Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

I’m sorry I’m bringing this topic up. For some of you seniors, it may resurface hidden memories. For juniors, you have already heard enough about this topic to the point that if any more IB related acronym is mentioned, you might just explode. Complaining aside, the Extended Essay is an important component of your IB Diploma Program experience. For starters, the Extended Essay is an in-depth research paper of up to 4000 words that explores a topic of interest. The IB grade you receive will be used with the TOK (theory of knowledge) grade to add anywhere from 0 to 3 points to your total score. So how exactly do you live through this horrid experience?


You hear upperclassmen complaining about it all the time. Your TOK teacher is stressing the importance of a good extended essay every spare minute he’s got. You see tons of Facebook rants and admittance of defeat. Yes, the first time your extended essay coordinator hands you the packet of instructions for writing the extended essay may be intimidating. You might be a little overwhelmed by the word limit or the depth of research expected. However, don’t forget to relax a little. The extended essay isn’t as scary as your classmates or teachers make it to be. By junior year, churning out an 800 word essay shouldn’t take you too long–one night tops. So, just think of the extended essay as five 800-word essays that you could complete in the hours equivalent of 5 nights if you really needed to pull those all-nighters. Take a step back and consider that you are given months to complete the research and write your first draft. If you plan accordingly, you’ll have plenty of time!

Let your passion guide you

Though each school conducts its extended essay process different, the first step is generally to chose a topic. A good rule of thumb is to choose an area in which you are interested in and decently knowledgeable about. Generally, history and English seem to be the most popular choices among IB students because they could potentially be easier to write than science or math papers, but motivation is key here.

On the other hand, you might run into the same barrier I had. You might have the perfect topic in mind, but your school either does not have a good mentor for you or you cannot fit it into one of the approved IB areas available to you. To be honest ,being in that situation sucks and I’m sorry anyone has to go through it. However, I encourage you to explore a secondary interest. You could also try addressing your favorite issue from a different perspective. For example, if you were really interested in public policy for climate change, but you could not find a mentor for political science/global issues, try pursuing research about how climate change impacts human geography.

Research, research, research

The more research you conduct, the easier it will be to write the paper. For science extended essays, your mentor should be able to help you get the resources you need to conduct the experiment. If your school’s science department does not own advanced equipment, try looking for local universities’ or hospitals’ labs. For humanities and social science extended essays, the library and online databases are huge helps. In addition for social science, interviews or surveys could be a valid research tool as well. Your school or local library should have subscriptions to major databases to get you started.

Once you locate your source, find out what sort of note-taking, data collecting method will work for you. I tend to save the articles in either PDF or Word and add annotations on the side. You might like cutting snippets and dumping them in a preliminary document. Your process might differ depending on where you are in your research. Start by reading up on your topic to get a broad understanding, then narrow your research down and scrutinize specific claims. Just always keep track of your sources.

The writing process

For such a long paper, for even the most outline-resistant students, various outlines should be drafted. You should feel free to always edit and alter the outline as you proceed with research and find out new developments. Have a good, solid thesis and research question down first. However, the key in the writing process is to be flexible. Be ready to adjust your research question later on. Overall, breaking your paper down into sections will make each chunk more manageable.

I found that writing was not so bad once I actually sat down and focused on translating what I discovered in research to words. Avoid excuses, and just sit down with no distractions. Once the words start flowing, keep writing for as long as you can. Take breaks when you need to. Soon, you’ll find out that 4000 words isn’t actually that bad. Splitting your writing into several days will also help relieve the overwhelmed feeling.

Finally, you’ll have a completed draft! You’ll be tired of doing citations and footnotes, and you’ll be tired of reading and editing the same lines over and over, but you should be proud! Also, don’t stress out too much about the extended essay–it only counts for a tiny portion of your overall IB performance.

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the author

Jinchen is a senior in high school from Texas. Often described as “bouncy”, Jinchen’s enthusiasm coats everything from deep philosophical discussions about amoebas to fresh homemade smoothies to new archeological digs. Jinchen can be spotted volunteering at the zoo or museum, planning new events, scribbling and doodling in her treasured journal, or staring at the sky and thinking about the meaning of life. She loves anything international affairs-related and has recently discovered her interest in engineering. Having lived on three continents, it is her dream to one day explore and travel around the world.

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