Download the Official Extended Essay Guide (192 page PDF)
The Nature of the Extended Essay
The extended essay is defined as an in-depth study of a limited topic within a subject. Its
purpose is to provide candidates with an opportunity to engage in independent research.
Emphasis is placed on the process of engaging in personal research, on the communication of
ideas and information in a logical and coherent manner, and on the overall presentation of the
extended essay in compliance with these guidelines. Many of these general issues, such as the
way in which information is handled, the level of analysis and the quality of argument, are
assessed through the general assessment criteria. This is reflected in the relative weighting of
2:1 between the general and subject assessment criteria.
The Choice of Subject
The subject in which the extended essay is registered must be chosen from the list of available
subjects given in the Vade Mecum.
It is advisable to choose the subject for the extended essay before deciding what the topic or
research question of the extended essay will be. Since the IBO specifies the range of
permitted subjects, certain topics may not be appropriate for an extended essay.
The subject chosen for the extended essay does not have to be one of the subjects being
studied by the candidate for the diploma, but care should be taken to choose a subject about
which the candidate has sufficient knowledge and skills.
Candidates should also base the choice of subject on the level of personal interest they have
in that subject.
Preparing the Essay
The Choice of Topic
The topic of the extended essay is the particular area of study within the chosen subject.
Before a final decision is made about the choice of topic the relevant subject guidelines
should be carefully considered.
Candidates should aim to choose a topic that is both interesting and challenging to them. The
topic chosen should be limited in scope and sufficiently narrow to allow candidates to
examine an issue or problem in depth. It should present the candidate with the opportunity to
collect or generate information and/or data for analysis and evaluation. Candidates are not
expected to make a contribution to knowledge within a subject.
A broad topic is unlikely to result in a successful extended essay. A topic which requires no
personal research and/or requires an essentially narrative or descriptive approach is not
suitable for an extended essay. Similarly, although a reliance on secondary sources is
sometimes necessary, an extended essay which only provides a summary of such sources will
not be successful. Writing a précis of a well-documented topic is unlikely to result in a
successful extended essay.
The Research Question
When an appropriate topic has been chosen, candidates should narrow the focus of the
investigation and formulate a specific research question. For many extended essays this will
be phrased in the form of a question, but alternatives such as launching the investigation with
a hypothesis are acceptable. By frequently referring to this research question, candidates
should be able to maintain the purpose and orientation of the investigation.
Candidates are encouraged to formulate a challenging research question but to ensure that it
can be explored within the constraints of essay length, time and resources available to them.
The Research Process
Owing to the diversity of subjects and the different approaches to research, this guide does
not offer detailed advice on the methods and skills of research. However, a systematic
process, shaped by the nature of the subject, is essential to generate and gather information
and ideas that can be used to develop a convincing answer to the specified research question.
Organizing the Essay
After careful outlining and drafting, it is likely that the majority of extended essays will
follow a structure similar to that described below.
The introduction should include:
* an indication of why the topic chosen is interesting, important or worthy of study
* some background information and an attempt to place the topic in an appropriate context
* an indication of whether the topic has been narrowed to a focus of more manageable
* a clearly and precisely stated research question
* a clear concluding statement of the thesis and argument, i.e. the response to the research
question that will subsequently be developed in the body of the essay.
The essential feature of the major section, or body, of the essay is the systematic development
of a convincing answer to the research question. The structure and the approach to this section
will be shaped by the conventions of the particular subject in which the extended essay is
being undertaken. Some subjects may require sub-headings for major sections within the
main body. For example, scientific investigations will usually have separate sections for
method and results. In some other subjects, however, sub-headings should be avoided because
they disrupt the flow and unity of an essay.
The requirements of the conclusion are that it
* is clearly stated
* is relevant to the research question being investigated
* is substantiated by the evidence presented
* indicates issues, unresolved questions and new questions that have emerged from the
The extended essay should be written in a clear, correct and formal style appropriate to the
subject from which the topic is drawn. The use of a word processor is
The Length of the Extended Essay
The upper limit is 4000 words for all extended essays. This upper limit includes the
introduction, the body, the conclusion and any quotations, but does not include:
* the abstract
* the contents page
* maps, charts, diagrams, annotated illustrations and tables
* the references/bibliography
Essays in excess of 4000 words are subject to penalties and examiners are not required to read
material in excess of the word limit.
The title should provide a clear indication of the focus of the essay. It should be precise and
not necessarily phrased in the form of a question.
An abstract not exceeding 300 words must be included. It does not serve as an introduction
but presents a synopsis of the extended essay, and therefore should be written last.
The inclusion of an abstract is intended to encourage candidates to examine closely the
development of an argument within the extended essay and the pertinence of any conclusions
that are reached. It is also designed to allow readers to understand quickly the contents of the
The minimum requirements for the abstract are to state clearly:
* the research question being investigated
* the scope of the investigation
* the conclusion/s of the extended essay.
The abstract should be typed or word processed on one side of a sheet of paper, and placed
immediately after the title page.
A contents page must be provided at the beginning of the extended essay and all pages should
be numbered. An index is not required.
