1. Explore your passion
Your Extended Essay is an opportunity to spend around 40 hours researching and preparing an essay where you get to choose the question. It is a chance to go beyond the curriculum and delve into something that you are really passionate about. When deciding what to look at, try not to choose a topic because you think it will be easy. This is a piece of work with which you will have a real interest in so make sure it is something you really want to study. This could be because it is linked to what you want to study at university, or it could be because of a deep personal connection to a topic. Whatever you decide to do, remember this is going to be part of your life for an extended period of time. If you choose something really interesting and exciting then it won’t feel like hard work at all.
2. Get to grips with the subject specific criteria and the marking criteria
The examiners are looking for candidates who have demonstrated an ability to analyse and evaluate rather than ones who have simply described a range of facts. Make sure you know what the examiners will be looking for and make sure your essay question is suitable for demonstrating those skills. Each Extended Essay subject has a range of subject specific criteria that need to be adhered to, otherwise, you are throwing away marks. Make sure you read and understand these before you start the research process or you risk doing some excellent research that is unusable in your essay.
3. Have a plan
If you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there. The Extended Essay is like a chocolate house. If you try and eat it all at once you will make yourself sick. If you decide to start with the kitchen and then eat the living room you will get through the whole house in no time. For every stage in your Extended Essay journey, you need to have a realistic plan that you will try and stick to. Try and break down each stage into smaller manageable SMART targets.
4. Your supervisor is key
Your supervisor is your go-to person if (and when) you get stuck. You might see them at times as that nasty teacher who is constantly on your back, but all they really want is for you to write an excellent essay that can demonstrate your real abilities. Be nice to your supervisor. They are unlikely to be getting any extra time to help you so be proactive in arranging your reviews and reflection sessions. You can help them by approaching them in plenty of time. Don’t wait for them to contact you as it is YOUR Extended Essay so it is YOUR responsibility to seek out guidance if and when you are at a crossroads or a dead end. Your supervisor is a great source of ideas and will have a wealth of knowledge about where to look for good quality resources that will help you in your Extended Essay journey. Keep in mind that this is your essay and there are limits to how much time they can give you. The time you spend with your supervisor is precious. Make sure you arrive at your meetings prepared with questions.
5. A good range of high-quality sources are vital
Different topics and different subjects will have different requirements for resources. It is vital that you are using a range of resources that are relevant to your Extended Essay. Speak to your supervisor about what is needed in your type of essay. Make sure you keep a detailed and accurate record of everything you look at. The Researchers Reflection Space on ManageBac is excellent for recording this. If you keep a good research record of what you have read, where you got it, and what you thought about it, then it is much easier to go back when it comes to the actual writing of your essay. One of the best resources to look at are past Extended Essays in your subject. These are great for helping shape the style and structure of your essay but bear in mind that your essay should be all of your own work.
Your school will have a set of deadlines for each stage of your Extended Essay journey. These are there to support you through the process so make sure you stick to them. If you don’t then you will quickly find the important deadlines in your other subjects start to pile up. There will always be bumps along any journey, and your pathway through your Extended Essay is no different. If you are having problems, and it is very likely that you will, make sure you speak to your supervisor or your Extended Essay coordinator sooner rather than later. Small problems can be easily dealt with, but small problems which get ignored soon become big problems that are much more challenging to solve.
7. Be reflective
When you hit bumps in the road rejoice, as these will give you an excellent opportunity to reflect. Your reflections are worth 6 marks overall so you need to take them very seriously. This should not be a description of everything you have done but a contemplation on the difficulties and how you solved them. Embrace the challenge and remember that each time you face an obstacle, this is just another opportunity to learn about how to approach problems and solve them, and talking about how you solved them is a great way to get credit in your reflections.
About the Author, Paul Bromley
I have been teaching since 2008 in the UK and Germany as well as tutoring students worldwide throughout the pandemic. I have held a variety of posts including Assistant Head of Upper School in an international school, as well as being both a CAS and EE coordinator, which I have been doing since 2016 as well as being an IB examiner for HL Economics since 2012. I have also been an OSC workshop leader for the Extended Essay and the OSC subject advisor for Economics.