The Nature of the Extended Essay

In the Diploma Programme, the Extended Essay is the prime example of a piece of work where the student has the opportunity to show knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm about a topic of his or her choice. The Extended Essay is an in-depth study of a focused topic chosen from the list of approved Diploma Programme subjects—normally one of the student’s six chosen subjects for the IB Diploma. It is intended to promote high-level research and writing skills, intellectual discovery and creativity. It provides students with an opportunity to engage in personal research in a topic of their own choice, under the guidance of a supervisor (usually a teacher in the School). This leads to a major piece of formally presented, structured writing, in which ideas and findings are communicated in a reasoned and coherent manner, appropriate to the subject chosen. It is recommended that completion of the written essay is followed by a short, concluding interview, or viva voce, with the supervisor. The Extended Essay is assessed against common criteria, interpreted in ways appropriate to each subject. The Extended Essay which is compulsory for all Diploma Programme students is externally assessed and, in combination with the grade for Theory of Knowledge, contributes up to three points to the total score for the IB Diploma.

The Choice of Topic

The topic of the Extended Essay is the particular area of study within the chosen subject. In choosing a subject, an essential consideration is the personal interest of the candidate. 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 which is both interesting and challenging to them. The topic chosen should be limited in scope and sufficiently narrow to allow candidates 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 precis of a well-documented topic is unlikely to result in a successful Extended Essay.

The IB Learner Profile

The learning involved in researching and writing the Extended Essay is closely aligned with the development of many of the characteristics described in the IB learner profile. Students are, to a large extent, responsible for their own independent learning, through which they acquire and communicate in-depth knowledge and understanding. The research process necessarily involves intellectual risk-taking and extensive reflection; open-mindedness, balance and fairness are key prerequisites for a good Extended Essay.

Relationship To Theory Of Knowledge

Whichever subject is chosen, the Extended Essay shares with the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course a concern with interpreting and evaluating evidence, and constructing reasoned arguments. Where the two differ is in the emphasis placed on the research process and its formal outcomes. 

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 Supervisor

The candidate will be assigned a supervisor from the appropriate department. The supervisor has four principal responsibilities: to encourage and support the candidate throughout the research and writing of the Extended Essay; to provide the candidate with advice and guidance in the skills of undertaking research; to ensure that the Extended Essay is the candidate’s own work, to complete the Supervisor’s report. The amount of time spent by the supervisor with each candidate will vary depending on the circumstances, but will usually be between three and five hours in total.


All Extended Essays are externally assessed by examiners appointed by the IB. This maximum score is made up of the total criterion levels available for each essay. The total score obtained on the scale 0 to 36 is 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 number of Diploma points awarded for these two requirements. 

The IB band descriptors are:
A  Work of an excellent standard
B  Work of a good standard
Work of a satisfactory standard
Work of a mediocre standard
E  Work of an elementary standard.

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 student’s combined performance in both the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge. Both the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge are measured against published assessment criteria. According to the quality of the work, and based on the application of these assessment criteria, a student’s performance in each of the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge will fall into one of the five bands described previously. The total number of points awarded is determined by the combination of the performance levels achieved by the student in both the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge according to the matrix.