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Literature Review Extended Essay Guide

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This Study Guide explains why literature reviews are needed, and how they can be conducted and reported. Related Study Guides are: Referencing and bibliographies, Avoiding plagiarism, Writing a dissertation, What is critical reading?What is critical writing?

The focus of the Study Guide is the literature review within a dissertation or a thesis, but many of the ideas are transferable to other kinds of writing, such as an extended essay, or a report.

What is a literature review?

The ability to review, and to report on relevant literature is a key academic skill. A literature review:

  • situates your research focus within the context of the wider academic community in your field;
  • reports your critical review of the relevant literature; and
  • identifies a gap within that literature that your research will attempt to address.

To some extent, particularly with postgraduate research, the literature review can become a project in itself. It is an important showcase of your talents of: understanding, interpretation, analysis, clarity of thought, synthesis, and development of argument. The process of conducting and reporting your literature review can help you clarify your own thoughts about your study. It can also establish a framework within which to present and analyse the findings.

After reading your literature review, it should be clear to the reader that you have up-to-date awareness of the relevant work of others, and that the research question you are asking is relevant. However, don’t promise too much! Be wary of saying that your research will solve a problem, or that it will change practice. It would be safer and probably more realistic to say that your research will ‘address a gap’, rather than that it will ‘fill a gap’.

Why do I need a literature review?

When readers come to your assignment, dissertation, or thesis, they will not just assume that your research or analysis is a good idea; they will want to be persuaded that it is relevant and that it was worth doing. They will ask questions such as:

  • What research question(s) are you asking?
  • Why are you asking it/them?
  • Has anyone else done anything similar?
  • Is your research relevant to research/practice/theory in your field?
  • What is already known or understood about this topic?
  • How might your research add to this understanding, or challenge existing theories and beliefs?

These are questions that you will already probably be asking yourself. You will also need to be ready to answer them in a viva if you will be having one.

A critical review

It is important that your literature review is more than just a list of references with a short description of each one. The Study Guides: What is critical reading? and What is critical writing? are particularly relevant to the process of critical review. Merriam (1988:6) describes the literature review as:

‘an interpretation and synthesis of published work’.

This very short statement contains some key concepts, which are examined in the table below.


ExplanationAssociated critique
Published workMerriam’s statement was made in 1988, since which time there has been further extension of the concept of being ‘published’ within the academic context. The term now encompasses a wide range of web-based sources, in addition to the more traditional books and print journals.Increased ease of access to a wider range of published material has also increased the need for careful and clear critique of sources. Just because something is ‘published’ does not mean its quality is assured. You need to demonstrate to your reader that you are examining your sources with a critical approach, and not just believing them automatically.
InterpretationYou need to be actively involved in interpreting the literature that you are reviewing, and in explaining that interpretation to the reader, rather than just listing what others have written.Your interpretation of each piece of evidence is just that: an interpretation. Your interpretation may be self-evident to you, but it may not be to everyone else. You need to critique your own interpretation of material, and to present your rationale, so that your reader can follow your thinking.
SynthesisThe term ‘synthesis’ refers to the bringing together of material from different sources, and the creation of an integrated whole. In this case the ‘whole’ will be your structured review of relevant work, and your coherent argument for the study that you are doing.Creating a synthesis is, in effect, like building interpretation upon interpretation. It is essential to check that you have constructed your synthesis well, and with sufficient supporting evidence.

When to review the literature

With small-scale writing projects, the literature review is likely to be done just once; probably before the writing begins. With longer projects such as a dissertation for a Masters degree, and certainly with a PhD, the literature review process will be more extended.

There are three stages at which a review of the literature is needed:

  • an early review is needed to establish the context and rationale for your study and to confirm your choice of research focus/question;
  • as the study period gets longer, you need to make sure that you keep in touch with current, relevant research in your field, which is published during the period of your research;
  • as you prepare your final report or thesis, you need to relate your findings to the findings of others, and to identify their implications for theory, practice, and research. This can involve further review with perhaps a slightly different focus from that of your initial review.

This applies especially to people doing PhDs on a part-time basis, where their research might extend over six or more years. You need to be able to demonstrate that you are aware of current issues and research, and to show how your research is relevant within a changing context.

Who can help?

Staff and students in your area can be good sources of ideas about where to look for relevant literature. They may already have copies of articles that you can work with.

