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How to Choose an IB Extended Essay Topic

What’s Covered:

 

The International Baccalaureate Program (IB) curriculum requires students to go above and beyond typical academic standards for most high school students. One of the required tasks is writing the extended essay. To further understand the extended essay, we need to understand what IB’s core is, which is related to the 45 points one can achieve in IB. Out of 45 points, three of these points come from the core, which is made up of the extended essay (EE), theory of knowledge, and CAS. Performing well in the EE is critical to doing well in IB, because passing the core is a necessary component of earning the diploma. 

 

What is the IB Extended Essay?

 

The EE is one of the mandatory components of the IB curriculum, and it’s a practical way of preparing students to write undergraduate-level research papers in the form of a 4000 word essay. You would choose which subject to write your EE on in relation to the subject sets you take when in IB, so you have six choices. If you were to ideally timeline the extended essay and plan all the work out early, you’d start planning a topic the first semester of your junior year (or IB year 1).

 

Starting early to pick a topic is an advantage many students miss, because the phase of the EE in which most students get stuck on is just finalizing a solid topic to write about. While picking a topic shouldn’t be too stressful, it is important to pick one you could enjoy writing about, as lack of interest is apparent in an essay and will come across to your examiner. 

 

What Makes a Good Extended Essay Topic?

 

Searching for ideas to create a topic can come from different sources, but for most people it usually begins with the subjects you’re already taking. For example, let’s say you chose to write an EE in Physics HL or SL, then it does not matter too much. You’d use the topics discussed in class content, ranging from textbooks to lectures as source material for inspiration to create a topic for yourself. 

 

Perhaps you found yourself particularly interested in planetary physics – you could then read more into that unit of the course and hopefully find bits of information to help create a topic. 

 

After finding a source of inspiration for your topic, structuring your ideas in a specific format to create a topic is important. 

 

Narrowing Down Your Focus

 

On the idea of physics, a great topic would be:

 

Physics EE on Aerodynamics: What is the relationship between frequency and surface area against lift of the propeller of a toy helicopter?

 

The reason this topic is great is because we can instantly tell how specified and narrowed down the central focus of the paper is just off a glance. Narrowing down your focus in your topic allows you, as the writer, to stay on track throughout the entirety of the paper. Derailing from your topic and going out of its bounds can lead to irrelevant information, making the content of your paper essentially useless. Keep your topic narrow and make sure to follow the topic throughout the entire paper, so you end up with a concise paper that actually can conclude with a solution to whatever your paper seeks to solve. 

 

Additionally, using keywords in your topic that give the examiner an idea of what they’re going to read is important. In this case, the writer used “frequency” and “surface area,” telling us they’re writing a paper related to mechanics as well. 

 

Understanding that the topic is the skeleton of your essay, make sure to refer back to it every time you make a finding or reveal data directly relevant to answering the topic’s question. Using data and evidence that isn’t relevant to your narrowed down topic will also cause you to lose points, simply because of the lack of use for it. 

 

How is the Extended Essay Scored?

 

The EE is scored out of 34 total points, with grade boundaries being assigned to associated letter grades with it. The following table lists the grade boundaries with their respective letter grades:

 

A – Excellent

27 to 34

B – Good

21 to 26

C – Satisfactory

14 to 20

D – Mediocre

7 to 13

E – Elementary

0 to 6

 

As mentioned earlier, the EE is part of a larger component of the IB curriculum, the core of IB. The core has its own grading scheme that also determines whether or not you pass and earn the diploma. It goes by the following table:

 

 

Theory of Knowledge

Extended Essay

 

Excellent (A)

Good (B)

Satisfactory (C)

Mediocre 

(D)

Elementary (E)

Not Submitted

Excellent (A)

3

3

2

2

1 + Failing Condition

N

Good (B)

3

2

1

1

Failing Condition

N

Satisfactory (C)

2

1

1

0

Failing Condition

N

Mediocre (D)

2

1

0

0

Failing Condition

N

Elementary (E)

1 + Failing Condition

Failing Condition

Failing Condition

Failing Condition

Failing Condition

N

Not Submitted

N

N

N

N

N

N

 

How Does the Extended Essay Affect My Admissions Chances?

 

While the EE has no direct impact on your college admissions, it does impact your total IB grade. However, even though your IB grade has little impact on your college admissions, being part of IB demonstrates proof of taking rigorous classes, which will positively impact your college admissions. 

 

That being said, writing the EE will also make you a much better essay writer, and this could later help you in writing essays for college admissions! For more information on how your chances of college admissions look, use CollegeVine’s admissions calculator! This tool takes into account GPA, test scores, classes, and more to calculate your admissions chances at your dream schools!

 


Short Bio
Varun is a junior at Arizona State University, Tempe. He aims to share his knowledge of college admissions and the IB Diploma Program with high school students. In his free time, he can be found making music or trying a new recipe!