Extended Essays Physics Ideas


These subject guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Assessment Criteria


An extended essay in physics provides students with an opportunity to apply a range of skills while researching a topic of personal interest in the field of physics. A physics extended essay is characterized by a particular emphasis on physics within a more general set of scientific criteria. An extended essay in physics must take the form of a research paper involving a hypothesis or a model, or a critical analysis that demonstrates argumentation, comparison, or the extraction of relevant information or data.

The outcome of the research should be a coherent and structured piece of writing that effectively addresses a particular issue or research question and arrives at a particular, and preferably personal, conclusion.

Choice of topic

It is important that the extended essay has a clear emphasis on physics and is not more closely related to another subject. A physics extended essay should, therefore, have a basis in physical theory and emphasize the essential nature of the subject. An extended essay in an interdisciplinary area such as materials science will, if registered as a physics extended essay, be judged on its physics content, not its chemical content.

The purpose of the essay is not principally to inform the reader about a specific topic, nor should it be a summary of the latest discoveries in physics. The student must be personally involved with the subject matter and not simply an informant. The topic should represent a challenge for the student.

Some topics may be unsuitable for investigation because of safety issues. For example, experiments involving dangerous or carcinogenic substances, radioactive materials, lasers, microwaves, UV light noise or heavy equipment should be avoided unless adequate safety apparatus and qualified supervision are available. Typical experiments done in class, not suitable in themselves as a basis for an extended essay, can be a source of good topics.

Students should choose a well-focused, well-defined and realistic topic that allows for an in-depth treatment. Broad or complex survey topics, for example, investigations into black holes, gravity, time machines, the Higgs particle or the fate of the universe, will not permit the student to discuss conflicting ideas and theories, nor to produce an in-depth personal analysis within the word limit. Also, by definition, some topics are not suitable for an extended essay in physics, which is an experimental science with a specific approach and techniques.

Students should also be careful to avoid research topics that go beyond the boundaries of conventional science, for example, areas that are more related to metaphysics or pseudo-science. Examples of this could include the unknown forces of pyramids, physics and God's exisThe following examples of titles for physics extended essays are intended as guidance only. The pairings illustrate that focused topics (indicated by the first title) should be encouraged rather than broad topics (indicated by the second title).

  • "Orbital determination of a minor planet" is better than "Gravitation".
  • "The variation in resistance of a wire subjected o different strains" is better than "Measuring the resistivity of different materials".
  • "The use of interference ringes to measure small displacements" is better than "Making interference patterns".
  • 'The range variation of water flowing out of a hole in a container" is better than "An application of Bernoulli's principle".
  • "The impact of the resistivity of the metal of a pipe and the pipe's wall thickness on the terminal velocity of a cylindrical magnet falling down the metallic pipe" is better than "Eddy currents".

Moreover, it may help if the student further defines the topic chosen for study in the form of a research question, followed by a statement of intent that indicates which broad process is going to be used in answering the question.ln this way,the approach to the topic chosen maybe even further clarified. Some examples of this could be as follows.

Title                                         Black hole at the centre of the Milky Way

Research question                 Is it possible to determine the presence of a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way?

Approach                                 A data-based approach is taken. From the astronomical observations of a star following a Keplerian orbit around a compact radio source, the mass of a supermassive black hole is determined. The level of uncertainty is appreciated.

Title                                        The wine bottle as a Helmholtz resonator

Research question               Do wine bottles of different shapes behave as Helmholtz resonators?

Approach                              An experimental approach is taken. The theoretical model is reviewed with specific emphasis on the physical and geometrical parameters determining the resonant frequency. By blowing across the opening of the bottle, a resonant frequency is produced, picked up and measured. The accuracy of the model is determined.

Title                                         The deflection of starlight by the Sun's gravitational field

Research Question                What will be the angular deflection of starlight by the sun if Newtown’s universal law of gravitation is applied?

Approach                          A theoretical (numerical) approach is taken. Assuming a corpuscular model of light, the motion of these corpuscles moving at the speed of light in a gravitational field is followed by iteration . The results are compared to the one derived from general relativity.

Title                                      The efficiency of electromagnetic damping

Research question           Is the efficiency of electromagnetic damping of a moving glider a function
of the initial kinetic energy of the glider?

Approach                            An experimental approach is taken. The energy budget of a coil-carrying glider going through magnetic braking on a linear air track is followed by comparing the mechanical energy lostto the thermal energy generated in the coil.

However, the aim of the essay may also be presented as a statement or as a hypothesis rather than an actual question. Some examples are as follows.

