Your Complete Guide to the EE

By: Joe Cook, Elise Wallbridge, Emma Raven, Joseph Watson, Jessie Kaull, Daniel Osbourne, Tim Owen, Willem Van Gerwen, Clare Grogan, Finn Boyle, Marguerite Vernet

The Extended Essay is probably the single largest piece of work you will do during your IB and can seem very daunting at first. This guide, written by Y13s who finished their EE’s last term will hopefully give you a few top tips and things to look our for when you are writing your EE.

Like many of our other Complete Guides this article is not meant to be read in its entirety: just skip to whichever section is most relevant to you. Current or past Y13s don’t be afraid to comment if you feel there is something we missed!

World Studies – History and Economics

Author’s essay title: To what extent was a lack of economic prosperity the most important factor fuelling growth of right-wing movements in the UK, in the periods 1930-39 and 2007-2015?

Top tips for an essay in this subject

With world studies you might find, as I did, that your mentor is not as hands on as in other EE’s subjects so it’s really important that you make sure you set yourself goals so that it’s not all left until Senior Seminar Week at the start of Y13. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to go and ask other teachers for advice or to double check things if you find that your mentor is not a specialist in the subject area that you are doing your EE in.

In general my top tip for doing a humanities based EE, especially in world studies where it is very easy to get lost in the quantity of content out there, is to make a clear plan from the beginning. This means that you won’t spend hours researching something only to realise at the end of it that it doesn’t actually fit into your argument. Also make sure that you take notes on every source you read so that you do not have to go back and reread stuff, and cite as you go, otherwise you will be in for a very long and tedious job at the end (easybib.com is a lifesaver for this). Finally don’t be afraid to change your question if you find after doing some research that it isn’t going to work!

Things to watch out for

Make 100% sure from the start that you check the specific criteria for doing a world studies EE! In order to score well in this subject your introduction and conclusion must be structured in a specific way and it has to be clear how the subjects that make up your EE (eg. History and Economics) each add to the essay. Your mentor (like mine) may not know this so it’s worth asking Mr Tyner if you unsure!

World Studies – Art and History

Author’s essay title: To what extent can immigration be understood by analysing the overt and subliminal messages in political posters using traditional fine art assessment criteria?

Top tips for an essay in this subject

World studies is an amazing opportunity to have an interdisciplinary subject, offering a vast expanse of topics. However, that is the biggest drawback… It is humongously vast. Being really narrow and choosing a specific title is really important (Though don’t be afraid to change your title a couple of times). It’s good to commit to your title, be happy with it, and run it through with your mentor before summer break. Make sure to plan your essay very specifically so you know what to look for while you’re doing research. Check your structure with your mentor, it helps to simply talk through it a couple times with them to help them be up to date and keeps your thoughts on track. You may find, as I did, that your mentor may not have all the technical knowledge for your subjects, but they are still a great source of knowledge for structure and to run your ideas through!

There’s a couple very specific criteria for a world studies EE, it’s incredibly helpful to be aware of these before you start. You can always ask Mr. Tyner if you’re uncertain and he’ll send you a greatly detailed document on what to do, which was of great use. Try to get your first draft done early on – you will probably go through a lot of drafts before you’re happy with it. But don’t be discouraged! Having a world studies EE allows you to choose a topic you’re genuinely fascinated by!

Things to watch out for

Be specific! Do research that is only pertinent to your topic as you can get lost rather quickly. Be really clear on your plan before you start so you can be efficient as well. You will probably find it difficult to stay within the 4000 word limit, so leave a lot of time for editing and re-reading.

Sciences (Physics, Biology, Chemistry)

Author’s essay title: Do plants prioritise defence over growth? Investigating the effect of methyl jasmonate on the growth of Nasturtium officinale.

Top tips for an essay in this subject

The single most important thing is to start your experiment early and aim to have it finished before summer break. No experiment works the first time and some take days to grow/react, you will have to do loads of repeats so getting everything sorted as soon as possible is key. There is nothing worse than coming back to school in September and spending every living movement in the science lab trying to finish your experiment.

