With extended essays for 2nd year students having left the premises, minds are turning, or have turned, to the next batch! So, this may be a good time to take stock of the process and the pitfalls, especially given the fact that the theory of knowledge/extended essay matrix will change from May 2015, and that the extended essay is in review for teaching in 2016, with first assessment in 2018.

Since the May 2010 session, 28 points overall are required to be eligible for the diploma if a student attains an ‘E’ grade in either the extended essay or theory of knowledge. However, the EE-TOK matrix suffered from an anomaly, in that students could be awarded an additional one point for an A + E combination, despite the fact that an E was  a failing condition for the diploma, if the student achieved between 24 to 27 marks.

The following new matrix will be adopted from the May 2015 session:
EE_TOK matrix
Changes from the previous matrix:
  • B + C combination now results in 2 additional points (previously 1 point)
  • A + E combination now results in zero points and a failing condition (previously 1 point)

The following represents decisions that have been made with regard to the extended essay across all subjects for first teaching in 2016:

  • All research questions must be posed as a research question.
  • Reference to external sources or supplementary information is not permitted and examiners will not access them.
  • The abstract will no longer be a requirement.
  • The use of footnotes, endnotes and appendices is clarified to prevent abuse of the word limit. Students are advised to avoid using footnotes or endnotes other than for referencing purposes.
  • Examiners are instructed to stop reading and assessing work once the 4000-word limit has been reached.
  • Role of external mentors is clarified. Students may undertake their research under the guidance of an external mentor, but only a supervisor within the school is permitted to complete the reflection process for the extended essay with the student and provide both signature and comments on the ‘Reflections on planning and progress form’ (RPPF).
  • Formatting of the extended essay is clarified. Strong recommendations will be made in relation to fonts used, font size and line spacing.
  • The number of assessment criteria has been reduced. A review of the current assessment criteria indicated that essays were marked in a very fragmented way and that the overall impression of the level of the essay was not necessarily reflected in the mark awarded. The decision was made to reduce the criteria to five: four to be applied to the essay itself and one to the ‘Reflections on planning and progress form’.
  • The “best-fit” approach has been adopted for the assessment of extended essays. The mark awarded should be one that most fairly reflects the balance of achievement against the markband. It is not necessary for every indicator of a level descriptor to be met for that mark to be awarded.
  • Reflection has been included in the assessment of the extended essay. This will be completed by students after each of their mandatory reflection sessions. Supervisors must sign after each reflection is completed and at the end of the process once the viva voce has taken place and write their summative comment. The form is submitted along with the essay for external assessment.
  • Three mandatory reflection sessions must take place.
  • The Researcher’s Reflection Space (RRS) has been created. Many students already keep research journals in the planning, researching and writing phases of their extended essay. The RRS is a personal learning environment that can be either a physical or virtual support tool. Students record reflections on what they are reading, writing and thinking to prepare for their reflection sessions with their supervisors.
  • Administrative responsibilities are explained. Schools must provide organisational structures that allow for three mandatory supervision (reflection) sessions.

There will be changes to both the existing assessment criteria and to the interpretation of the assessment criteria for every diploma subject. It will be essential then, as it is now, that the subject interpretation is read and understood. However, I have to report that the number of students apparently unaware of the subject interpretation of essays in Business Management is growing, rather than falling; and even more worrying, that this is also the case in some very established centres, which have produced high achieving students for many years. Some now appear to have lost touch with the requirements for Business Management and are allowing second higher level internal assessments to be written and submitted as extended essays.

Extended essay preparation and assessment are high in the coverage wish list of participants in workshops and often lead to the most concern among new teachers to the IB. Certainly, the process is relatively drawn out and the assessment is complex, but due diligence should prevent students losing unnecessary marks. Given the significant changes underway, this may also be the time to review the existing assessment criteria and the subject interpretation to inform changes in 2016. In particular, to stop students producing a second higher level internal assessment for their extended essay. In summary, there is no reason for students to:

  • address fundamentally practical, rather than academic topics
  • collect primary data of any description, unless the information is unavailable from secondary sources and the information adds significantly to available secondary sources
  • conduct questionnaires and present the results in the main body of the essay
  • produce recommendations for future action

Image Source: Ecole Lemania