How to Get a Good Grade on the IBDP Extended Essay

Written by BFIS Staff

It is no secret that the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Extended Essay (IBDP EE) can be a daunting challenge for many high schoolers. With its 4000-word limit and high academic standards, students must know how to achieve success in it. To provide some insight into this process, this article will explain the advice given by Extended Essay Coordinator at our school on how to get a good grade on the IBDP EE.

I’ve been the Extended Essay Coordinator at BFIS for six years, but even before that position was created officially, since the very first year that BFIS began implementing the IBDP program in 2012, I have been integrally involved in providing our students the support they’ve needed to write their best possible Extended Essays, conducting research and composition workshops for each cohort of Diploma Program students that have passed through the halls of our school. 

Over the course of these years, I’ve attended multiple IB and InThinking workshops on the implementation of the Extended Essay, formally marked about a hundred EEs myself as an individual essay supervisor, read the EEs of countless other students who asked for my input, and reviewed and analyzed the final EE results for each BFIS graduating class. 

Because of all of this, I believe that I’m in a unique position to advise about how to achieve a high score on the assignment. 

Extended Essay Guide

The Assessment Criteria of the current Extended Essay Guide, in effect since 2018, can be difficult to interpret. The committee of teachers and librarians at the IB who created the current EE Guide aimed for a holistic approach. 

The previous incarnation of the guide broke the grading down into bite-sized chunks: how many points for the research question, how many for the introduction, for the sources, the analysis, the formal presentation, etc. It was very much like judging a plate of food by only considering the list of ingredients. 

Photo by Dan Dimmock

EE supervisors (and the actual IB markers) were not given the flexibility to determine their grades based on the quality of the writing, the quality of the research, and the quality of the argument. The committee that wrote the new guide reacted against this and went in the completely opposite direction. 

The updated, current assessment criteria are filled with broad comments like this: “Knowledge of the topic/discipline(s)/issue is clear and coherent and sources are used effectively and with understanding” (International Baccalaureate). 

It’s obvious that these things are very important in a research essay, but how can you choose a score out of six points for how well an entire 4000-word essay does these things? It’s challenging, and many first-time EE supervisors have a difficult time with it. An additional point is that the five individual assessment criteria overlap and can be interpreted as evaluating the same thing. 

The words “research” and “sources” are mentioned many, many times across multiple criteria, and it takes both careful reading and marking a number of essays to truly digest exactly what they’re assessing and determine exactly what students should focus on to achieve the highest possible score.

3 Key things to keep in mind

After five years of working with this current guide, I believe that there are three key things that students should always keep in mind as they’re working on their EE in order to receive a strong grade.

1. Clear line of argument

Have a clear line of argument and stick to it throughout the entire essay, making sure to clarify how each point that you make and each piece of research that you present supports your conclusion. 

The main goal of the introduction is to preview the structure of the essay and to preview your eventual conclusion (not to present lots of concepts and content, which could distract the reader as they are trying to understand the essay’s organization and main goal). 

If you keep the intro brief and mainly focus on previewing your question and your answer to that question (often called a thesis or argument), the marker will understand how the evidence that you review in the body fits into your overall argument and essay plan. 

Of course, you also need to ensure that the evidence that you present is actually relevant and that you explain how it helped you arrive at your conclusion. If it’s only tangentially related and the marker feels confused about exactly what the evidence is demonstrating in relation to the question, then you’re off task and your score will go down. 

Photo by Zen Chung

Consider this: the main goal of the EE is to develop your academic writing skills in preparation for university; having a brilliant and original thesis is less important than constructing a clean, well-organized package that executes the plan laid out at the outset with clear language and a logical structure. 

2. Critical thinking skills

Demonstrate critical thinking skills throughout the essay by analyzing and evaluating your sources, not merely presenting quotes and data without clarifying exactly how they are useful to your argument. 

Don’t leave it up to the marker to make the connections that seem obvious to you; be explicit and state things clearly. After you review a piece of evidence (research), always insert your voice and comment upon it, trying as much as possible to deliver some thoughtful insights that reconnect to your thesis.

The more creative you can be in terms of demonstrating deep thinking about your sources and how they’re helping you answer the question, the better score you will get. 

3. High-quality and trustworthy sources

Make sure you have some high-quality, trustworthy sources. Depending on the subject and topic, of course, this often means that you should strive to include a number of articles from university-level academic journals. In Economics and the Sciences, it also means having high-quality, truly reliable data. 

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno 

Remember: this is a research paper, an investigation into the accumulated, recorded human knowledge on a refined, specific topic. Nobody has the knowledge to sit down and write a good EE. 

You need to read sources, and the higher quality your sources are, the better you will do. Information from content farms and low-quality websites that haven’t been critically chosen will negatively affect your score. 

Those are undoubtedly the three most important things you need to do well to score well on the Extended Essay. A top grade is within reach for all students, as long as you’re willing to put in the time to research, plan, compose and revise your work. 

Keep those three points in your mind as you read and develop your research question, and continue to review them as you write your paper, and you can be successful and achieve your potential as a writer.

By David Cevoli
Middle and High School Librarian
Extended Essay Coordinator

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