I Hate The Extended Essay

A research project to explore the impact of the Diploma Programme (DP) extended essay (EE) on student success at university has shown positive results in how it prepares IB graduates for onward learning.

The project involved a series of studies on the extended essay by researchers from McGill University in Canada, Warwick University in the United Kingdom and the University of Virginia in the United States. The overall aim of the project was to explore the learning outcomes attributable to the International Baccalaureate (IB) DP extended essay in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other aspects that might prepare students for university studies.

The DP is designed as an academically challenging and balanced programme of education that prepares 16–18 year old students for success at university and life beyond. The extended essay, a requirement for all DP students, asks students to engage in independent, in-depth research on a topic relating to one of the six DP areas of study.

The latest study (research summary), Exploring the learning outcomes of the IB extended essay in preparing students for university studies in Canada, involved two phases (Phase 1 and Phase 2). Firstly, the study sought to understand which variables best differentiated IB from non-IB undergraduate students in terms of their inquiry self-efficacy, views on the nature of science, inquiry values, epistemic beliefs and approaches to learning. This study found that former IB students indicated higher ratings of aspects of inquiry learning that represent self-regulation in the inquiry process and that, on average, IB students were less likely to view learning as primarily memorization of information. Secondly this study aimed to further explore the learning benefits of completing the EE. Analysis of the results of student responses to the questions about what they learned from participating in the EE revealed a number of academic learning outcomes, including enhanced organization, reading, writing and reasoning skills.

The second study (research summary, full report), Student perceptions of the value of the International Baccalaureate extended essay in preparing for university studies, by a researcher from the University of Warwick, found that students who had taken part in the EE were generally very positive about their experience. One student noted “this was probably the only time in school when I decided for myself what I wanted to learn about”. The study suggests that most of the aims of the EE had been met and that the EE taught students a lot, especially in terms of being critical and independent thinkers. Former IB students were also more positive about their pre-university education in general than the former A-level students. Several students did note, however, that they had few opportunities to use their research skills in university.

The final study (research summary, full report) Exploring the benefits of the International Baccalaureate extended essay for university studies at the University of Virginia (UVA), aimed to better understand the research experience of former IB students and describe student perceptions of the value of the extended essay. Former IB students and a comparison sample of former Advanced Placement (AP) students were selected for participation in the study. When compared with former AP students, IB students were significantly more likely to indicate that they: felt prepared for college-level coursework involving research; had executed a research project at UVA; were proud of their research; intended to conduct future research; and found their research skills to be important to future success.

Across all three studies, some common themes could be identified:

  • Pride and a sense of achievement in completing the EE and a clear feeling that Diploma Programme students had learned a great deal from the experience.
  • A view that there were not enough opportunities to engage in research at university.
  • Recognition of learning that occurred as a result of selecting and delving into a particular topic.
  • Preparing students for conducting various facets of the research process and an increased level of confidence in doing research reports.
  • The recognition of the challenges in designing, conducting and reporting research.
  • All of these reports can be found at ibo.org/research


Learn more about this announcement at ibo.org/announcements/

The extended essay is a required component of the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme (DP). 

It is an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper.

What is the significance of the extended essay?

The extended essay provides:

  • practical preparation for undergraduate research
  • an opportunity for students to investigate a topic of special interest to them, which is also related to one of the student's six DP subjects. 

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. 

Participation in this process develops the capacity to analyse, synthesize and evaluate knowledge.

An extended essay can also be undertaken in world studies, where students carry out an in-depth interdisciplinary study of an issue of contemporary global significance, across two IB diploma disciplines.

How is study of the extended essay structured?

Students are supported throughout the process of researching and writing the extended essay, with advice and guidance from a supervisor who is usually a teacher at the school.

The IB recommends that students follow the completion of the written essay with a short, concluding interview with their supervisor. This is known as viva voce.

The extended essay and interview can be a valuable stimulus for discussion in countries where interviews are required prior to acceptance for employment or for a place at university.

How is the extended essay assessed?

All extended essays are externally assessed by examiners appointed by the IB. They are marked on a scale from 0 to 36.

The score a student receives relates to a band. The bands 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.

Find out how points awarded for the extended essay contribute to a student’s overall diploma score.

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