Ess Extended Essay Topics

extended essay in environmental systems and societies

​The extended essay (EE) is an integral part of the IB Diploma course. In order to write a good EE in ESS you need to first of all be interested in and passionate about the environment; and secondly be prepared to put in the hard work.

You will research and write about an environmental topic or issue of relevance to you and your environment. Your
writing should cover the environmental system and how society functions – you must conduct an analytical

It is important that you read through this guide before you even think about doing EE in ESS. You can also go to the IB and read through the subject specific guide or to the DP Extended Essay Home page

​​Extended Essay Information Guide (from the IBO)

Environmental issues are occupying a position of increasing significance on the world agenda, and an extended essay in environmental systems and societies provides students with an opportunity to explore an environmental topic or issue of particular interest or relevance to themselves and their localities. Since the subject is a multidisciplinary one, the student will need to select and integrate theoretical contexts and methodologies from those academic disciplines appropriate to the chosen topic. In this respect, a systems approach is considered particularly effective, and students will be expected to show some employment of this approach in the analysis and interpretation of the data gathered.

An extended essay in environmental systems provides a candidate with the opportunity to explore questions in terrestrial, freshwater or marine environments. The characteristic nature of an essay in this subject will lie in the application of a systems approach to an environmental issue.
​Choice of topic

Environmental systems and societies focuses upon the interaction and integration of “natural” environmental systems and human societies. An essay in this subject should likewise focus on this relationship. It should not deal exclusively with ecological processes or with societal activities, but instead should give significant (though not necessarily equal) weight to both these dimensions. A topic should be chosen that allows the student to demonstrate some grasp of how both environmental systems and societies function in the relationship under study. For example, while the environmental systems and societies syllabus includes a study of pure ecological principles, in an extended essay it would have to be explored within the context of some human interaction with the environmental system. Similarly, while the syllabus includes a range of philosophical approaches to the environment, in the extended essay, these would need to be addressed in relation to specific natural systems. Great care should be taken, therefore, to ensure that the topic chosen would not be better submitted under one of the more specialized subject areas of either the experimental or the human sciences. This would invariably apply, for example, to topics focusing exclusively on human health, disease or politics.

Before a final decision is made about the choice of topic the relevant subject guidelines should be carefully considered.
You should aim to choose a topic that is both interesting and challenging.. The topic chosen should be limited in scope and sufficiently narrow to allow you to examine an issue or problem in depth. It should present you with the opportunity to collect or generate information and/or data for analysis and evaluation. You are not expected to make a contribution to knowledge within a subject.

A crucial feature of any suitable topic is that it must be open to analytical argument. If the topic chosen fails in this regard, and lends itself only to a descriptive or narrative treatment, then the student will be denied a large proportion of the available credit according to the assessment criteria. For example, it would be of minimal value simply to describe a given nature reserve; it would be necessary to evaluate its relationship with a local community possibly, or compare its achievement with original objectives or with a similar initiative elsewhere. The topic must, in some way, leave room for an argument that students themselves construct and support from their own analysis of the information, rather than simply reporting analysed data obtained from other sources.

There are also some topics that should be considered unsuitable for ethical or safety reasons. For example, experiments likely to inflict pain on living organisms, cause unwarranted environmental damage or put pressure on others to behave unethically must be avoided. Similarly, experiments that pose a threat to health, possibly using toxic or dangerous chemicals, or putting oneself at physical risk during fieldwork, should be avoided unless adequate safety apparatus and qualified supervision are available.

These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the IB extended essay general guidelines.

​A further critical feature of a successful topic is the sharpness of its focus. If a topic is too broad, it will inevitably lead to a relatively superficial treatment that, again, is likely to penalize the student right from the start. In topics that are too broad, it is unlikely that students will be able to produce any significantly fresh analysis, arguments or meaningful conclusions of their own. To clarify the distinction between a broad and a sharply focused topic, the following examples of titles for environmental systems and societies extended essays are intended as guidance only. The pairings illustrate that focused topics (indicated by the first title) should be encouraged rather than the broad topics (indicated by the second title).

· “The ecological recovery of worked-out bauxite quarries in Jarrahdale, Western Australia” is better than “Environmental effects of mining”.

· “A comparison of the energy efficiency of grain production in The Netherlands and Swaziland” is better than “Efficiency of world food production”.