If you attend a conference or workshop with a wider group of people, perhaps from other universities, you can take the opportunity to ask other attendees for recommendations of articles or books relevant to your area of research.

Each department or school has assigned to it a specialist Information Librarian. You can find the contact details for the Information Librarian for your own area via the Library web pages. This person can help you identify relevant sources, and create effective electronic searches:

“they help you to find information, provide training in information skills and the use of databases and can help you to develop your research skills”.

http://www.le.ac.uk/library/about/informationlibrarians.html

Getting started

Reading anything on your research area is a good start. You can then begin your process of evaluating the quality and relevance of what you read, and this can guide you to more focussed further reading.

Taylor and Procter of The University of Toronto have some useful suggested questions to ask yourself at the beginning of your reading:

  • What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review helps to define?
  • What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research? qualitative research?
  • What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)?
  • What discipline(s) am I working in (e.g., nursing, psychology, sociology, medicine)?

http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/litrev.html

You can add other questions of your own to focus the search, for example: What time period am I interested in? What geographical area? What social setting? What materials?

You may also want to make a clear decision about whether to start with a very narrow focus and work outwards, or to start wide before focussing in. You may even want to do both at once. It is a good idea to decide your strategy on this, rather than drifting into one or the other. It can give you a degree of control, in what can feel like an overwhelming and uncontrollable stage of the research process.

Ways of finding relevant material

Electronic sources

Searching electronic databases is probably the quickest way to access a lot of material. Guidance will be available via your own department or school and via the relevant Information Librarian.

There may also be key sources of publications for your subject that are accessible electronically, such as collections of policy documents, standards, archive material, videos, and audio-recordings.

References of references

If you can find a few really useful sources, it can be a good idea to check through their reference lists to see the range of sources that they referred to. This can be particularly useful if you find a review article that evaluates other literature in the field. This will then provide you with a long reference list, and some evaluation of the references it contains.

Hand searching of journals

No electronic literature search can be 100% comprehensive, as the match between search terms and the content of articles will never be perfect. An electronic search may throw up a huge number of hits, but there are still likely to be other relevant articles that it has not detected. So, despite having access to electronic databases and to electronic searching techniques, it can be surprisingly useful to have a pile of journals actually on your desk, and to look through the contents pages, and the individual articles.

Often hand searching of journals will reveal ideas about focus, research questions, methods, techniques, or interpretations that had not occurred to you. Sometimes even a key idea can be discovered in this way. It is therefore probably worth allocating some time to sitting in the library, with issues from the last year or two of the most relevant journals for your research topic, and reviewing them for anything of relevance.

Blaxter et al. (2001:103) recommend this method, in addition to other more systematic methods, saying:

‘Take some time to browse – serendipity is a wonderful thing.’

Collecting material

To avoid printing out or photocopying a lot of material that you will not ultimately read, you can use the abstracts of articles to check their relevance before you obtain full copies.

EndNote and RefWorks are software packages that you can use to collect and store details of your references, and your comments on them. As you review the references, remember to be a critical reader (see Study Guide What is critical reading?).

Keeping a record

Keeping a record of your search strategy is useful, to prevent you duplicating effort by doing the same search twice, or missing out a significant and relevant sector of literature because you think you have already done that search. Increasingly, examiners at post-graduate level are looking for the detail of how you chose which evidence you decided to refer to. They will want to know how you went about looking for relevant material, and your process of selection and omission.

You need to check what is required within your own discipline. If you are required to record and present your search strategy, you may be able to include the technical details of the search strategy as an appendix to your thesis.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is regarded as a serious offence by all Universities, and you need to make sure that you do not, even accidentally, commit plagiarism.

Plagiarism is the using of someone else’s words or ideas, and passing them off as your own. It can happen accidentally, for example, if you are careless in your note-taking. This can mean that you get mixed up over what is an exact quote, and what you have written in your own words; or over what was an idea of your own that you jotted down, or an idea from some text.

A practical way to help you avoid accidentally forgetting to reference someone else’s work, is routinely to record short extracts of text verbatim i.e.: using the exact words of the author, rather than putting the idea into your own words at the point where you are still reading. You will need to put inverted commas (‘xxx’) around the exact quote, and record the page number on which it appears.

