtaining work experience, pupillage/ training contract applications and interviews and general academic writing and exam techniques. 

What Is the Extended Essay in the IB Diploma Programme?

The IB Extended Essay, or EE, is a mini-thesis that counts toward your IB Diploma and is written under the supervision of an IB advisor (an IB teacher at your school). Later in this article, I’ll go over how the EE affects your diploma in detail.
You will choose a research question as your topic for the Extended Essay, conduct the research independently, and then write an essay based on your findings. The essay itself is lengthy—while there is a 4,000-word limit, most successful essays come close to exceeding it.

Keep in mind that this essay must be a “formal piece of academic writing” as defined by the IB, which means you’ll need to conduct additional research and cite additional sources.

The IB Extended Essay must include the following:

  • A title page
  • Contents page
  • Introduction
  • Body of the essay
  • Conclusion
  • References and bibliography

Additionally, your research topic must fall into one of the six approved DP categories, or IB subject groups, which are as follows:

  • Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature
  • Group 2: Language Acquisition
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies
  • Group 4: Sciences
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: The Arts

Once you’ve decided on a category and a potential research topic, you’ll need to choose an advisor, who is usually an IB teacher at your school (though you can also find one online). This person will assist you in conducting your research and will lead the reflection sessions required as part of your Extended Essay.

As of 2018, the IB requires that your EE supervision process include a “reflection process” To meet this requirement, you must meet with your supervisor at least three times in “reflection sessions.” as defined by the IB. These meetings are not only required, but they are also part of the EE’s and your research methods’ formal evaluation.

The purpose of these meetings, according to the IB, is to “provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their engagement with the research process.” In general, these meetings allow your supervisor to provide feedback, challenge you to think in new ways, and encourage you to evaluate your research process.

The viva voce, or final reflection session, is a short 10- to 15-minute interview between you and your advisor. This occurs at the very end of the EE process and is intended to assist your advisor in completing their report, which is used to determine your EE grade.

Here are the topics covered in your viva voce:

  • A check on plagiarism and malpractice
  • Your reflection on your project’s successes and difficulties
  • Your reflection on what you’ve learned during the EE process

Your completed Extended Essay, along with your supervisor’s report, will then be sent to the IB to be graded. We’ll cover the assessment criteria in just a moment.


What Should You Write About in Your IB Extended Essay?

You can write about anything as long as it falls into one of the above-mentioned approved categories.

It’s best to pick a topic that corresponds to one of the IB courses (theatre, film, Spanish, French, math, biology, and so on), which shouldn’t be difficult given the variety of class subjects.

Here is a range of sample topics with the attached extended essay:

You can see from the variety of topics that you have a lot of leeway when it comes to choosing one. So, how do you choose when the possibilities are endless?

How to Write a Stellar IB Extended Essay: 6 Essential Tips

Below are six key tips to keep in mind as you work on your Extended Essay for the IB DP. Follow these and you’re sure to get an A!

#1: Write About Something You Enjoy

You can’t expect to write a compelling essay if you’re not enthusiastic about the subject. For example, I adore British theatre and based my Extended Essay on a post-WWII British theatre revolution. (I am, without a doubt, a #TheatreNerd.)

Anyone pursuing an IB Diploma should take the Extended Essay very seriously. I was awarded a full-tuition merit scholarship to the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts. I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay during my scholarship interview, and I truly believe that my Extended Essay contributed to my scholarship acceptance.

But where do you look for a topic that interests you? Begin by considering which classes you most enjoy and why. Do you enjoy math classes because you enjoy problem-solving? Or are you interested in English because you enjoy analysing literary texts?

When it comes to selecting an Extended Essay topic, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer. You’re not more likely to get good grades if you write about science, and you’re not doomed to fail if you choose to write about the social sciences. Your grade will be determined by the quality of your work, not the field in which you choose to conduct research.

After you’ve determined your category, put pen to paper to brainstorm more specific topics. Which of the chapters in that class was your favourite? Is it a question of astrophysics or mechanics? What did you enjoy most about that particular chapter? Is there anything in particular you’d like to learn more about? This type of brainstorming is something I recommend devoting a few hours to.

Last but not least, if you’re stuck for ideas, choose a topic that will help you in your future major or career. That way, you’ll be able to use your Extended Essay as a talking point in your college essays (and it’ll also help you prepare for your studies!).

 #2: Select a Topic That Is Neither Too Broad nor Too Narrow

There’s a fine line between broad and narrow. 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 there would be enough material for a book. You also don’t want to write about the type of soup POWs got behind enemy lines because you won’t be able to come up with 4,000 words of material on the subject. However, you could write about how the Nazis’ successes and failures on the front, such as the use of captured factories and prison labour in Eastern Europe to increase production, had a direct impact on the conditions in German POW camps—and the rations provided. Military history from WWII may be a little exaggerated, but you get the idea.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a topic that’s neither too broad nor too narrow, try brainstorming a comparison-based topic. When you look over the sample essays below, you’ll notice that many of them use comparisons to make their main points.