· “The comparative significance of different sources of carbon dioxide pollution in New York and
Sacramento” is better than “Impacts of global warming”.

· “Managing the environmental impact of paper use at a Welsh college” is better than “Paper recycling”.
It may further assist a student in refining the focus of their research if, beyond the topic and research question, he or she also produces a succinct statement outlining the overall approach of the investigation.
​Some examples of this might be the following.
Topic Impact of exotic plants on herbivore diversity in Tanzania
To what extent does the length of time after an exotic plant has been introduced to an area, and the latitude from which it originates, affect the diversity of herbivores found feeding on it?
Research question
A fieldwork investigation into the diversity of epiphytic herbivores on a range of exotic plants in the Kilimanjaro region, linked to a brief historical study of each plant’s introduction.
Topic Evaluating the philosophical aims and achievement in local conservation
To what extent are the philosophical principles and objectives of a local conservation group being fulfilled in protecting the local environment?
Research question
An analysis of literature and attitudes from a conservation group, along with a quantitative analysis of records of environmental quality.
Topic The ecological footprint of the school canteen
From the major inputs and outputs of the school canteen, what overall estimate of its environmental impact can be made in terms of an ecological footprint?
Research question
An analysis of records and practical measurements assessing the inputs and outputs of the canteen, and a synthesis of data into a holistic model indicating the environmental impact.
For some investigations, particularly those that are experimental, a clearly stated hypothesis may be just as acceptable as, and possibly better than, a research question.

​Since the IB course in environmental systems requires expertise in both earth and life sciences, it is to some degree interdisciplinary. Great care should be taken to ensure that the topic undertaken for an extended essay would not be more appropriate to biology or geography, but represents a truly integrated systems approach to the environment. Although similar assessment criteria apply to all extended essays in the experimental sciences, for an extended essay submitted in environmental systems the topic chosen must allow for a systems approach. That is to say, the topic should allow for the collection of objective, usually quantitative, data that can be used for the construction of appropriate models, such as graphical representations and flow diagrams.

How do I come up with a good research question?
  • It isn't easy, but it is important!
  • Decide on a subject in which to write the essay
  • Check the list of available subjects here
  • Read the IB's criteria for your subject
  • Read an exemplar essay in your subject
  • Decide on a topic within this subject
  • Explore some possible research questions relating to this topic
  • This means you will need to do some research!
  • Discuss these with your adviser

During the first meeting with your adviser, discuss the research you've done, your ideas, and the requirements for your subject. Decide on the most suitable research question

For some investigations, particularly those that are experimental, a clearly stated hypothesis may be just as acceptable as, and possibly better than, a research question.​
​Treatment of the topic

An extended essay in environmental systems and societies may be investigated either through primary data collection (from fieldwork, laboratory experimentation, surveys or interviews) or, alternatively, through secondary data collection (from literature or other media). It may even involve a combination of the two, although, given the limited time available and word limit for the essay, the emphasis should be clearly with one or the other to avoid the danger of both becoming rather superficial. If the essay is focused largely on the collection of primary data, the student needs to exercise great care in selecting appropriate methods of data collection and carrying them out effectively. Before commencing the investigation, students should explore literature relating to their methodology, and also any pertinent research that may give them guidelines and useful points of theoretical comparison. Hence, even in an investigation based exclusively on primary data, the bibliography should indicate at least some recognition of secondary sources, perhaps supporting the choice and implementation of methods or providing an academic context for the conclusions.

If the essay is focused on secondary data, the student needs to take great care in selecting sources, ensuring that there is a sufficient quantity and range, and that they are all reliable. There is a great mass of populist, journalistic, partisan and unfounded claims available through the Internet and other media.

The student must take on the task of sorting through these and using only those sources that have some academic credibility. An essay of this type would normally be expected to produce a substantial bibliography and not be limited to just a few sources.

From whatever sources the data has been collected, it is vital that students are involved in producing their own analysis of the data and arguing their own conclusions. This will happen more naturally if the essay is based on primary data since the data will not have been previously analysed. A source of secondary data, however, may come with its own analysis and conclusions. In this case, it is essential that students further manipulate this data, or possibly synthesize it with other sources, so that there is clear evidence in the essay of the student’s personal involvement in analysis and drawing of conclusions. Whether using primary or secondary data, students should construct their own critical arguments by using and evaluating the sources available to them.