This has the advantage that, when you come to use that example in your writing up, you can choose:

  • to use the exact quote in inverted commas, with the reference and page number; or
  • to describe it in your own words, and use the standard reference format, without the page number, to acknowledge that it was someone else’s idea.

Help is available regarding how to avoid plagiarism and it is worth checking it out. Your department will have its own guidance. Further help is available from the Student Learning Centre’s Study Guide on the topic, and from our online tutorial on plagiarism.

When to stop

It is important to keep control of the reading process, and to keep your research focus in mind. Rudestam and Newton (1992:49) remind us that the aim is to ‘Build an argument, not a library’.

It is also important to see the writing stage as part of the research process, not something that happens after you have finished reading the literature. Wellington et al (2005:80) suggest ‘Writing while you collect and collecting while you write.’

Once you are part way through your reading you can have a go at writing the literature review, in anticipation of revising it later on. It is often not until you start explaining something in writing that you find where your argument is weak, and you need to collect more evidence.

A skill that helps in curtailing the reading is: knowing where to set boundaries. For example, a study of the performance of a clinical team working in gerontology might involve reading literature within medicine; nursing; other allied healthcare specialties; psychology; and sociology; as well as perhaps healthcare policy; and patients’ experiences of healthcare. Decisions need to be made about where to focus your reading, and where you can refer briefly to an area but explain why you will not be going into it in more detail.

Writing it up

The task of shaping a logical and effective report of a literature review is undeniably challenging. Some useful guidance on how to approach the writing up is given by Wellington et al (2005:87):

  • “It should be framed by your research questions.
  • It must relate to your study.
  • It must be clear to the reader where it is going: keep signposting along the way.
  • Wherever possible, use original source material rather than summaries or reviews by others.
  • Be in control, not totally deferent to or ‘tossed about by’ previous literature.
  • Be selective. Ask ‘why am I including this?’
  • It is probably best to treat it as a research project in its own right.
  • Engage in a dialogue with the literature, you are not just providing a summary.”

In most disciplines, the aim is for the reader to reach the end of the literature review with a clear appreciation of what you are doing; why you are doing it; and how it fits in with other research in your field. Often, the literature review will end with a statement of the research question(s).

Having a lot of literature to report on can feel overwhelming. It is important to keep the focus on your study, rather than on the literature (Wellington 2005). To help you do this, you will need to establish a structure to work to. A good, well-explained structure is also a huge help to the reader.

Structure

As with any piece of extended writing, structure is crucial. There may be specific guidance on structure within your department, or you may need to devise your own.

Examples of ways you might structure your literature review are:

  • chronologically; although be careful not just to list items; you need to write critically, not just descriptively;
  • by theme; this is useful if there are several strands within your topic that can logically be considered separately before being brought together;
  • by sector e.g.: political background, practice background, methodological background, geographical background, literary background;
  • by development of ideas; this could be useful if there are identifiable stages of idea development that can be looked at in turn;
  • by some combination of the above, or by another structure you create.

There are many possible structures, and you need to establish one that will best fit the ‘story’ you are telling of the reason for your study. Once you have established your structure you need to outline it for your reader.

A narrative thread

Although you clearly need to write in an academic style, it can be helpful to imagine that you are telling a story. The thread running through the story is the explanation of why you decided to do the study that you are doing. The story needs to be logical, informative, persuasive, comprehensive and, ideally, interesting. It needs to reach the logical conclusion that your research is a good idea.

If there is a key article or book that is of major importance to the development of your own research ideas, it is important to give extra space to describing and critiquing that piece of literature in more depth. Similarly, if there are some studies that you will be referring to more than to others, it would be useful to give them a full report and critique at this stage.

Using tables

As well as using tables to display numerical data, tables can be useful within a literature review when you are comparing other kinds of material. For example, you could use a table to display the key differences between two or more:

  • possible theoretical perspectives;
  • possible methods;
  • sets of assumptions;
  • sample profiles;
  • possible explanations.

The table format can make the comparisons easier to understand than if they were listed within the text. It can also be a check for yourself that you have identified enough relevant differences. An omission will be more obvious within a table, where it would appear as a blank cell, than it would be within text.

Reference list

Almost all academic writing will need a reference list. This is a comprehensive list of the full references of sources that you have referred to in your writing. The reader needs to be able to follow up any source you have referred to.

