How to get top marks in the IB Extended Essay

Students can find the thought of the IB Extended Essay or EE as it is known, intimidating. However, by attacking it early it can be a wonderful way to take the pressure off in the IB2 year and get some strong marks in the bag before the exams roll around.

In this article, we have got our TutorsPlus IB teachers and examiners to reveal the secrets to pulling off a great EE. Also, they give you their recommendations for getting it out of the way before your second IB year.

Wouldn’t that feel good?

Well, it is not as tough as you think if you follow these tips.

Don’t fall into the procrastination trap.

Many students say to us that it seems like such a huge piece of work it is easier to put it off. 4,000 words may seem unattainable, but if you think about it like four 1,000-word essays it doesn’t seem any near as bad.  After all, you can write 500 words without thinking too much, right? Even this blog post is almost 2,000-words.

Have you ever been asked how writing the EE compares to eating an elephant? No? Well, the answer is that they both need to be tackled one bite at a time.

This will be the secret to your success. With this in mind, you can break the project into chunks of manageable size. Once you do this and create a timing plan, a top mark EE will be in your grasp.

We will give you practical tips on how to do this, but first the basics…

student thinking

What is the IB EE?

Essentially, it is an independent piece of research leading to a 4,000-word essay.  Fundamentally, it takes different forms depending on the subject area the student has chosen.

Generally, the topic a student chooses comes from one of the 6 IB subjects they are studying, but it can also be in world studies.

The process involves three reflection sessions with the EE supervisor. Finally, the last session is a viva voce where the student is questioned on their research.

It is externally marked by IB examiners and is marked out of 34 points. An A is the top mark with an E being the bottom. Later, all that work will be worth it as Admissions Officers at universities agree that it is great preparation for university undergraduate work.

Get the timing right

Don’t put it off!  We have had students call us without even a draft just days before the final deadline. Don’t be this student!

In fact, the best approach is to complete it during the summer between IB years.  This reduces the stress in the second year and gives you better odds of a higher mark, as you are not doing it in a rush.

Most critically, it also avoids the car-crash of IB deadlines banging into each other in IB2.

Funnily enough, your teachers have given you deadlines for a reason.  Even if it is not the final deadline provided by the IB Organisation, it has been done to avoid you having to work on 10 things at once.

Yes, your IB Co-ordinator wants you to pass with the best possible mark too!

Plan & reward yourself

Break the whole process down into manageable steps and allocate a specific time for each one. Soon you will have a plan covering each stage from creating the question, to research, writing the introduction, editing, etc.

Once this is done it won’t seem like such a mountain to climb.  Rather a series of small hills.

Share these stages, and timings with your family or a friend.  Doing this helps you be accountable and reduces the possibility of your timings slipping.

A great tip is to find something to reward you at the end of each stage to keep you going.

Plan your time well and realistically.  Be frank and honest with yourself and organise lots of small deadlines for yourself which will be achievable.

group of students legs

Find your IB EE motivation

Do whatever it takes to keep yourself on track.  What motivates you?

Is it working with a buddy? If so, pair up with a friend or peer to help keep each other on time.  It could be a student from your school, someone you have met in an IB study online forum.  You could have a WhatApp group where you support each other in a group. Whether it is online or face to face it is the support that matters.

Use your supervisor in the best way possible.  Don’t be scared to ask them for help and support.  However, the amount they can help you is governed by strict rules from the IB so use their support wisely.

Our IB teachers and examiners recommend making sure your draft is as good as it can possibly be before you share it with them, so you don’t waste the one feedback session on elements you could have improved yourself.

At TutorsPlus our tutors can help you with your Extended Essay within the constraints imposed by the IB. Even so, come to us early as last-minute help is never as effective.

You can still rest & have fun

Take a proper break after the end of your first IB year.  If you have worked hard, you will need it.  At the same time, it is entirely possible to have a great vacation and complete your EE over the summer.

So, take that break!  Clear your head, relax and come back fresh and filled with energy.

Once you have had a complete break, you can crack on with your EE work, but don’t forget life can be fun too.