Finally, a central theme in the environmental systems and societies syllabus is the systems approach, and this should be reflected to some degree in the extended essay. The essay should include an attempt to model, at least partially, the system or systems in question. The term “model” in this context is intended in its broadest sense to include, for example, mathematical formulae, maps, graphical representations and flow diagrams. Systems terminology should also be used where appropriate.

​​Interpreting the assessment criteria

Criterion A: Focus and method

This criterion focuses on the topic, the research question and the methodology. It assesses the explanation of the focus of the research (this includes the topic and the research question), how the research will be undertaken, and how the focus is maintained throughout the essay.

To meet this criterion, a sharply focused research question defining the purpose of the essay must be stated clearly within the introduction. It is not sufficient simply to include it on the title page or in the abstract. To make “effective treatment possible”, first, it must not be too broad, which will lead to superficial treatment. Second, it must allow for critical argument, and not simply require a descriptive or narrative treatment. For example, “To what extent is X like Y?” allows for argument, whereas “What is X like?” only invites simple description.

​The introduction should set the research question or hypothesis in context. For example, it might outline necessary theoretical principles on which the topic depends, summarize other related research conclusions, or give a brief history or geographical location of the issue under discussion. The introduction should also indicate the significance of the question being researched—Why is it important to answer it? What value might it have to others? What implications could the findings have?

It is also important that the introduction does not become too long. Material should only be included where it is directly required in order to follow the overall argument of the essay
In this subject, it can be quite acceptable to formulate the research question as a clearly stated hypothesis.
This may be particularly appropriate, for example, in experimental investigations. A hypothesis, as the starting point of an experimental investigation, will always lead to the implicit critical argument concerning the extent to which the results support or refute it.
​Criterion B: knowledge and understanding

This criterion assesses the extent to which the research relates to the subject area/discipline used to explore the research question, or in the case of the world studies extended essay, the issue addressed and the two disciplinary perspectives applied, and additionally the way in which this knowledge and understanding is demonstrated through the use of appropriate terminology and concepts.

​Students are expected to have a sound knowledge and understanding of environmental systems and societies, as detailed in the current Environmental systems and societies guide. For many topics, this knowledge will need to be supplemented through independent study. Ultimately, the student should possess sufficient knowledge of the topic to handle the issues and arguments effectively. To score highly on this criterion, a student would also need to show clear and perceptive links between their own study and the body of theoretical knowledge associated with this subject

Where the study involves experimentation or practical fieldwork, a detailed description of the procedures used, possibly with diagrams or photographs, should be given, such that an independent worker could effectively repeat the study. Careful attention should be given to the design of experiments to include use of, for example, quantification, controls, replication and random sampling, where appropriate. The selection of techniques should be explained and justified, and any assumptions upon which they depend should be clearly stated.

If the study is based on the research of secondary data, students need to ensure that the selection of sources is sufficiently wide and reliable. Where Internet-based sources are used, for example, students should be particularly aware of their potential unreliability. Their process of selecting sources and data should be described and justified, and, in cases where there is a variety of relevant perspectives held, the selection of sources should reflect this. Where appropriate, there should be an indication of the methods by which the secondary data has been generated or the evidence upon which it is founded.

​Criterion C: Critical thinking

This criterion assesses the extent to which critical-thinking skills have been used to analyse and evaluate the research undertaken.

​There should be a clear step-by-step logical argument linking the raw data to the final conclusions. Each step or proposition on the way should be defended against any plausible alternatives and potential criticisms with clear evidence. Personal opinions are acceptable, but again should be convincingly substantiated by the available evidence. The argument must directly answer the research question in the precise way that it has been formulated.

Analytical skills can be demonstrated in the selection, manipulation and presentation of quantitative or qualitative data gathered from either primary or secondary sources. They will be most obviously apparent in the employment of such things as graphical representations, mathematical manipulations or flow diagrams. Analytical skills may also be evident in the student’s ability to select specific data from sources, identifying their relevance and relationships to one another, and reorganizing them into an effective verbal argument.

Evaluative skills will be apparent in the students’ reflections on the reliability and validity of the data gathered, and their subsequent interpretations. For essays concerned largely with collecting primary data, this will involve discussing inadequacies in the experimental design, the validity of assumptions made, limitations of the investigation, and any systematic errors and how they might have been avoided.

For essays concerned largely with collecting secondary data, similar considerations should be applied to the sources that were accessed.