The term ‘bibliography’ can cause confusion, as some people use it interchangeably with the term ‘reference list’; but they are two different things. The term ‘bibliography’ refers to any source list that you want to place at the end of your writing, including sources you have not referenced, and sources you think readers may want to follow up. A bibliography is not usually necessary or relevant, unless you have been asked to produce one.

Common concerns

Help! I’ve spent ages reading up on Method ‘A’, and now I’ve decided to use Method ‘N’. I feel I’ve wasted all that time!

This experience is common in PhD study, but it can happen at any level, and can feel as if you have wasted a lot of effort. Looking at this positively, however, you have probably read more widely than you might otherwise have done. Also, it may still be possible to include some of this learning in your write-up, when you explain why you decided not to use Method ‘A’. It is also possible that, in a viva, you will be asked why you didn’t use that method, and you will be well-prepared to answer in detail.

Help! I thought I had a really good idea for my research, and now I’ve found that someone else has already asked the same research question!

That probably confirms that it was a good question to ask! Although this can feel very disappointing at first, it can often be transformed into a benefit. It is important that your research fits logically within the existing research in your area, and you may have found an ideal study to link with and to extend in some way. Remember that:

  • if it (or something very like it) has been done before, and has been published, it is likely that this signifies it was a relevant and important topic to investigate;
  • you can learn from how the previous researchers did it: what worked and what didn’t;
  • did the previous researchers suggest any further research? If so, you may be able to link your own plans to fit with their suggestions;
  • can you take the investigation further by doing your own similar research: in a different setting; with a different sample; over a different timescale; with a different intervention etc.;
  • their literature review and reference list should be useful.

Help! I think I’ve got a great idea for a study, but I can’t find anything published about the topic.

Firstly, this is unlikely. Perhaps if you modify your search strategy you will find something. However, if there really isn’t anything, then you need to ask why this is the case. Check out whether there is an important reason why the research has not been done, which would make it sensible for you to choose a different focus. If you do decide to go ahead, then take extra care designing your research, in the absence of guidance from previous studies.

Blaxter et al. (2001:125) suggest that, if there appears to be no research in your field:

‘…you should probably consider changing your topic. Ploughing a little-known furrow as a novice researcher is going to be very difficult, and you may find it difficult to get much support or help.’

An important aspect of your thesis and your viva, is that you can show how your research fits with other research. This will be just as important when there is limited existing research in your area, as when there is an abundance.

Reviewing your review

Once you have a first draft of your literature review it is possible for you to assess how well you have achieved your aims. One way of doing this is to examine each paragraph in turn, and to write in the margin a very brief summary of the content, and the type of content e.g.: argument for; argument against; description; example; theory; link. These summaries then provide the outline of the story you are telling, and the way that you are telling it. Both of these are important and need to be critically reviewed.

Useful questions at this stage include:

  • What is the balance between description and comment?
  • Have I missed out any important dimension of the argument, or literature?
  • Have I supported the development of each step in my argument effectively?
  • Is the material presented in the most effective order?
  • Are there places where the reader is left with unanswered questions?
  • Is every element of my research question supported by the preceding material?
  • Have I explained to the reader the relevance of each piece of evidence?
  • Is there any material that is interesting but which does not contribute to the development of the argument?
  • Have I explained adequately the justification for this research approach / topic / question?
  • Are my references up to date?
  • How effective is my linking of all the elements?

Beware of becoming too attached to your writing. You need to be ready to cross out whole paragraphs or even whole sections if they do not pass the above tests. If you find that what you’ve written is not in the best order, then re-shaping it is not a huge problem. It may be mainly a case of cutting and pasting material into a different order, with some additional explanation and linking. If this produces a more relevant and streamlined argument it is well worth the effort.

References

Blaxter L., Hughes C. & Tight M. (2001) How to research. Buckingham: Open University.

Merriam S. (1988) Case study research in education: a qualitative approach. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.

Rudestam K. & Newton R. (1992) Surviving your dissertation. London:Sage.

Taylor D. & Procter M. (2008) The literature review: a few tips of conducting it. Health Services Writing Centre:University of Toronto. http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/litrev.html

Wellington J., Bathmaker A., Hunt C., McCulloch G., & Sikes P. (2005) Succeeding with your doctorate. London:Sage

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

A

B

C

D

E

Extended Essay

10.59%

16.50%

38.88%

27.62%

6.41%

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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