Presentation and overall neatness are important, and it is essential that illustrative material, if
included, is well set out and used effectively. Graphs, diagrams, tables and maps are effective
only if they are well labelled and can be interpreted with ease. All such material which is
incorporated into the extended essay must be directly related to the text and acknowledged
where appropriate. The use of photographs and postcards is acceptable only if they are
captioned and/or annotated and are used to illustrate a specific point made in the extended
The direct or indirect use of the words of another person, written, oral or electronic, must be
acknowledged appropriately as must visual material in the essay, derived from another
source. A candidate’s failure to comply with this requirement will be viewed as plagiarism,
and will therefore be treated as a case of malpractice.
The bibliography or list of references should include only those works, such as books and
journals, that have been consulted by the candidate. An accepted form of quoting and
documenting sources, should be applied consistently. The major documentation systems are
divided into two groups, parenthetical in-text systems and numbered systems; either may be
used, provided this is done consistently and clearly. It is good practice to require candidates
to study a major style guide appropriate to the subject of the extended essay so that they can
present their list of references professionally.
Each work consulted, regardless of whether or not it has already been cited as a reference,
must be listed in the bibliography. The bibliography should specify: author/s, title, date and
place of publication, and the name of the publisher, following consistently one standard
method of listing sources. Possible examples are:
Peterson, A. D. C. Schools Across Frontiers: the story of the International
Baccalaureate and the United World College. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1987.
Peterson, A. D. C. (1987), Schools Across Frontiers: the story of the International
Baccalaureate and the United World College, Open Court: La Salle, Illinois.
Use of Assessment Criteria
All extended essays are externally assessed by examiners appointed by the IBO. All extended
essays are marked on a scale from 0 to 36. This maximum score is made up of the total
criterion levels available for each essay, and is divided between general and subject
assessment criteria in the ratio 2:1. Criterion levels will be awarded to each extended essay
using a best match model. For each criterion, examiners are instructed to identify the level
descriptor that is most appropriate (i.e. the best match) for the extended essay under
consideration, rather than to progress upwards through the levels until the essay fails to meet
one or more aspects of the descriptor. The best match model will be used for both the general
assessment criteria and the subject assessment criteria.
General Assessment Criteria
There are eight general assessment criteria. These are concerned with how candidates manage
general aspects of the extended essay, such as the writing of the abstract and conclusion, the
use of information and data, and the overall presentation.
For each of the general assessment criteria, different degrees of quality are described by a set
of achievement level descriptors. Some of the criteria are more important than others and
have more achievement levels. The general quality of an extended essay is measured by
adding together the achievement levels attained on each of the eight general assessment
criteria. An extended essay may score up to 24 on the general assessment criteria.
Inappropriate Research Questions
General assessment criteria A, C and D refer to inappropriate research questions, which fall
into two main types. There are some research questions which are too broad in scope to be
dealt with effectively, on more than a superficial descriptive level, within the limits of an
extended essay. Many examples of such research questions are given in the subject
guidelines. Such research questions will not achieve greater than level 1 on criterion A, and
may well fail to successfully address some of the other general and subject assessment
The other category of inappropriate research question involves those studies which are too
simplistic, too limited in scope or too speculative, providing either an easily accomplished or
insignificant outcome, or a self-evident outcome which should have been predicted in
advance. Such extended essays will be awarded a level 0 on criterion A and, because they can
in theory satisfy the requirements of criteria C and D with some ease, they will be restricted to
a maximum of level 2 in both these cases.
Subject Assessment Criteria
The subject assessment criteria are concerned with how candidates manage the chosen topic
within the context of the subject in which the extended essay is registered.
Each subject has its own set of assessment criteria. Each extended essay will be assessed
against the subject assessment criteria for the subject in which it is registered.
For each of the subject assessment criteria, different degrees of quality are described by a set
of achievement levels. As for the general assessment criteria, some of the criteria may be
more important than others and so may have more achievement levels. The subject quality of
an extended essay is measured by adding together the achievement levels attained on each of
the subject assessment criteria. An extended essay may score up to 12 on the subject
An extended essay which is inappropriate to the subject in which it is submitted will score
zero on the subject assessment criteria.
The total score obtained, on the scale 0 to 36, will be used to determine in which of the
following bands the extended essay is placed. This band, in conjunction with the band for
Theory of Knowledge, determines the diploma points awarded for these two requirements.
See Award of Diploma Points below for further details.
The band descriptions are:
A Work of an excellent standard
B Work of a good standard
C Work of a satisfactory standard
D Work of a mediocre standard
E Work of an elementary standard
The band description provides the basis of reporting back to schools on each candidate’s
performance in the extended essay requirement.
Award of Diploma Points
The extended essay contributes to the overall diploma score through the award of points in
conjunction with Theory of Knowledge. A maximum of three points are awarded according to
a candidate’s combined performance in both the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge.
Both Theory of Knowledge and the extended essay are measured against published
assessment criteria. According to the quality of the work, based on the application of these
assessment criteria, a candidate’s performance in each of the extended essay and Theory of
Knowledge will fall into one of the five bands described above.
A candidate who, for example, writes a good extended essay and whose performance in Theory of
Knowledge is judged to be satisfactory will be awarded 1 point, while a candidate who writes a
mediocre extended essay and whose performance in Theory of Knowledge is judged to be excellent
will be awarded 2 points.
A candidate who fails to submit an extended essay will be awarded N for the extended essay, will
score no points, and will not be awarded a diploma.
Performance in both the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge of an elementary standard is a
failing condition for the award of the diploma.
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