In my EE, I also used a comparison to show a transition in British theatre by contrasting Harold Pinter’s Party Time with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. The sweet spot tends to be topics that compare two to three plays, books, or other works. After conducting an in-depth analysis of each item, you can compare them to one another. The ways these items compare and contrast will become your essay’s thesis!

The key to selecting a comparative topic is that the comparison must be significant. To illustrate the transition in British theatre, I compared two plays, but you could compare how different regional dialects affect people’s job prospects or how different temperatures may or may not affect lightning bug mating patterns. The point is that comparisons not only help you narrow down your topic, but they also aid in the development of your argument.

However, comparisons aren’t the only way to get an A EE. If you choose a non-comparison-based topic after brainstorming and are still unsure whether it is too broad or narrow, spend about 30 minutes doing some basic research to see how much material is available.

It may be too broad if there are more than 1,000 books, articles, or documentaries on the subject. However, if there are only two books that are related to your topic, it may be too limited. Ask your advisor if you’re still unsure—what that’s they’re there for! When it comes to advisors…

#3: Choose an IB Extended Essay Advisor Who Is Familiar With Your Topic

If you’re not certain of who you would like to be your advisor, create a list of your top three choices. Next, write down the pros and cons of each possibility (I know this sounds tedious, but it really helps!).

Mr. Green, for example, is my favourite teacher and we get along swimmingly, but he teaches English. For my EE project, I’d like to compare the efficiency of American electric cars to that of foreign electric cars.

Ms. White was a client of mine a year ago. She is a physics instructor who enjoyed having me in her class. Unlike Mr. Green, Ms. White might be able to assist me with the design of my experiment.

Ms. White would be a better fit for me than Mr. Green, based on my topic and what I require from my advisor (even though I like him a lot).

My story’s moral is that you should not simply ask your favourite teacher to be your advisor. If they teach a different subject, they might be a hindrance to you. Asking your biology teacher to help you write an English literature-based EE, for example, is not a good idea.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. You could approach a teacher who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about your subject (as my English teacher was about my theatre topic). Before you do this, think about all of your options. I couldn’t find a theatre-specific advisor because my high school didn’t have one, so I went with the next best thing.

Check with your high school to see what requirements they have for this process before approaching a teacher to serve as your advisor. For example, some IB high schools require you to sign an Agreement Form with your IB Extended Essay advisor.

Make sure you ask your IB coordinator if there is any paperwork you need to fill out. Bring any forms that your school requires signed with you when you ask your teacher to be your EE advisor.

#4: Pick an Extended Essay Tutor Who Will Push You to Be Your Best

Some tutors may only take on students because they have to, and they aren’t particularly enthusiastic about reading draughts and providing minimal feedback. Choose a tutor who will read several draughts of your essay and provide you with detailed feedback. Without being pushed to improve my Extended Essay draught, I would not have received an A.

Inquire with a tutor you’ve worked with in the past, either in class or through extracurricular online lessons. If a tutor is familiar with you, they are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and they are aware of what to look for, where you need to improve, and how to encourage your best work.

Also, keep in mind that your supervisor’s evaluation is factored into your overall EE score. If you meet with someone who pushes you to do better—and you actually follow their advice—they’ll say more positive things about you than a supervisor who doesn’t know you well or isn’t involved in your research process.

Keep in mind that the IB only allows advisors to make suggestions and provide constructive feedback. Your teacher is unable to assist you in completing your EE. The IB suggests that the supervisor spends two to three hours with the candidate discussing the EE in total.

#5: Make Sure Your Essay Has a Clear Structure and Flow

Structure appeals to the IB. Your EE should have a clear introduction (one to two double-spaced pages), a research question/focus (what you’re looking into), a body, and a conclusion (about one double-spaced page). A poorly organised essay will receive a low grade.

The bulk of your EE should be made up of the body. It should be between eight and eighteen pages long (again, depending on your topic). Your body can be divided into several sections. If you were doing a comparison, one third of your body could be dedicated to Novel A analysis, another third to Novel B analysis, and the final third to your comparison of Novels A and B.

Your EE body should have a clear structure that aligns with the scientific method if you’re conducting an experiment or analysing data; you should state the research question, discuss your method, present the data, analyse the data, explain any uncertainties, and draw a conclusion and/or evaluate the experiment’s success.


#6: Start Writing Sooner Rather Than Later!

