Guide to the IB Extended Essay in 2024

January 24, 2024

IB extended essay, topics, rubric

If you’re an International Baccalaureate student getting ready to write your IB Extended Essay, you might be experiencing some very understandable trepidation. But have no fear—we’re here to help you understand what’s required of you, how to plan ahead (IB extended essay topics), and how you’ll be graded (IB extended essay rubric). Keep reading for a good dose of preparation and confidence before you begin the journey. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is the IB Extended Essay?
  • The IB Extended Essay—Required Content
  • IB Extended Essay Topics
  • IB Extended Essay—Sample Essays
  • IB Extended Essay Tips
  • IB Extended Essay Rubric
  • IB Extended Essay—More Resources

What is the IB Extended Essay?

The IB Extended Essay is a 4,000-word paper that asks you to immerse yourself in research and academic writing. A required part of the IB program, the Extended Essay is a chance to dig deep into a topic that fascinates you.

Although it’s no small task, the IB Extended Essay is an opportunity to gain practical research and writing skills that will come in handy again in college. As you write, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Formulate a research question and limit your scope of research
  • Communicate ideas to an audience
  • Develop a well-supported argument

The IB Extended Essay is largely an independent, self-directed project, but don’t worry—the IB program doesn’t throw you into the deep end. You do get to select a mentor (usually a teacher at your school) to help guide you through the process. As you write, you’ll be required to meet with your mentor three times. As part of your final evaluation, your mentor will interview you in a final reflection section called a viva voce. During the viva voce, your mentor will check for plagiarism and malpractice, ask you to reflect on challenges and difficulties, and prompt you to discuss what you’ve learned through the research and writing process. Your mentor will then generate a report that factors into your final grade.

The IB Extended Essay—Required Content

Your final essay must include the following:

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

IB Extended Essay Topics

For this essay, it will be up to you to generate a topic; the International Baccalaureate does not provide prompts. However, your essay will need to fit within one of six provided subject areas. You’ll choose from the following list of IB Extended Essay Topics:

  • Language and literature
  • Language acquisition
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Arts

IB Extended Essay Topics (Continued)

At a glance, the subject areas might look limited, but the topics you can choose to write about are actually wide-ranging. The “Individuals and societies” category includes social science topics like economics, history, world religions, and philosophy. And, if you’re leaning toward “Science,” you can choose from classic subjects such as biology, chemistry, and physics, or related topics like environmental systems or health science, among others.

The IB also offers a special “World Studies” option for students interested in researching global issues. This subject would allow you to center your writing on global issues such as migration, global health, cultural exchange, or climate change.

IB Extended Essay—Sample Essays

Wondering what an outstanding IB Extended Essay looks like? The International Baccalaureate provides quite a few sample student essays online. Here are five essays that earned A grades.

Language and literature: An exploration of an aspect of the narrative voice in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

Environmental Systems and Societies: The economic impact of the 1995 reintroduction of grey wolves to Yellowstone National Park

Psychology: To what extent do social networking sites (SNS) usage lead to experience of anxiety in adolescents?

Music: Composition techniques in the 1st movement of Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 73

Business Management: Corporate Culture at Oracle

IB Extended Essay Tips

1) Pick something you’re passionate about

As you can see from the titles above, the IB Extended Essay is a great place to delve into a niche topic that fascinates you. Since you’ll be spending many months on this essay, you’ll want to pick a topic you genuinely enjoy spending time learning about. It’s also smart to choose something you’ve already learned about in your IB classes so that you have a strong foundation of knowledge to start with. In music class, do you love pondering why music makes us feel a certain way? Maybe an essay about music theory will keep your gears turning. Do you come alive trying to solve seemingly impossible problems in physics class? Now’s your chance to put those equations into action.

Since this essay is all about your academic interests, it’s also a good idea to pick a topic that’s relevant to what you plan to study in college. Selecting a relevant topic will provide you with significant exposure to the field and will also give you something meaningful to talk about in your college admissions essays.

2) Limit your scope

What’s the meaning of life? Why do wars happen? What is time? Some questions are just way too big to answer, and your IB Extended Essay is not a good place to tackle expansive, philosophical questions. Instead, think of this essay as a place to investigate one piece of a big question. If, let’s say, you’re generally interested in what helps women reach positions of leadership in business, this is a good place to examine how one or a few companies approach this issue. Or, if you’re interested in studying what inspires surrealist painters, you’ll want to pick one or a few painters to research, likely all from the same time period. For both these topics, you’d need a whole textbook to tackle the full question, but limiting your scope will make it much easier to write a clear and cohesive 4,000 words.

On the other hand, it’s possible to narrow your focus too much. It would be impossible, for example, to write 4,000 words about a single sentence in a novel. Make sure you talk about scope early and often with your mentor. Together, you can find the perfect Goldilocks scope for your project that’s not too big and not too small.

