How to get top marks in the IB Extended Essay

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Students can find the thought of the IB Extended Essay or EE as it is known, intimidating. However, attacking it early can be a wonderful way to take the pressure off in the IB2 year. At the same time, you will hopefully 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, the IB Extended Essay is not as tough as you think if you follow these tips.

IB Extended Essay student thinking

The IB Extended Essay Explained

Essentially, The IB Extended Essay 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, but it is mandatory for all IB Diploma students.

Along with the ToK and the CAS project, the Extended Essay forms what is known in the IB as the “core.”

Generally speaking, the topic a student chooses comes from one of the 6 IB subjects they are studying, but it can also be in world studies.  Each student is allocated a supervisor, usually an IB teacher, to support them and meet regularly for feedback as the essay progresses. However, it is important to note that the IB allows for just one round of written feedback on your Extended Essay.

The process involves three reflection sessions with the IB Extended Essay supervisor.

Finally, the last session is a viva voce where the student is questioned on their research.

Your Extended Essay is externally marked by IB examiners and is marked out of 34 points. An A is a 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. Above all for undergraduate theses and essays.

Get your IB Extended Essay timing right

It is generally started in the second term of IB1, however many schools ask IB Students to work on their extended essay and get their first draft done over the summer. Above all, the key is not to put it off!

We have had students call us without even a draft just days before the final deadline. Don’t be this student! This will lead to a poor Extended Essay mark and is a fast route to failure.

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

Most critically, it also avoids the car crash of IB deadlines 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 Coordinator wants you to pass with the best possible mark too!

Here are the rough timings you can expect – although it is important to know that each school will have its own approach.

JanuaryFebruary of  IB1 Year: Decide on your research topic.
Spring of IB1 Year: Submit your EE research plan and discuss it with your supervisor, ideally try to settle on a title with input from your supervisor.
Summer between IB1 and IB2 year: We can’t say enough how important it is to come back to school in the IB2 year with a strong draft (not just 4,000 words hastily written in the last week of the holiday).

The more you can do to get a well-thought-through Extended Essay draft, the less pressure you will have in your final IB year.

September of IB2 year: Get feedback on your first draft. This may mean a big re-engineering of your essay or it could be about optimising it and improving specific areas and aspects of it.  Either way, you will need to devote significant time to improving it at this point.

October of IB2 year: Hand in the second draft with improvements to your supervisor. Start polishing your final draft and get the final presentation laid out including bibliographies, appendices etc.

November-February of IB2 year: You will have your viva voce, and submit the final essay. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will get your grade until after you graduate.

group of students legs


How to choose your IB Extended Essay topic & question

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 Extended Essay supervisor’s input at this point.  The reason is that they will be aware of potential pitfalls within your topic area or due to the way you have phrased your question. Then, you can also use your supervisor to advise on potential paths for your topic research.

Your IB Extended Essay supervisor can also help refine your question ensuring it is neither too narrow nor too broad. In fact, the most common pitfall is that the EE research question is too broad.  You can avoid this by making sure it is specific, but still has enough room for a detailed investigation.

Remember, it is also important that you keep notes from all your supervisor meetings. Without them, you will find it difficult to write your final reflection.

Furthermore, when you need to explain your responses to setbacks, in your reflection, it is much easier to do when you have these notes at hand.

A top tip from our IB teachers is to choose an EE topic that you are passionate about. In this way, your enthusiasm will show through to the final EE draft. It will also mean that you will enjoy (or dislike less!) the research phase so much more. Above all, avoid overly simple or “trendy” research questions. This means Examiners will be sick of seeing them by the time they mark your EE.

How to research your IB Extended Essay

Before diving into research ensure your EE supervisor has given you the go-ahead on your question, or you risk wasting time. For example, we’ve seen students doing weeks of research on their EE, only to find that their supervisor rejected their question.

Teach yourself how to properly research before starting and you will save time. Regularly, we see students who speed read sources on the internet and bookmark them before moving on to the next one. What the IB is looking for is that you have “read around” the topic area that you have chosen for your EE.

However, make sure your research stays focused on your topic and question.  As it is all too easy to veer off course and waste time.

This means you need to be familiar with the most important sources primary and secondary sources. This also means print sources as well as online. For example newspapers, trade publications, journals, academic papers, books, diaries, etc. In fact, Google Scholar is a great starting point.

Later, these will be in your appendix. More on that further down.