  • The objective is to establish theoretically the proportionality existing between the terminal velocity of a cylindrical magnet falling down a metallic pipe and the resistivity of the metal of the pipe as well as the pipe's wall thickness. An experimental investigation follows.
  • Water waves are observed in a long and narrow trough and their speeds are measured. It is assumed that, for shallow water, the speed of the wave will be proportional to the square root of the depth of the water and independent of the wavelength.
  • The objective is to establish the relationship between power and temperature for an incandescent lamp.
  • A retractable ballpoint will be used to test the law of energy conservation. The objective is to establish an acoustic model of the concert flute.

In first-hand experimental essays, students should choose sensible and feasible experiments that do not require extensive lengths of time for the construction of apparatus. Highly sophisticated instruments are not required: in some cases, they can impose limitations and hinder the understanding of a phenomenon. Successful experiments will produce relatively rapidly the data necessary for a sound analysis.

Ideally, students should carry out the research for the essay solely under the direction of the school supervisor. Some of the best essays have been written by students investigating relatively simple phenomena using standard school apparatus, and this approach is to be encouraged. Regardless of where, or under what circumstances, the research is carried out, students must provide evidence in the essay of their personal contribution to the research approach and to the selection of the methods used. Essays based on research carried out by the student at a research institute or university, under the guidance of an external supervisor, must be accompanied by a covering letter outlining the nature of the supervision and the level of guidance provided.

The domains of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics are theoretically and experimentally very demanding; for example, the construction of wind tunnels can be problematic and time-consuming. A topic within these domains must be chosen and defined very carefully.

Physics applied to sports can be a source of excellent topics, although the acquisition of sufficient valid data can sometimes be problematic. The relevant biomechanics can be overwhelming.

Students must choose a research question that can be treated effectively within the word limit and is not of a trivial nature.


Treatment of the topic

Every extended essay in physics will involve some research Into the background or theory of the topic selected. However, extended essays in physics may then vary. Students may choose any of the following approaches.

    • Experimental: design and implementation of an experiment then personal collection and analysis of the data.
    • Data-based: location and extraction of raw or processed data, not collected directly by the student, which is then further refined and analyzed.
    • Theoretical : development of a quantitative or semi-quantitative description of some physical phenomenon, exercise of the model, predictions about its behavior and limitations.
    • Survey: formulation of a cohesive, ordered, analytical and supported (qualitative and quantitative) discussion of the topic.
    • Combination: some combination of the approaches listed above.

All extended essays in physics should summarize the scope and limitations of the work undertaken. This should always include analysis of any experimental design, uncertainties and precision of data, mathematical techniques, relationships with theoretical models, and reliability and quality of sources. The essay content and development should directly evaluate the research question, possibly in the form of a test of a hypothesis.

Experimental essays allow students to display their own critical thinking skills in a more discernible fashion, but experimental work is not a requirement for a physics extended essay. However, a theoretical dimension must be part of any empirical investigation.

Any experimental work that forms part of a physics extended essay should be adequately described to allow the workto be repeated by others, who should achieve similar outcomes and conclusions. Particular care should be taken with data obtained through secondary sources. For data-based essays, the location and reliability of the sources needed should be considered at the start of the planning stage. Students must scrutinize such data and the experimental design with the same care that they would apply to data that they have collected themselves. A careful scrutiny of research procedures could reveal serious flaws in experimental design or in data collection that invalidate the results in whole or in part, or at least limit the interpretation.

A purely empirical investigation relating two or three variables in the absence of any theoretical foundation is not satisfactory—for example, an investigation involving only a mathematical analysis of the gathered data relating the index of refraction of an Epsom salt solution to the salt concentration. In such an essay, the student would be expected to investigate the theoretical physics relating the index of refraction to the concentration.

If a computer simulation of a theoretical model is used, the algorithms developed or employed should be thoroughly analysed and simulation outcomes compared with reality to check their validity. For essays involving a theoretical model (computer simulation) describing a physical phenomenon, the planning should include the initial postulates, the key steps in the running of the model and the simulation outcomes gathered. Charts or code fragments may be used in the body of the essay to illustrate how the model was translated into software, but the programs themselves should be placed in the appendix. Each line of code of a program fragment included in the body of the essay should count as two words towards the word limit. The focus of any extended essay that uses a computer to build and exercise models, or to analyze data, must be on the discipline of physics, not the software.