Plan in enough exercise and fresh air to keep yourself fresh, so you can continue working on your EE efficiently.

IB EE topic & question choice

This is often a dangerous time for procrastination.  Choose a topic first and make sure it is one you love.  This will help keep your motivation levels high for the long haul.

Next, decide on a research question but keep an open mind.  As you will see, it is important that you are prepared to change it as your research progresses.

It is very important to get your supervisor’s input at this point.  The reason being that they will be aware of potential pitfall s within your topic area or due to the way you have phrased your question.

Your supervisor can also help refine your question ensuring it is neither too narrow nor too broad.

group of students on step

Drafting and editing

It may sound obvious, but it is not about simply churning out 4,000 words. While the word count is something to have in mind and even aim for. It is likely you will write more and edit it down, talking out entire sections perhaps and making it more succinct.

Whether you make notes by hand or on the computer, do whatever you need to avoid writer’s block.

You will want to make sure that you are answering your question at all points in the essay.

Remember the register of language you need to use. The EE demands the use of academic language and your style, vocabulary and tone should reflect this.

However, this doesn’t mean that it becomes complicated to read.  You will find that simple and precise phrasing is best.

Use the marking criteria to improve your IB EE mark

Inform yourself by looking at past EEs.  Your teacher will probably share examples with you, so make sure you review them against the marking criteria.  Above all, try to understand for yourself why one EE has scored the maximum possible points and why another has not scored so well.  This will allow you to think about how you will apply these insights to your own EE to improve the score.

Make sure you have the marking criteria with you whenever you are working on your EE, and this will help you ensure your work is addressing every point as you go along.  Then you can keep checking back in to see that you are on track to deliver what the IB examiners are asking for and that all criteria are being met.  You don’t want to be leaving valuable points on the table by not addressing even one of the marking criteria.

Each time you have completed an element of the EE, look at it critically and ask yourself how many marks would an examiner award? You can even get a friend to do this for you.  At this point, you will see what you need to add or change to secure all the allocated marks.

Academic honesty and your IB EE

Students know that academic honesty is an essential part of the EE research, but some aren’t so clear on why. The IB states this is important, and here’s why:

(“Academic honesty in the IB educational context”, International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2014)

“Proper citation is a key element in academic scholarship and intellectual exchange. When we cite we:

  • show respect for the work of others
  • help a reader to distinguish our work from the work of others who have contributed to our work
  • give the reader the opportunity to check the validity of our use of other people’s work
  • give the reader the opportunity to follow up our references, out of interest
  • show and receive proper credit for our research process
  • demonstrate that we are able to use reliable sources and critically assess them to support our work
  • establish the credibility and authority of our knowledge and ideas
  • demonstrate that we are able to draw our own conclusions
  • share the blame (if we get it wrong).”

Plagiarism, whether intentional or not, is serious and can result in the student not being awarded their IB diploma.

Moreover, always, always, always keep track of your sources as you go. Use a citation generator is a quick way of doing this. There are good free ones available, and they will save you a lot of time.  Students often use search engines that can throw up reliable and not-so-reliable sources. With that in mind, we strongly recommend using the CRAP test (currency, reliability, authority, and purpose) that determines whether a website is a credible source or not.

student concentrating

Why does the IB say the EE is important?

The IB organisation itself states the following here (

The extended essay provides:

  • practical preparation for undergraduate research
  • an opportunity for students to investigate a topic of personal interest to them, which relates to one of the student’s six DP subjects, or takes the interdisciplinary approach of a World Studies extended essay.

Through the research process for the extended essay, students develop skills in:

  • formulating an appropriate research question
  • engaging in a personal exploration of the topic
  • communicating ideas
  • developing an argument.

TutorsPlus offer pre-IB tuition in all subjects to help international students prepare for this demanding programme.

Our tutors know the IB inside-out and truly work magic to draw out each student’s ability to self-direct their learning. You can reach TutorsPlus at 022 731 8148 or

By Sara Lloyd

Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for 15 years and is an expert on international IB education. She is also a parent of two lively children.

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