Finding an interesting (and doable) topic is the most difficult. It might take a while, I found mine by flipping through MMC books. Once you have your topic talk to any teachers, friends, or even strangers working in that area to get ideas and they can tell you areas of research to avoid. The Ecolint Discovery Service (ask in the mmc) is useful for accessing papers you may not normally have access to.

Before you start experimenting you need a solid plan. This plan may and probably will change but it will be an important starting point. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the huge database of sensors, equipment and even experiments which the school has (ask a teacher or technician). One piece of equipment or data sensor can make an EE.

In Chem and Physics try to find methods which don’t have huge equipment errors as they could completely overshadow any conclusions you make. For these subjects it’s not always about the quantity of data but about the quality. For Bio make sure you have enough data to do statistical tests and decide which statistical test you want to do before collecting data.

Don’t be afraid of the technicians! They are incredibly helpful and should be your starting point as they can probably tell you if your experiment will fail, so discuss your ideas with them before doing anything practical.

Things to watch out for

It’s easy to get lost in the world of scientific papers. Avoid spending hours trying to understand complex papers; unless it’s 100% related to your topic the abstract usually gives enough detail. With that in mind, sometimes methods shown in papers can have useful details to help with your method. Also keep a document of papers you’ve read with some sort of detail about it. You have no idea how useful this document is when 5 months later you remember reading an article with a diagram that explains everything.

Although it seems obvious make sure your experiment doesn’t involve dangerous levels of poisonous gases, deadly compounds, or end up killing other plants in the lab (as mine did).

Keep your experiment simple. Seriously, unless you want to spend your life doing your EE. don’t get caught up in finding a new atomic model or genetically modifying organisms. Plan it simple and you can always make it more complex later.

History

Author’s essay title: ‘Was the British Second Army’s campaign to capture Caen a failure?’

Top tips for essays in this subject

History EE’s are a fantastic opportunity for you to investigate anything from a wide range of historical topics. From the Fall of Rome to Napoleonic Military Tactics to the Growth of the Civil Rights movement, anything can be studied depending on your interests. However this means a focused and considered choice must be made. Only choose a subject you know you are going to be able to find enough resources in as well as one where you have a keen interest and are willing to work for many multiple hours on. Also be prepared to change your research question and the focus of your research as you begin to do your reading

I recommend reading widely on different areas before making your choice of question, running multiple option through your head as well as by your History teacher. They will be able to help you make your choice and send you in the right direction regarding sources. Once you’ve started your work don’t forget your EE mentor wants to help you and their help really is invaluable.

Things to watch out for

Be sure to plan your research well before you start and save all sources when you find information you’re going to use. Also be sure that while you’re working you watch out for different historiographical perspectives to discuss in your work as this is much appreciated by examiners.

Geography

Author’s essay title: To what extent is plastic pollution impacting the Exuma Sound in the Bahamas?

Top tips for essays in this subject

Geography EE’s can go in many directions. I found that choosing a topic that genuinely sparked my interest and that I was curious to research made a huge difference in motivating me to find answers. This made the entire process much more enjoyable and bearable. This being said, it’s important that you choose a realistic title. However, chances are you will change your title (possibly multiple times), so don’t get discouraged if you have to abandon your initial idea.

Read. Once you know what information is out there on your topic, this then makes it much easier to hone in on your title and plan a well-structured, detailed essay. Use Google Scholar. If you have access to contacts who can help you (especially with primary data collection), don’t be afraid to reach out to them. I would not have been able to collect my own primary data if I had not reached out to strangers, and this ultimately added a lot of value to my essay. Also, making a list of questions to ask your mentor in meetings is very efficient, since he or she is only supposed to meet with you for approximately 4 hours.

Things to watch out for

At the time, writing your EE seems never-ending, so in your mind, this may justify putting off your work until a later date. However, 1) you’ll regret that later so it’s very important to set yourself deadlines, and 2) if you stick with it and chip away at it over the months, you’ll produce a piece of work that you’re very proud of.

Economics

Author’s essay title: Should Aberdeen and the wider Scottish economy be afraid of falling oil prices?