In theoretical, data-based or survey essays, an evaluation of the quality and reliability of the literature sources used must be part of the essay. Students must have read enough about the topicto make a value judgment about the reliability of the sources. This can be achieved by researching secondary sources or by performing their own calculations. Students should not hesitate to discuss conflicting ideas and present their own opinions with their own arguments. In survey or theoretical types of essays, proper planning should involve interrogating source material in light of the research question, so that the views of other scientists are used to support the student's own argument, and not as a substitute for that argument. It may thus be helpful for a student to challenge a statement by a scientist, in reference to the topic being studied, instead of simply agreeing with it, where there is evidence to support such a challenge.

Analysis must complement data or information and not simply repeat it, while an interpretation should be deduced logically from the data or information. Unfounded, far-fetched extrapolation should be avoided and shortcomings recognized. The discussion should not be a rewording of results; it should generate a solid interpretation of the results to be compared to published research on the topic.

Absolute reliance on textbooks and the Internet is discouraged and no extended essay in physics should be based exclusively on such sources. Textbooks should be consulted only insofar as they may stimulate original ideas, provide models of disciplined, structured and informed approaches, and encourage direct and personal involvement with the essay topic. If students make use of Internet-based sources, they should do so critically and circumspectly in full awareness of their potential unreliability. There are ways to verify the credibility of sources and a librarian could advise about this.

Introduction to the essay

In the introduction, it is usually appropriate to identify the relevant principles of physics. For example, the understanding of the motion of a cylindrical magnet falling inside a copper pipe requires the application and integration of the Laws of Electromagnetic Induction and Newton's Laws of Motion. Students are expected to show that they are able to identify completely the relevant theory in the context of the research question and can apply it correctly. In the previous example, a brief qualitative description of the forces acting on the falling magnet and their possible variations along its path will achieve this goal. If a historical set-up is appropriate, it should be restricted and focused rather than general and exhaustive. Some topics require some background foreign to physics—for example, physics applied to sports or archeology. In such cases, only the essential non-physics information should be provided in the introduction.lf it is considered necessary that more information should be included, then the appropriate place for it is the appendix.

In the introduction, the student must also show why the topic is worthy of investigation. The opportunity or potential for creativity and initiative is a measure of the significance (importance) and worthiness of the topic chosen. Some topics may be unsuitable because the outcome is already well known and documented in standard textbooks, and the student may not be able to show any personal input.


It is difficult to be precise about the 4,000-word limit in physics as most essays include tables, graphs, figures, diagrams, equations and calculations. Examiners will follow the spirit of the word limit so that an essay that is excessive in length will be penalized. For experimental or data-based essays, a typical layout will follow the order of tables of data, graphs, analysis and conclusion. If the investigation is divided into two or more parts, it is recommended to repeat this order for each part with a brief overview conclusion presented at the end of the essay. If data and graphs are too numerous, they should be included in an appendix. However, it is essential that the reader is able to follow the development of the essay without having to refer to the appendix. The core of the essay should be complete and stand on its own, with the collection of all tables, graphs and diagrams inserted in the order required to allow for an easy reading and understanding.

Tables, graphs and diagrams should be numbered so specific references can be made to them in the body of the essay. It is not necessary to include an appendix, but where one is used, it should not be done as an attempt to evade the 4,000-word limit. It is good practice to show one example of the calculations of numerical results, including the calculation of errors. The components of the table of contents should be made specific to the topic of the essay. A generic list of contents such as "theory", "experiment", "data", "analysis", "conclusion" and "bibliography" is not satisfactory. References should appear as footnotes in the body of the essay, independently of the bibliography. However, general knowledge such as Newton's Law of Gravitation, definitions, or the Doppler Effect does not require any reference.

An extended essay in physics could include elements typically part of the report of an experimental investigation within the internal assessment documentation. However, the formal presentation of the extended essay is different from a laboratory report. For example, an annotated diagram can be included in the essay but an exhaustive list of equipment should not. Students are encouraged to look up scientific papers or articles published in recognized physics journals or magazines.

Academic level

Essays in theoretical physics should cover material extended from the Diploma Programme physics course covered in the classroom—for example, "The application of Huygens' principle to a single slit using the iterative method", or material from outside the course—for example, "The impact of solar light pressure on an orbiting satellite".

Essays in experimental physics should cover topics not included in the school course's regular investigations—for example, "Are the tiny droplets produced by the impact of raindrops on a hard surface electrically charged?".

Sophisticated computer interface equipment should be used as a tool, not an end in itself. The reliability and limitations of such equipment should be looked at. A simple use of simulation programs would not necessarily reveal a student's creativity and mastery of physics—for example, the simple measurements of the harmonics of a stringed musical instrument by an electronic probe would reveal little of the student's intellectual abilities.