​It is highly recommended that this aspect of the essay is given a separate section with its own heading.
It should contain a brief, concise statement of the conclusion that is in direct response to the research question or hypothesis. This should not involve new information or arguments, but should be a summary of what can be concluded from, and is supported by, the evidence and argument already presented.

In addition to the concluding statement, students should identify outstanding gaps in their research or new questions that have emerged and deserve further attention
​Criterion D: Presentation

This criterion assesses the extent to which the presentation follows the standard format expected for academic writing and the extent to which this aids effective communication.

Students are expected to use appropriate scientific and systems terminology, as employed in the current
Environmental systems and societies guide.

​This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references for quotations is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).

Particular attention should be paid to the use of graphs, diagrams, illustrations and tables of data. These should all be appropriately labelled with a figure or table number, a title, a citation where appropriate, and be located in the body of the essay, as close as possible to their first reference. Any downloaded or photocopied material included should be clearly legible.
​​​Criterion E: engagement

This criterion assesses the student’s engagement with their research focus and the research process. It will be applied by the examiner at the end of the assessment of the essay, and is based solely on the candidate’s reflections as detailed on the  RPPF, with the supervisory comments and extended essay itself as context.

Self assessment

​The table below is designed to help you think about the assessment criteria and whether you have addressed the expectations within your essay. You do not need to address all of the questions posed, but they do provide some guidance in terms of what to consider. (From IBO)
Grade descriptors

The extended essay is externally assessed, and as such, supervisors are not expected to mark the essays or arrive at a number to translate into a grade. Predicted grades for all subjects should be based on the qualitative grade descriptors for the subject in question. These descriptors are what will be used by senior examiners to set the boundaries for the extended essay in May 2018, and so schools are advised to use them in the same way.

​Environmental Systems and Societies Extended Essay Resources

The following provide good links for Extended Essay Examples


  • How does systems or models work on an ecological framework?
  • Change is aquatic ecosystem after human influence.
  • How do a particular species affect the food chain in an area?
  • Forest and woodland restoration in any region in (a specific country).
  • Extrinsic and Intrinsic Factors Affecting the Resilience of Corals in (a specific area).
  • Effect of Climate Change on Population Trajectories and Tropic Interactions in a High Elevation Riparian Ecosystem in (a specific country).
  • The Science for the Conservation of Coral Reefs in (a specific area).
  • Potential population growth and future changes in population of region.
  • How does carrying capacity of a named area will affect the population of that area?
  • Depletion of certain resources in an area effect the socio-ecological pattern of that area.
  • How certain mine effect the ecological and socio-economic of an area.
  • Assess the potential of geothermal energy in (a specific country).
  • Study and Suggestions for increased ecological footprint of an area in (a specific country).
  • Impact of mangrove biodiversity in Indonesia through human influence.
  • Changing aspects of equatorial rain forest and its effects on ecological set-up of the area.
  • Coastal Ecosystem its processes and anthropogenic impact in (a specific country).
  • Analysis of mangrove ecosystems in its impact of coastal area.
  • Physiology of tree I coastal area and its impact on environment.
  • How pollution management strategies in a specific area help to protect environmental concern in the area?
  • How unplanned development of human interferences can cause for ecological imbalances in an area.
  • Comparison of various water bodies in an urban area affect through human response.
  • How eco-friendly a housing society is? What role it has to conserve the environment.
  • Impact of an industry in water bodies or atmospheric condition of the area.
  • Pollution check and management strategies for canal route of (a specific countryP
  • Assessing impact of global warming in an area/species of plant and animal.
  • Recording and evaluating of various climatic data related to global warming and its impact in the current environmental conditions.
  • Interactions of Climate Change and Other Environmental Factors on Invasive Plant Infestation in (a specific area)
  • Human reaction and Socio-ecological impact of dam in any part of of a specific country
image from
​The topic is communicated accurately and effectively.
  • Identification and explanation of the research topic is effectively communicated; the purpose and focus of the research is clear and appropriate.

The research question is clearly stated and focused.
  • The research question is clear and addresses an issue of research that is appropriately connected to the discussion in the essay.

Methodology of the research is complete.
  • An appropriate range of relevant source(s) and/or method(s) have been applied in relation to the topic and research question.

There is evidence of effective and informed selection of sources and/or methods.

If the topic or research question is deemed inappropriate for the subject in which the essay is registered no more than four marks can be awarded for this criterion.​
Knowledge and understanding is excellent.
  • The selection of source materials is clearly relevant and appropriate to the research question.
Knowledge of the topic/discipline(s)/issue is clear and coherent and sources are used effectively and with understanding.
  • Use of terminology and concepts is good.

The use of subject-specific terminology and concepts is accurate and consistent, demonstrating effective knowledge and understanding.

If the topic or research question is deemed inappropriate for the subject in which the essay is registered no more than four marks can be awarded for this criterion.​
The research is excellent.
  • The research is appropriate to the research question and its application is consistently relevant.
Analysis is excellent.
  • The research is analysed effectively and clearly focused on the research question; the inclusion of less relevant research does not significantly detract from the quality of the overall analysis.
  • Conclusions to individual points of analysis are effectively supported by the evidence.
Discussion/evaluation is excellent.
  • An effective and focused reasoned argument is developed from the research with a conclusion reflective of the evidence presented
  • This reasoned argument is well structured and coherent; any minor inconsistencies do not hinder the strength of the overall argument or the final or summative conclusion.
  • The research has been critically evaluated.
​Presentation is good.
  • The structure of the essay clearly is appropriate in terms of the expected conventions for the topic, the argument and subject in which the essay is registered.
  • Layout considerations are present and applied correctly.
  • The structure and layout support the reading, understanding and evaluation of the extended essay.
​Engagement is excellent.
  • Reflections on decision-making and planning are evaluative and include reference to the student’s capacity to consider actions and ideas in response to challenges experienced in the research process.
  • These reflections communicate a high degree of intellectual and personal engagement with the research focus and process of research, demonstrating authenticity, intellectual initiative and/or creative approach in the student voice.
image from Alfa Tools Africa
​A: Focus and method
​Unpacking the criteria
This criterion focuses on the topic, the research question and the methodology. It assesses the explanation of the focus of the research (this includes the topic and the research question), how the research will be undertaken, and how the focus is maintained throughout the essay.
  • Does this essay meet the requirements for the subject for which you are registering it?
  • Is your research question stated as a question?
  • Have you explained how your research question relates to the subject that you selected for the extended essay?
  • Have you given an insight into why your area of study is important?
  • Is your research question feasible within the scope of the task? Could your research question be “answered” or it is too vague?
  • Did you refer to your research question throughout the essay (not only in the introduction and conclusion)?
  • Did you explain why you selected your methodology?
  • Are there other possible methods that could be used or applied to answer your research question? How might this change the direction of your research?
  • If you stated a particular methodology in the introduction of your essay, or specific sources, have you used them?
  • Are there any references listed in the bibliography that were not directly cited in the text?

B: Knowledge and understanding
This criterion assesses the extent to which the research relates to the subject area/discipline used to explore the research question; or in the case of the world studies extended essay, the issue addressed and the two disciplinary perspectives applied; and additionally, the way in which this knowledge and understanding is demonstrated through the use of appropriate terminology and concepts.
  • Have you explained how your research question relates to a specific subject you selected for the extended essay?
  • Have you used relevant terminology and concepts throughout your essay as they relate to your particular area of research?
  • Is it clear that the sources you are using are relevant and appropriate to your research question?
  • Do you have a range of sources, or have you only relied on one particular type, for example internet sources?
  • Is there a reason why you might not have a range? Is this justified?
This criterion assesses the extent to which critical thinking skills have been used to analyse and evaluate the research undertaken.
  • Have you made links between your results and data collected and your research question?
  • If you included data or information that is not directly related to your research question have you explained its importance?
  • Are your conclusions supported by your data?
  •  If you found unexpected information or data have you discussed its importance?
  • Have you provided a critical evaluation of the methods you selected?
  • Have you considered the reliability of your sources (peer-reviewed journals, internet, and so on)?
  • Have you mentioned and evaluated the significance of possible errors that may have occurred in your research?
  • Are all your suggestions of errors or improvements relevant?
  • Have you evaluated your research question?
  • Have you compared your results or findings with any other sources?
  • Is there an argument that is clear and easy to follow and directly linked to answering your research question, and which is supported by evidence?