Top tips for essays in this subject

You will want to pick something that interests so you are motivated to research and write about it. The title of your essay should be quite specific so you can really focus in on it and say all you need to in under 4000 words. Economics EEs have a tendency to sound boring based off their title, look at mine for instance, but try make your argument compelling.

Have a general idea of how you are going to structure it and what you are going to conclude.

The IB loves economic diagrams and theory, so make sure to add any wherever relevant.

Contacting and interviewing people, via email or in person, on your chosen topic will help enormously as it looks good in the eyes of the IB. Reach out to those who you think may be of help to you.

It is a good idea to get different people to read your essay, not so they can proofread it for spelling errors, but rather the quality and coherence of your argument. Also make sure to read the Economics EE criteria, everything you are marked on is detailed here.

Things to watch out for

Getting side tracked and going into detail about specific things that are not central to your argument does not help. Do not overload your essay with too many statistics, after a certain point they do not help your argument. Consider opposing viewpoints and evaluate the effectiveness of solutions to your chosen topic, do not consider just one view.

Do the bulk of the work during the summer so you do not have to spend too much time on it when back at school!

Business

Author’s essay title: To what extent has Disney’s promotional strategy of the Star Wars franchise been effective in increasing earnings?

Top tips for essays in this subject

First of all, you must enjoy your topic or at have least some vested interest in it as it will make the whole process much simpler. The great thing with Business EE is that they are based on secondary research so you can investigate any business you want, whether it be in the film industry, music, gaming, whatever interests you! Ideally I’d suggest looking for a business which interests you and researching any issues that the company is facing (or have faced) and evaluating their decision.

It is important to try and set out a clear and coherent structure for your essay as it will help you when writing and researching to avoid wasting any time. This might not seem very appealing but once you have found your title, I would recommend finding as many articles as possible concerning the topic which will give you a wide range of opinions. It is also important to remember that you must evaluate your title considering different perspectives/any advantages or disadvantages. These claims have to be backed up by relevant business theory, for marketing I would recommend “Product life cycle” graphs and “Position maps” as they look pretty professional when done on excel.

Things to watch out for

As your essay is an academic piece of work, the material used should come from reputable sources and possibly include some scholarly articles to support your claims, “Google scholar” is a helpful search engine for such articles. Your essay has to be evaluative, otherwise it will not score highly on the mark scheme. At first mine did not consider any negatives, however, I was able to find a few issues with the promotional strategy to offer a balanced opinion and coming to a clear conclusion is necessary.

Computer Science

Author’s essay title: A Comparison of the Effectiveness of Backtracking versus Dancing Links as Techniques Implemented in Sudoku-Solving Algorithms

Top tips for essays in this subject

Comparing algorithmic efficiencies for different types of algorithms with the same purpose is a nice topic for the EE because it is obvious what you need to do in your method and conclusion; feed the two algorithms the same sets of data, measure their efficiencies, and conclude with an exploration of the implications of using the efficient one.

Things to watch out for

I find that the IB course is far more theoretical than it is practical, and I find that it skims the surface of many topics but never delves into any significant depths. For this reason, it is hard to follow CS research online because the IB course does not teach you skills required to comprehend the university-level material available on the internet. For the EE, then, you really have to choose an area that is within your ability, because it is easy in this area to find a really cool topic which is actually rooted in incomprehensible CS/Maths theory.

It is also tempting in such an emerging field to do your EE in a brand new technology, but be wary that there will be very little research available to you to reference in your essay. It’s safer to focus the EE on a well-researched topic, and to mention how new technologies may impact this.

Maths

Author’s essay title: What are Eulerian trails, what are their applications, and how are they used in bioinformatics to reconstruct a DNA sequence from its fragments?

Top tips for essays in this subject

As with many of the EE’s, you’re going to have to start out by choosing a specific, focused topic. If you go too vague, you won’t be able to cover it all concisely in one paper. Personally, finding the topic was that hardest part of the process. In your maths syllabus, there is no real exploration into fields that you could write entire essays about, so it’s important that you dedicate a lot of time early on in the process to finding a specific subject area, that doesn’t have to be too complicated, and that very importantly, you find interesting enough to spend a few months of your time on.

