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The Extended Essay: University-Level Research and Writing in the IB Diploma Programme

The Extended Essay: University-Level Research and Writing in the IB Diploma Programme
Parents and prospective students often ask about what sets the IB Diploma (IB DP) apart from other highly esteemed and rigorous national and international high school curricula. While there is a huge range of answers, and the IB DP is unique in many ways, the Extended Essay (EE) is one of the most important components that set DP students apart from their peers.

Every IB Diploma Programme student undertakes the EE, which is an individual, long-term research investigation that culminates in a 4000-word research paper. It is a major thesis project that most students do not encounter until college or university.

dp-programme-logo-enThe process begins in the second half of junior year when students propose an academic subject and a research question to one of their teachers, who will serve as their supervisor. The research begins, and students conduct a review of the literature in their chosen area. At first, it can be daunting for high school students to conduct undergraduate-level research, combing databases, and learning the ins and outs of abstracts and peer-reviewed research journals. Supported by their supervisor, they learn to navigate this high-level research and synthesize their findings to hone their research question. From there, the design of the research and writing truly takes shape. For practical subjects, students design and carry out their own experimental work. EEs in an interdisciplinary subject called World Studies call for the investigation of a local issue placed in its global context. For these, the students may choose to interview local experts as part of their data collection. EEs in the sciences and history are especially popular with our students, driven by their passion and curiosity for a more in-depth exploration of topics not covered in class.

8By spring and summer, the students collaborate with the supervisor in a series of meetings to guide the analysis and writing process. Students finish the EE by the beginning of the senior year with the viva voce, a sort of defense of their findings, and a retrospective on the experience of researching and writing at this level for the first time. The IB prizes reflection as a critical skill for personal and cognitive growth, and this element is carefully woven throughout the EE process. Completion of the EE is an incredible accomplishment. How many high school seniors can say they have completed a 4000-word thesis based on independent research?

While the EE is perceived as one of the most challenging aspects of the Diploma Programme, it the most common experience students refer to when they look back on high school. Year after year, students come home from college to visit and say, "I was so prepared for college writing thanks to the EE!" For many students, papers in the first year of college can be a breeze compared to this task. The research skills, writing skills, collaboration with a faculty advisor, and long-term independent work are the perfect combination to prepare students for success after high school.

A few of our Extended Essay research questions from the class of 2020:

  • How does the quality of black Women's pre and postnatal health care affect infant mortality rates in the US?
  • How can Gauss's Method be used to determine the future position of the Moon as observed from Earth?
  • To what extent was the Suez Crisis the primary influence in the creation of the Mini in the late 1950s?
  • To what extent was saving "half a million American lives," as stated by US President Harry S.Truman, the primary motivation of the US in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945?
  • To what extent were the legal traditions of colonial Massachusetts the main cause of the Salem Witch Trials between 1692 to 1693?

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