You won’t be able to complete a 4,000-word essay in a week and receive an A. You’ll be reading a lot of articles (and possibly books and plays, depending on your topic!). As a result, you must get started on your research as soon as possible.

For the Extended Essay, each school has a slightly different deadline. Some schools require them as early as November of your senior year, while others will wait until February. Your deadline will be communicated to you by your school. Ask your IB coordinator about it if they haven’t mentioned it by February of your junior year.

Some high schools will give you a schedule outlining when you need to come up with a topic, meet with your advisor, and submit certain draughts. This is not something that all schools do. If you’re not sure if you’re on track, check with your IB coordinator.

The EE timeline I recommend is listed below. While it’s earlier than most schools, it’ll save you a lot of grief (trust me, I know how difficult this process can be!):
In the months of January and February of your junior year, come up with a final research topic (or at least your top three options).

Approach a teacher about becoming your EE advisor in February of junior year. If they say no, keep asking until you find someone who will. For more information on how to choose an EE advisor, see my notes above.

In April/May of your junior year, submit to your EE advisor an outline of your EE as well as a bibliography of potential research sources (I recommend at least seven to ten). To discuss your outline, meet with your EE advisor.

Between Junior and Senior Year, there is a summer vacation. During the summer between your junior and senior years, finish your first full draught. I know, no one wants to work during the summer, but trust me when I say that working during the summer will save you a lot of stress in the fall when you’re busy with college applications and other internal assessments for your IB classes.

You’ll want to finish this first full draught because you’ll most likely need to go through several draught cycles because you won’t be able to fit everything you want to say into 4,000 articulate words on the first try. Try to get this first draught in the best possible shape so you don’t have to do too many revisions during the school year in addition to your homework, college applications, and extracurricular activities.

Senior year, August/September: Receive feedback on your first draught of your EE from your advisor. Make an effort to incorporate their suggestions into your essay. Ask if they will read another draught before the final draught if they have a lot of suggestions for improvement.

Senior year, September/October: Submit a second draught of your EE to your advisor (if necessary) and review their feedback. Concentrate on producing the best final draught possible.

Schedule your viva voce between November and February of your senior year. To be sent to the IB, submit two copies of your final draught to your school. You will most likely not receive your grade until after you have graduated.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to schedule two more reflection sessions with your advisor in the middle of these milestones.

I recommend scheduling them when you receive feedback on your draughts, but it is ultimately up to your boss to schedule them. Just remember to do them!

How Is the IB Extended Essay Graded?

Examiners appointed by the IB grade Extended Essays on a scale of 0 to 34. Five criteria will be used to grade you, each with its own set of points.

  • Criterion A: Focus and Method (6 points maximum)
  • Criterion B: Knowledge and Understanding (6 points maximum)
  • Criterion C: Critical Thinking (12 points maximum)
  • Criterion D: Presentation (4 points maximum)
  • Criterion E: Engagement (6 points maximum)

The final letter grade you receive for your EE will be determined by how well you perform on each of these criteria. To receive your IB Diploma, you must achieve a minimum grade of D.

Despite the fact that each criterion has a point value, the IB states explicitly that graders do not convert point totals into grades; instead, they use qualitative grade descriptors to determine your Extended Essay’s final grade. Based on previous scoring methods for the EE, here’s a rough estimate of how these different point values translate to letter grades. This is merely an estimate; you should read and comprehend the grade descriptors to understand exactly what the scorers are looking for.

Rubric Assessment Points Earned Descriptor Letter
30-34 Excellent: A
25-29 Good: B
17-24 Satisfactory: C
9-16 Mediocre: D
0-8 Elementary: E


Here is the breakdown of EE scores:

Extended Essay Grade % of Students Awarded Grade
A 10.8%
B 24%
C 38.9%
D 23.6%
E 1.4%
N (No Grade Awarded) 1.3%



How Does the Extended Essay Grade Affect Your IB Diploma?

The number of points you earn toward your IB Diploma is determined by adding your Extended Essay grade to your TOK (Theory of Knowledge) grade.

The sum of the two scores determines how many points you will receive for your IB diploma (3 being the most, 0 being the least). You must earn 24 points in both categories to receive your IB Diploma (the TOK and EE). The highest possible score is 45 points.

Assume you received an A on your EE and a B on your TOK. You will be awarded 3 diploma points. A student who receives an E on either the extended essay or the TOK essay will no longer be eligible for an IB Diploma as of 2014.

A Diploma candidate could receive a failing grade in either the Extended Essay or Theory of Knowledge prior to the class of 2010, but this is no longer the case.


Figuring out how you’re assessed can be a little tricky. Luckily, the IB breaks everything down here in this document. (The assessment information begins on page 219.)