3) Choose a good mentor

Speaking of mentors, choosing wisely will help you enormously as you embark on your IB Extended Essay. You’ll want to make sure you choose someone with existing knowledge in your research topic. Your English teacher may be able to give you great writing advice, for example, but they won’t be able to guide your research and scope if you’re writing about marine animals or modern dance.

Before you approach a teacher, make sure you have at least one topic idea (or even a few ideas) in mind so that you can make sure they’ll be a good fit to supervise your project. When you meet with them, find out what their mentorship style is like. Make sure they’ll have time to read several drafts of your essays, meet with you a few times, and give you feedback. Some IB schools will require your IB Extended Essay mentor to sign an agreement form too, so make sure you find out what paperwork is required in advance.

4) Get organized, way organized

The IB Extended Essay is not something you can crank out the night before it’s due. The essay is meant to be a substantive, in-depth, thoughtful, and thoroughly researched analysis, and Rome simply isn’t built in a day. This might be the longest paper you’ve written to date, and this project might require more research than you’ve been asked to do before. Timelines vary by school, but you’ll likely spend between eight months and a year working on your IB Extended Essay. So, how will you pull it all off? For these 8-12 months, organization will be your guiding light. We recommend you:

  • Get started early. If your essay is due November of your senior year, start generating topic ideas during your junior year right after winter break.
  • Create a long-view schedule for yourself. What will you accomplish each month of your process?
  • Give yourself deadlines. Once you choose a mentor, suggest 2-3 draft deadline dates so that you will be held accountable throughout the writing process.
  • Find a note-taking system that works for you. You’ll be reading many articles and books and it’s hard to keep track of all your sources. Create a document or spreadsheet where you keep track of the sources you’ve found and check them off as you read. As you finish reading a text, type up important quotes and a few notes explaining how it connects to your topic and to your other texts.

5)Write a messy first draft

Writing never comes out perfect the first time, even for New York Times bestselling authors and the most experienced researchers. In your first draft, give yourself permission to get all your thoughts out, no matter how unstructured or rambling they are. Call this your brainstorming draft. When you’re ready to revisit it, see what patterns emerge, what common ideas you can group together, what beginning buds of ideas you can make bloom into full-fledged analysis.

6) Communicate for an audience

When you’re used to producing writing that only your teacher reads, it can be hard to remember to write for an audience. But at the end of the day, writing is communication, and the best writing is clear and thorough communication that anyone could pick up and read. For your IB Extended Essay, you’ll want to remember that many people will be reading your final essay, and not all of them will be experts in the niche topic you choose to study. Ask yourself: how can I explain my research to an audience who doesn’t already agree with my analysis?

To communicate to an audience, you’ll want to:

  • Provide lots of general background information on your topic.
  • Don’t assume your reader is familiar with your sources. Introduce them as if they’re guest speakers about to walk up to a podium and deliver a lecture.
  • After including quotes, facts, and figures, be sure to explain what those sources mean in your own words and how they connect to your bigger-picture argument.
  • Don’t assume your arguments are self-evident. In this essay, communicating for an audience means supplying ongoing interpretation and analysis, even if it feels like you’re explaining the obvious. Your reader isn’t on your research journey with you, so your points might not be so obvious to your reader.

IB Extended Essay Rubric

Although your IB Extended Essay provides a report that factors into your grade, your essay will also be assessed by external examiners the IB. Per the IB Extended Essay Rubric, essays are graded on a scale from 0 to 34 based on 5 different criteria:

  • 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)

As you can see, Critical Thinking is the most significant rubric category. This means that the IB wants to see you arrive at your own unique analysis of your topic, drawing connections between sources and data, and making well-supported arguments. This means they want a lot of you: your ideas, your interpretations, your thoughts. Make sure you emphasize that in your essay, but of course don’t forget the other categories.

The score a student receives corresponds to a letter grade scale that is slightly different than what we’re accustomed to in the U.S. Here’s the letter grade to numerical score breakdown:

Total Points Earned Letter Grade Descriptor
30-34 A Excellent
25-29 B Good
17-24 C Satisfactory
9-19 D Mediocre
0-8 E Elementary

You must earn a D or higher to receive your IB Diploma. To learn more about the different criteria included in the IB Extended Essay Rubric, you can explore the IB’s full guide to the Extended Essay.

IB Extended Essay—More Resources

We hope you found our look at the IB extended essay rubric and IB extended essay topics to be helpful. Ready to dive into research? You may want to read our 10 Expert Tips for Improving Reading Comprehension before you hit the books.

And if you’re a high school student in the process of mapping out your pathway to college, take a look at a few other useful guides: