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So You Want to Learn About the Extended Essay?

By Sophie Springer

4,000 words. One year to complete. Endless possible topics. It can only be one thing: the IB Extended Essay. What is the Extended Essay? It depends on who you ask. A teacher might say a paper similar to those done in college. An AP student may say a reason for IB students to complain even more. An IB student might say a cause for weeks of stress and uncertainty.  Regardless of those opinions, the extended essay is an essay required to be completed by IB diploma students. Students can write about a variety of topics, as long as they fall under the categories set by IB which include things like biology, psychology, and world studies. It is a research paper, and the students do their own exploration, research, writing, and analysis. Even though it is a common topic of conversation for IB students, it can be somewhat of a mystery to the rest of BCC.  

The International Baccalaureate Diploma program (generally referred to as IB) is an education program offered around the world. It is a different approach to learning, and has some key differences from AP. Furthermore, there are requirements that need to be met in order to receive one’s diploma. One must take at least three higher level courses (two-year or double period classes), an IB class in each subject area, including an elective, earn 150 CAS (creative, action and service) hours, and complete an extended essay. To get one’s diploma, they must complete the extended essay.

The process starts around the middle of junior year in the Theory of Knowledge class.  Theory of Knowledge is a required class which allows students to reflect on how we view and understand our world around us, and how we “know what we know.” Around the end of the first semester our teachers help us brainstorm topics, and focus in on what we want to write about.  The second semester is almost entirely dedicated to planning, researching and finally writing the first draft of the extended essay. By the end of junior year, students are expected to have a complete draft of their extended essay. The first semester of senior year students are polishing and finishing off their extended essays.

The difficult and often tumultuous journey of writing an extended essay is well documented. The benefits of writing an extended essay are also well documented. According to the official IB website, IB students who complete the extended essay have a greater chance of receiving their undergraduate degrees. The process of writing an extended essay is very similar to writing papers in college. It also teaches students how to properly conduct research, analyse, and cite. Students also learn time management and independency, a rare experience for our age, when we are told exactly what and how to know. For students writing an extended essay, it is often their first time writing a paper of this size and doing research on such a large scale. It is helpful to gain this experience in high school so they have already had that experience when they have to write a paper similar in college. All of these factors may contribute to the success of IB students in college. This shows the importance and the value of writing an extended essay.

So is all the hard work and stress worth it? Full IB Diploma student Katarina Zelenakova seems to think so. She says that “it will prepare [her] a lot for the work I’ll have to do in college.”  The process was hard, but now that it is over she can “look back on it and realize that it was really helpful.” So, the Extended Essay isn’t the mystery wrapped in an enigma it is often perceived to be. It is a doable paper which is accomplished by many students, who often greatly benefit from the experience. Katarina Zelenakova agrees that “writing the Extended Essay was not necessarily an enjoyable activity, but it really taught me how to apply all kinds of knowledge and tie it into one research paper and I know I will benefit from the experience in the future.” For many IB students, the time and effort they put into the extended essay is not only a learning experience, but a worthwhile investment in their future.


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