This criterion assesses the extent to which the presentation follows the standard format expected for academic writing and the extent to which this aids effective communication.
  • Have you read and understood the presentation requirements of the extended essay?
  • Have you chosen a font that will be easy for examiners to read on-screen?
  • Is your essay double-spaced and size 12 font?
  • Are the title and research question mentioned on the cover page?
  • Are all pages numbered?
  • Have you prepared a correct table of contents?
  • Do the page numbers in the table of contents match the page numbers in the text?
  • Is your essay subdivided into correct sub-sections, if this is applicable to the subject?
  • Are all figures and tables properly numbered and labelled?
  • Does your bibliography contain only the sources cited in the text?
  • Did you use the same reference system throughout the essay?
  • Does the essay have less than 4,000 words?
  • Is all the material presented in the appendices relevant and necessary?
  • Have you proofread the text for spelling or grammar errors?

This criterion assesses the student’s engagement with their research focus and the research process. It will be applied by the examiner at the end of the assessment of the essay, after considering the students RPPF.
  • Have you demonstrated your engagement with your research topic and the research process?
  • Have you highlighted challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
  • Will the examiner get a sense of your intellectual and skills development?
  • Will the examiner get a sense of your creativity and intellectual initiative?
  • Will the examiner get a sense of how you responded to actions and ideas in the research process?

IB students around the globe fear writing the Extended Essay, but it doesn't have to be a source of stress! In this article, I'll get you excited about writing your Extended Essay and provide you with the resources to get an A.    

If you're reading this article, I assume you're an IB Student getting ready to write your Extended Essay. If you're looking at this as a potential future IB student, I recommend reading our other introductory IB articles first: What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? and What is the IB Curriculum? What are IB Diploma Requirements?


Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I'm a recipient of an IB Diploma, and I happened to receive an A on my IB Extended Essay. If you don’t believe me, the proof is in the IBO pudding,

If you're confused by what this report means, EE is short for Extended Essay, and English A1 is the subject that my Extended Essay topic coordinated with. In layman’s terms, my IB Diploma was graded during May 2010, I wrote my Extended Essay in the English A1 category, and I received a grade A. 


What Is the Extended Essay?

The IB Extended Essay (or EE) is a 4,000 word structured mini-thesis that you write under the supervision of an advisor (an IB teacher at your school), which counts towards your IB Diploma (to learn about all of the IB diploma requirements, check out our other article). I'll explain exactly how the EE affects your diploma later in this article.

For the Extended Essay, you choose a research question as a topic; this topic needs to be approved by IBO (which is not very difficult). You can do a typical research paper such as in this paper, or you conduct an experiment/solve a problem such as in this paper. Most schools allow you to pick your advisor (an IB teacher preferably at your school, although you can also get access to one at another school through the Pamoja Education). I'll explain how to pick your IB EE advisor below. 

The IB Extended Essay must include: 

  • A cover page
  • An abstract (one-page synopsis of your essay)
  • A table of contents
  • The 4,000-word essay (which will range from 10-20 pages depending on whether your topic requires illustrations such as an experiment would)
  • A bibliography
Your completed Extended Essay will then sent to the IBO to be graded (I will go into more detail on grading below). 



What Should You Write About in Your Extended Essay?

You can technically write about anything, so long as the IBO approves it. However, you should choose a topic that falls into one of theIB Course Categories, (such as Theatre, Film, Spanish, French, Math, Biology, etc.) which shouldn’t be difficult because there are so many class subjects. Here is a range of sample topics with the attached extended essay: 

You can see from how varied the topics are that you have a lot of freedom when it comes to picking a topic. So, how do you pick when the options are limitless? I will help you with that next:



6 Tips for Writing a Grade A Extended Essay

Below are the six key tips you need to follow to write an outstanding Extended Essay.


Tip #1: Write About Something You Enjoy 

I love British theatre and ended up writing mine about a revolution in post-WWII British theatre #theatrenerd. I really encourage anyone who pursues an IB Diploma to take the Extended Essay seriously. I ended up receiving a full-tuition merit scholarship to USC’s School of Dramatic Arts program and in my interview for the scholarship, I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay. I genuinely think my Extended Essay helped me get my scholarship.   

How do you find a topic you are passionate about? Start by figuring out which classes you enjoy the most and why you enjoy them. Do you like Math because you like to problem solve? Or do you enjoy English because you like to analyze texts?

Once you have figured out a general subject area such as Physics, you should brainstorm more specific topics by putting pen to paper. What was your favorite chapter you learned in that class? Was it astrophysics or mechanics? What did you like about that specific chapter? Is there something you want to learn more about? I recommend spending an hour on this type of brainstorming. 


