For May 2012 Diploma candidates the marking of extended essays is under way, and many schools are in the midst of EE preparations for November 2012 and even May 2013 DP students.

As I sift through EEs I think that the review of some concepts are in order. This is specific to history and these are only the thoughts of one examiner and supervisor, not those of the IB. However, I think that most of my ideas will ring true with other supervisors and examiners.
-Just because a student is really interested in a subject does not mean that it is a suitable topic. Sometimes interesting subjects simply don’t fall into any particular subject; students should be told this and not permitted to do such topics as this is setting them up for failure – with the current grading rubric a failing condition in the EE is a failing condition for the diploma.

– Essays must concern the human past. Too many students want to describe works of art or music or armaments; these essays won’t score well as they will not have a sufficient argument.

– History essays cannot center on subjects that occurred in the past ten years – that is simply not history. I actually limit my students to the 20th century; too much has happened since 2000 that is still in the purview of political commenters rather than historians. There needs to be distance for there to be some balance.

– The essay is meant to be up to 4000 words; an essay that is 2500 probablly won’t do too well as it won’t provide sufficient detail. There are always those empircal miracles that disprove this, but they are the exceptions to the rule.

– Most students need help and guidance in narrowing their subjects sufficiently. Looking at all of Stalin’s policies will be too broad but a careful examination of his educational policies, for example, will give the students the ability to come to some valid and valuable conclusions. Sonia Clarke, a previous chief examiner, once gave me the advice that if the student can find a book with the title of their topic, the topic is too broad.

– A 4000 word essay should have more than 5 sources in the bibliography. Again, there may be a few exceptions, but they are just that. Criterion C specifically addresses the range of sources; a limited list (unless explained well by the student) will not score well.

– An abstract is not high art – it has 3 necessary components that can be laid out in 3 short paragraphs.

– The research question must be explicitly stated in the introduction. The student should cut and paste the RQ everywhere it appears in the essay so that the reader is not left feeling frusrated and confused, paraphrasing another ex-chief examiner (John Addison).

– Biographical information is rarely relevant to the essay; students should be challened on why they are including the information.

– My own thesis chair once wrote “Resist the need to tell me all you know.” The evidence presented needs to be related to the RQ; too much background takes away from the essay. If the background goes on more than a page, there is probably too much context being established.

– Each section of the essay should be linked back to the research question in some way.

– Evaluation of sources in an EE does not necessarily mean OPVL. In many cases it may be a briefer yet more explicit explanation of why the source is useful to the study – or why it is less useful than other sources. It can show the relative merits of different sources.

– The conclusion should answer the research question and it is perfectly fine for students to write, “In conclusion…”

If I have left something out, or someone has a different idea about these notes, please comment. 2 heads are better than one and a gaggle would be wonderful!