By now most schools will start to see the final extended essay (EE) deadline approaching. We economics teachers, frequently rather heavily burdened with EE supervision, will sit down with a pile of penultimate drafts and start giving our comments for the final draft. I have dealt with EEs for some 18 years now and have saved every single one of my commentaries for students. It occurred to me that a goodly portion of my next-to-last commentaries on EE drafts contain some common features. It helps to have these commonalities in mind since they are actually quite easy to correct. Out of a number of common last-minute failings in EEs, I have collected the five with the ‘highest rate of return’ – e.g. the ones that can yield the greatest increase in marks for the amount of re-writing effort needed by the student.

Assume that the EE has a viable RQ, reasonable theoretical basis and adequate primary sources. This should get a minimum passing grade if the student has put in some effort in writing. Here are five relatively straightforward ways to earn or solidify a few additional marks:

1. The conclusion is weakly linked to the RQ and the arguments put forth in the body of text: Make sure the student refers to the RQ in the conclusion and also to at least two argumentative points put forward in the body of text. Chapters of sections in the body of text should have some kind of ‘concluding statement’ at the end of each chapter. In the final conclusion, a simple way of driving home the point is making sure that no new information is included but that these conclusive statements given in chapters are referred to clearly by page number.

2. The theory/model and content doesn’t really hit the research question (RQ) head-on: This is really quite simple; change the RQ! I have just received an EE dealing with the causal relationship between an economy’s current account (in balance of payments) and the exchange rate. Textbook theory suggests causality in both directions and the RQ was posed in a manner so as to investigate both possibilities. Very little clear correlation was found – which indeed is an answer! – yet the student did find some very interesting causal flows between the exchange rate and the balance of visible trade. He should skew the RQ towards visible trade and pursue this course instead. This is not ‘cheating’ but in fact what doctoral students find themselves doing continuously.

3. Sources are missing: Nothing adds to value quite as much as making sure that every single statement that cannot be assumed to be ‘generally known/accepted’ should have a referenced source. I simply write “Do you have a source for all these statements?” and leave it to the student. Better one reference too many than too few.

4. Data is weakly referred-to: This is one of the most common failings and perhaps the easiest to correct for higher marks in EEs dealing with macro issues. Most macro essays deal with some form of quantifiable variable (income and pollutions; imports and growth rates, etc.) and thus the student has an opportunity to use basic statistical tools in the analysis. One of this year’s EEs deals with foreign direct investment (FDI) flows and average wages, the hypothesis (Hecksher-Ohlin based) being that higher wages in countries receiving large amounts of FDI might cause these inflows to decrease. The data indeed shows that higher wage levels are negatively correlated with FDI – but the student does not really hammer this home sufficiently and this weakens the overall conclusions. Solution; take the existing data and do a regression analysis in Excel! There is little more convincing (yet, again, beware of spurious correlation!) that a mathematically based conclusion where one can state “…the regression coefficient, r, in correlating FDI inflows (Y) with average industrial wages (X), yields an r-value of -0.65, which means that…”

5. Formal presentation issues: Easiest and highest rate of return last, of course. How many marks will a sloppily organised and un-proofed EE lose? Quite a lot as it turns out. There are four marks for making sure that the essay is under 4,000 words, has a bibliography, is paginated correctly (pagination starts in ‘Introduction’ and ends on last ‘Conclusion’ page), has neatly numbered and labelled diagrams/tables/figures, and has clear SYSTEMATIC references to sources that are included in the bibliography. I find that having my students check of each of the above almost always yields an additional mark or two for some 45 minutes of work.

Here is what my EE feedback looks like: Example of EE feedback to students – Nov 2014 Note that the numbers refer to notes in the actual hard-copy of the EE.