Students are encouraged to look at abstracts of science research papers published in recognized physics journals or magazines.

Interpreting the assessment criteria

Criterion A: research question

Although the aim of the essay can best be defined in the form of a question, it may also be presented as a statement or proposition for discussion. Whichever way it is formulated, the research question must be:

  • appropriate to physics as a science; centered on physics and not on peripheral issues such as the history of physics or social implications of discoveries in physics
  • Identified clearly and set out prominently in the introduction.

An effective treatment within the word limit requires a narrow and well-focused topic

Criterion B: introduction

The introduction should relate the research question to existing subject knowledge: the student's personal experience or particular opinion is rarely relevant here. The relevant principles of physics should be situated in the context of the topic.

The introduction should not be seen as an opportunity for padding out an essay with a lengthy account of the context of the physics involved.

Criterion C: investigation

The way in which the investigation is planned will depend on the approach chosen by the student. However, the plan should include the relevant theory as well as an appreciation of the uncertainties or limitations inherent to techniques and apparatus.

Criterion D: knowledge and understanding of the topic studied

The knowledge and understanding demonstrated in a physics essay should extend from the Diploma Programme physics course or laboratory. The fundamental knowledge acquired in the classroom could be applied to a new physical situation that requires an interpretation of this knowledge. A purely empirical approach seriously limits the level of knowledge and understanding of the physics related to a topic, and consequently should be avoided.

Criterion E: reasoned argument

Students should be aware of the need to give their essays the backbone of a developing argument. Personal views should not simply be stated but need to be supported by reasoned argument to persuade the reader of their validity. For example, it is not sufficient to write "From the graph we can see that...". Straightforward descriptive or narrative accounts that lack analysis do not usually advance an argument and should be avoided.

A well-organized and well-presented essay will enhance the clarity of an argument.

Criterion F: application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject

Physicists use mathematics as a tool. This tool should not replace the relevant physics, nor become the goal itself rather than the instrument used to reach the goal. The student should show an understanding of the statistics and mathematical relationships produced automatically by software programs. A complete and solid understanding of the intrinsic limitations of an investigation, and their implications for the conclusions reached, is essential. It should be shown in some way that a given proposed limitation, possibly procedural, does have the expected impact on the final results and conclusion, for example, in the case where experimental results are compared to standard values. A proper manipulation of significant digits and uncertainties, including uncertainty in the mean and in graphs, is expected, as well as an understanding of propagation of errors.

Criterion G: use of language appropriate to the subject

Scientific language must be used throughout the essay. Students should be encouraged to read articles from recognized scientific journals or magazines to learn about the proper style, organization and presentation of a scientific paper. The essential quality of the language relates to exactness and precision, and typical expressions, such as "function of" or "proportional to", carry specific meanings. A curve on a graph cannot be qualified as "exponential" or "quadratic" without proper analysis. Any symbols used must be clearly and fully identified in the context of the situation; for example, writing "t for time" would not be sufficient but writing "t for time during which the magnetic force is applied" would be precise and helpful.

Criterion H: conclusion

"Consistent" is the key word here: the conclusion should develop out of the argument and not introduce

new or extraneous matter. It should not repeat the material of the introduction; rather, it should present a new synthesis in light of the discussion.

The conclusion should reveal the impact on the final results of the investigation of uncertainties in experimental data, the limitations of a model or of an experimental design, or the validity of sources.

Criterion I: formal presentation

This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references for quotations is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).

Criterion J: abstract

The abstract is judged on the clarity with which it presents an overview of the research and the essay, not on the quality of the research question itself, nor on the quality of the argument or the conclusions.

Criterion K: holistic judgment

Qualities that are rewarded under this criterion include the following.

  • Intellectual initiative: Ways of demonstrating this in physics essays include the choice of topic and research question, and locating and using a wide range of sources, including some that may have been little used previously or generated for the study.
  • Insight and depth of understanding: These are most likely to be demonstrated as a consequence of detailed research, reflection that is thorough and well informed, and reasoned argument that consistently and effectively addresses the research question.
  • Originality and creativity: In physics, these include looking inquisitively at the surrounding world, innovation in experimental procedures and equipmentto measure variable parameters, an inventive approach to physical analysis or to classical topics, as well as the construction of imaginative theoretical models.


International Baccalaureate Organization. (2007). Physics. In IBO Extended essay guide, First examinations 2009, (pp. 140-147). New York: International Baccalaureate Organization.









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






Extended Essay






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.


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