Tip #2: Chose a Topic That Is Not Too Broad or Too Narrow

This is a fine line. You need to write about something specific, but not so specific that you can’t write 4,000 words on it. You can’t write about WWII because that would be a book's worth of material. You don’t want to write about what type of soup prisoners of war received in POW camps because you probably can’t come up with 4000 words on it. However, you could possibly write about how the conditions in German POW camps were directly affected by the Nazis successes and failures. This may be too obvious of a topic, but you get my point.

If you're really stuck trying to find a not too broad or narrow topic, I recommend trying to brainstorm a topic that uses a comparison. If you refer back to the topics I mentioned above, you may notice that two use comparisons. 

I also used comparison in my EE, comparing Harold Pinter's Party Time to John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in order to show a transition in British Theatre. Topics with comparisons of 2-3 plays/books/diets/etc. tend to be in the sweet spot of not too narrow or broad because you can analyze each portion and after doing in-depth analysis on each, you compare and explain the significance of the comparison. The key here is that the comparison needs to be significant. I compared two plays to show a transition in British Theatre.

Comparisons are not the only way to get a grade A EE. If after brainstorming, you pick a non-comparison based topic and you are still unsure if a topic is too broad or narrow, spend 30 minutes doing some basic research and see how much material is out there. If there are over 1,000 books/articles/documentaries out there on the exact topic, it may be too broad. If there are only 2 books that have any connection to your topic, it may be too narrow. If you are still unsure, ask your advisor! Speaking of advisors:


Don't get stuck with a narrow topic!



Tip #3: Choose an Advisor Who Is Familiar With Your Topic 

If you are not certain of who you would like to be your advisor, I would start by creating a list of your top three choices. Next, create a list of pros and cons (I know this sounds tedious, but it really helps!).

For example, Mr. Green is my favorite teacher, and we get along really well, but he teaches English, and I want to conduct an experiment to compare the efficiency of American Hybrid Cars to Foreign Hybrid Cars. Ms. White teaches Physics, I had her a year ago, and she liked me. She could help me design my experiment. I am going to ask Ms. White! 

Do NOT just ask your favorite teacher to be your advisor. They may be a hindrance to you if they teach another subject. I would not suggest asking your Biology teacher to guide you in writing your English EE.

EXCEPTION: If you have a teacher who is passionate and knowledgeable about your topic (as my English teacher was about my Theatre topic), you can ask that instructor. Consider all of your options first before you do. There was no theatre teacher at my school, so I could not find a theatre-specific advisor, but I chose the next best thing.

Some IB high schools require your IB Extended Essay advisor to sign an Agreement Form. Make sure you ask your IB coordinator if there is any required paperwork. IBO does not require any paperwork. If your school needs a Form signed, make sure you bring it with you when you ask a teacher to be your EE advisor. 


Tip #4: Choose an Advisor Who Will Push You to Be Your Best

Some teachers may just take on students because they have to and may not be passionate about reading drafts and may not give you a lot of feedback. Choose a teacher who will take the time to read several drafts and give you extensive notes. I would not have gotten my A without being pushed to make the draft better.

Ask a teacher that you have experience with through class or an extracurricular activity. Do not ask a teacher that you have no connection to; a teacher who does not know you is unlikely to push you. 

Note: The IBO only allows advisors to suggest improvements to the EE, but they may not be engaged in writing the EE. The IBO recommends that the supervisor spends approximately two to three hours in total with the candidate discussing the EE.


Tip #5: Make Sure Your Essay Has a Clear Structure and Flow

IB likes structure. Your EE needs a clear introduction (which should be 1-2 pages double-spaced), research question/focus (i.e. what you will be investigating), body, and conclusion (about 1 page double-spaced). An essay that has unclear or poor organization will be graded poorly. Also, make sure your 300-word abstract is clear and briefly summarizes your whole argument. An ambiguous abstract will make it more challenging for the reader to follow your essay’s argument and will also hurt the grading of your EE. 

The body of your EE should make up the bulk of the essay. It should be about 8-18 pages double-spaced (again just depending on whether or not you include diagrams). Your body can be split into multiple parts. For example, if you are doing a comparison, you might have 1/3 of your body as Novel A Analysis, 1/3 as Novel B Analysis, and the last 1/3 as Comparison of Novel A and B Analysis.

