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The Extended Essay: What it is, and how it prepares students for success

The Extended Essay (EE) is a core component of the IB Diploma (International Baccalaureate), and is arguably the closest that high school students get to carrying out a university-level task. As a result it is both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

ISB students have approximately a year to work on their EE, starting in the middle of semester 1 of Grade 11. During that time, and with the guidance of a subject specialist supervisor, students are encouraged to pursue their passion and to dig deep into the academic aspects behind the things they find fascinating about the world around them.

The research questions generated by students are amazingly creative. For example, the variety of research conducted by the Class of 2020 ranges from how immigration impacts religious architecture in Thailand, all the way to the design efficiency of basketball socks. From how gender bias presents itself in select corporate advertisements, to how contaminated water changes the way mung beans grow. Fields of study included film, economics, dance, chemistry, and everything in between. Every year the list of topics researched, rich in complexity and uniqueness, is a wonderful reflection of the diversity and creativity we have in our student body. By encouraging free exploration of ideas, the EE offers all students a chance to become an expert in a field they are passionate about.

The EE could be better described as a Research Essay, as students need to research ideas, methodologies, and methods, as well as how to write to an academic audience, how to cite information properly, and so on. When ISB alumni return to campus, they often comment about the usefulness of the EE for work they were assigned later at university.

Moreover, long-form essay writing encourages learners to dive into a topic that is close to their hearts, or of great interest. In many circumstances the experience helps shape the study path of some students, giving them a glimpse into worlds they may not have considered – and career paths that might not have been on their radar. 

Hands-on research – developing self-managing and adaptable learners 

Of all the ISB Attributes, the ability to be self-managing and adaptable stand out as skills that are developed and emphasized during the EE project. The systems, timeline, check-points and supervision of the EE help support the students as they venture on a research project of self-discovery. Mr. Kelly, High School Social Studies and EE supervisor, said, ”Students look back with an immense amount of pride and achievement – and quite rightly, too. A 4,000-word research project is no mean feat for anybody. To truly succeed in the EE students must understand the journey is more important than the destination, and this is something ISB students are amazing at”.

While the EE is an academic piece written for an academic audience, the learning that goes into it can be very hands-on, and a number of students carry out very impressive fieldwork. This year, one student visited and interviewed patients and doctors at a rural hospital in Kanchanaburi, while another student carried out a series of interviews with migrants, local politicians, and NGO workers in a refugee camp just outside Istanbul. Others have coordinated with universities to use their science labs and specialist equipment. Mr. Kelly said, “One of our students, researching the effectiveness of government health care policy in rural Thailand, impressed an academic that had also studied this area so much she was offered a summer internship at one of Thailand’s leading universities. These are exactly the kind of unique opportunities this essay can provide and why it is such a valuable part of the IB curriculum”. 

Mr. Kelly pointed out some of the other features of the project, saying, “Another great aspect of the EE is that it rarely goes to plan! It often throws unexpected problems at students. It might be unattainable data, participants unwilling to be part of the sample survey, a poorly designed Google form, or a journal article locked behind a paywall. All EE students have to adapt to challenges, face down issues, create solutions, and be flexible. In short, it is quite an excellent introduction to life and work to come. You could say the EE makes students ready to leave high school.”

EE is just one of the many subjects and specializations at ISB which encourages learning that asks questions, while also helping students develop a strong sense of identity and global mindedness. Find out more about our approach to learning at ISB on our website.

Academics High School