If all your sources have been “googled”, this is a clear sign your research is not as thorough as it should be. Instead, you should be consulting libraries, databases, etc. Also, don’t forget to ask your librarian for help as their assistance is invaluable in creating a top grade EE.

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.

group of IB Extended Essay students on step

How to draft and edit your IB Extended Essay

It may sound obvious, but it is not about simply churning out 4,000 words. In fact, 4,000 words is the absolute maximum word limit. 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 of your Extended Essay and making it more succinct.

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

Remember, getting something written is better than nothing at all.  Later, you can always come back and edit and refine your work.

In fact, as you work on your first draft you may find that there are entire parts you want to cut or rewrite completely and this is fine too.

Be open to your Extended Essay supervisor’s input.

In essence, they also want you to succeed and any changes they recommend will be to improve your final grade.

You will want to make sure that you are answering your question at all points in the Extended Essay.  In fact, we recommend reviewing each paragraph and asking yourself if it addresses your Extended Essay question. Then, if you find it doesn’t cut or change it.

Remember the register of language you need to use. The Extended Essay demands the use of academic language and your style, vocabulary, and tone should reflect this. We work with IB Extended Essay Examiners who are dismayed each year by essays that use slang, repeat themselves, and have spelling and grammar mistakes. Don’t let your essay be like that!

Ask yourself the question; does my essay flow and make sense to a reader who hasn’t done the research? Is it structured, logical, and clear? Are my arguments and counter-arguments backed up by evidence?

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

The IB Extended Essay Introduction

This will explore the main themes of your essay. Moreover, it will set out the start of your argument.

Many IB EE supervisors say the introduction should explain to the reader what to expect from the EE. Also, it should cover the scope of your research and question as well as your line of argument.  Some IB teachers recommend coming back to write this section at the end.

Remember to keep all your notes and all drafts of your EE until the end, as you never know when you will need them. Save them on the cloud in case anything ever happens to your computer! You could need them for something as simple as tracking down a source or going back to an earlier draft after EE supervisor feedback.

The body of the IB Extended Essay

This is where your argument is developed and your research is used as evidence. It is important that no element of your argument is left for the appendices as it will not be marked.

In some subjects sub-headings will help the essay make sense and for the student to organise their work.

The Extended Essay Conclusion

It is important that there is a final conclusion summing up your arguments.  This is the case, even if you make conclusions within the body of the essay too.

It is also important to draw out any issues that have yet to be resolved or limitations that have been found in answering the question. Of course, it also needs to address the question in all aspects.

Get the IB Extended Essay presentation right

This is one of the simplest areas to pick up marks. However, it does require attention to detail. Be careful to use the IB guide for citing and referencing here. 

It is also important to check (or ask someone else to check) that you have done this correctly.

How to get top marks in your EE by using the marking criteria to improve your IB Extended Essay

Inform yourself by looking at past Extended Essays.  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 Extended Essay 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 Extended Essay to improve the score.

Make sure you have the marking criteria with you whenever you are working on your Extended Essay, 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 Extended Essay 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 Extended Essay, 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 Extended Essay 

Students know that academic honesty is an essential part of the Extended Essay 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.

IB Extended Essay student concentrating

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 Extended Essay supervisor in the best way possible.  Don’t be scared to ask them for help and support.  However, the amount they can help you with your Extended Essay 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.  In this way you don’t waste the one feedback session on elements you could have improved yourself.

At TutorsPlus our tutors can help you with your IB Extended Essay within the constraints imposed by the IB. Even so, come to us early as you can, 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 IB Extended Essay 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 Extended Essay work.

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

Don’t fall into the Extended Essay procrastination trap

Many students say to us that it seems like such a huge piece of work it is easier to put it off. In some respects, 4,000 words may seem unattainable. However, if you think about it like four 1,000-word essays it doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad.

After all, you can write 500 words without thinking too much, right? so, to give you an idea this blog post is just under 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 Extended Essay success.

First, break the project into chunks of manageable size. Second, create a timing plan, and third-get to know the mark scheme like the back of your hand. Then a top mark EE will be in your grasp.

Plan & reward yourself

Break the whole IB Extended Essay 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 your Extended Essay plan 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 through the Extended Essay marathon.

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

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

Don’t panic – everything in your EE can be fixed!

Remember, until the final EE submission, everything can be changed. So, try not to panic and instead get going and try to enjoy the process if you can.  In the end, you will have an EE you can be proud of!

Why does the IB say the Extended Essay 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.

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.

Check out our IB EE page for more info on our IB teachers and Examiners who can help.

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