If you are conducting an experiment or analyzing data such as in this EE, your EE body will have a clear and obvious parts following the scientific method: stating the research question, discussing your method, showing the data, analyzing the data, discussing uncertainties, and drawing a conclusion/evaluating the experiment.  


Tip #6: Start Writing Sooner Rather Than Later!

You will not be able to crank out a 4,000-word essay in a week and get an A. You will be reading many, many articles (and, depending on your topic, possibly books, plays, and watching movies). Start the research possible as soon as possible. 

Each school has a slightly different deadline for the Extended Essay. Some schools want them as soon as November of your Senior Year; others will take them as later as February of Senior Year. Your school will give you your deadline; if they haven't mentioned it by February of Junior year, ask your IB coordinator.

Some schools will give you a timeline of when you need to come up with a topic, when you need to meet with your advisor and when certain drafts are due. Not all schools do. Ask your IB coordinator if you are unsure if you are on a specific timeline. Here is my recommended timeline, it is earlier than most schools, but it will save you so much heartache (trust me, I remember):

  • January/February of Junior Year: Come up with your final research topic (or at least top 3). 
  • February of Junior Year: Approach a teacher about being your EE advisor (if he or she says no, keep asking others until you find one - see my notes above on how to pick an EE advisor). 
  • April/May of Junior Year: Submit an outline of your EE and a bibliography of potential research sources (I recommend at least 7-10) to your EE advisor. Meet with your EE advisor to discuss your outline. 
  • Summer between Junior and Senior Year: Complete your first full draft over the summer between Junior and Senior Year! I know, I know no one wants to work during the summer, but trust me this will save you so much stress come the fall when you are busy with college applications and other IB internal assessments for your IB classes. You will want to have this first full draft done because you will want to complete a couple of draft cycles as you likely won’t be able to get everything you want to say into 4000 articulate words the first time. Try to get this first draft into the best possible shape you can, so that you do not have to work on too many revisions during the school year on top of your homework/college applications/work/extracurriculars/etc.  
  • August/September of Senior Year: Turn in your first draft of your EE to your advisor and receive feedback. Work on incorporating their feedback into your essay. If they have a lot of suggestions for improvement, ask if they will read one more draft before the final draft. 
  • September/October of Senior Year: Submit second draft of EE to your advisor (if necessary) and receive their feedback. Work on creating the best possible final draft. 
  • November-February of Senior Year: Submit two copies of your final draft to your school to be sent off to IBO. You likely will not get your grade until after you graduate. 


The early bird DOES get the worm!


How’s the Extended Essay Graded?

Extended essays are marked by external assessors (examiners appointed by the IB) on a scale of 0 to 36. There are "general" and "subject-specific" criteria, at a ratio of 2:1 (24 possible marks for the general criteria and 12 marks for the subject-specific one). The total mark is converted into a grade from A to E, using the below parameters:

Rubric Assessment Points Earned Descriptor Letter
Grade 30 – 36Excellent: A
25 – 29Good: B
17 – 24Satisfactory: C
9 – 16Mediocre: D
0 - 8Elementary: E

Here is the typical breakdown of scores (from 2008):

% Awarded Grade






Extended Essay






How Does the Extended Essay Grade Affect Your IB Diploma?

The Extended Essay grade is combined with your TOK (Theory of Knowledge) grade to determine how many points you get towards your IB Diploma. To learn about Theory of Knowledge or how many points you need to receive your IB Diploma, read our other articles on What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? or IB Diploma Requirements. This diagram shows how the two scores are combined to determine how many points you receive for your IB diploma (3 being the most, 0 being the least). 



So, let’s say you get an A on your EE and a B on TOK, you will get 3 points towards your diploma. Note: this chart is slightly outdated. Prior to the class of 2010, a diploma candidate could receive a failing grade in either the extended essay or theory of knowledge and still be awarded a diploma. However, as of 2014 (for the first examination in May 2015), a student who scores an E on either the extended essay or TOK essay will not be eligible to receive an IB diploma.


Sample Extended Essays

In case you want a little more guidance on how to get an A EE. Here are 50 Excellent (grade A) sample extended essays for your reading pleasure:  


What’s Next?

Trying to figure out what extracurricular you should do? Learn more about participating in Science Olympiad, starting a club, doing volunteer work, and joining Student Government. 

Studying for the SAT? Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check out our guide to cramming. 

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:


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