What I found is that, generally, very few people do maths EE’s. Therefore, the maths supervisors have more time on their hands, and other maths teachers are not dealing with EE’s to mark so collectively, they are willing to spend time helping you. Every time you write or edit a draft, ask them for (verbal) feedback, and if they can’t understand the maths, chances are you haven’t fully understood/researched it yourself.

Things to watch out for

What is particularly challenging about a Maths EE is that the criteria isn’t very precise and is different to many of the other subjects. Therefore, it is important that you read and ask questions about the criteria before you even sit down to start writing it. Look at past exemplars of maths EE’s, as there is definitely not one specific way that it can look.

Also, since it is maths, the word count is not really set and defined. Mine was more of an exploration into graphs and graph theory, and so I didn’t have any equations and stuck to the 4000 word limit. However, if you have equations, the word limit can vary and not be specified, so you may want to discuss with your supervisor (or Mr. Tyner).

The last thing I found challenging is related to how original you have to be. Obviously, you can’t be creating new maths, and unlike many other subjects, it’s not up to your own interpretation or experimentation, so it’s difficult to see where you’re putting your own twist on things. Although it is different from an IA (with the specific criteria of Personal Engagement), try and find a question that you can create your own answer to. This could be purely working out a complicated maths question on your own, or researching topic but still creating, solving, and explaining your own problems.

English/French Literature

Author’s essay title: How is the nature of loss treated in Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World and Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage?

Top tips for essays in this subject

Literature EE’s are brilliant for teaching thematic essay writing skills. That may sound overly specific, but keep in mind that is a genre of essay that includes almost all Language A and History essays. You learn how to analyze a work thematically, with emphasis on the ‘analyze’ part; Literature EE’s show you how to pick apart a work for subtext and subtle meaning, stuff that isn’t really obvious at first glance.

One of the best aspects of writing a Literature EE is that you get more time to prepare before you actually start writing. Because of the way the analysis works, you get to start your EE later than most people, as most of your time in the beginning should be spent (re)reading whatever you’re analyzing, and taking notes. That isn’t to say you have to rush your EE though, far from it, you’ll be more prepared and ready when you eventually start.

Things to watch out for

There are two pitfalls to avoid when writing a Literature EE: avoid any unnecessary information, and don’t be afraid of being wrong. The first one is a bit of a problem as literature tends to be fairly interdisciplinary, due to the influences of history, science, geography etc. It literally took me a day of running around a foreign town, moving from library to library, looking for an obscure book on Postwar Japanese Literature before eventually finding a University library that had it but then being told I couldn’t get in because I wasn’t a student to realize that maybe the information I sought out wouldn’t be necessary to what I was writing about. The second pitfall is probably the most important. If you do a literary analysis, odds are you will get it wrong, at least once. My EE was focused, in part, on Haruki Murakami, a man famous in the Extended Essay marking community for being the author that students misunderstand and misinterpret the most. Subtext and holistic themes can be hard to spot, and they may contradict the point you were trying to make. Don’t be afraid to let go of an analysis after you’ve seen you may be wrong.

Also, one last (minor) thing to avoid: stay away from popular books. Seriously. If an examiner pulls up your essay and sees another title that includes Catcher in the Rye or Great Gatsby or, God forbid, To Kill a Mockingbird, they may just mark you down out of spite or boredom after seeing the same analysis repeated for the hundredth time. Similarly, stay away from ‘smart’ books (eg Lolita, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, literally anything written by any Russian ever) because then you just look like a ponce.

Theatre

Author’s essay title: How do Feminist Theatrical Conventions help amplify the voice of female playwrights such as Paula Vogel and Caryl Churchill?

Top tips for essays in this subject

When doing a theatre EE it’s very possible that you do a practical exploration to go with your question. Therefore, it is very important that you plan where and when you’re going to do your practical. If you’re going to work in the theatre department, make sure that it’s free and that there are no classes going on at the same time. That way you can have the quiet space to yourself. Also, when doing and exploring your practical don’t hesitate to do what I did, which was ask a couple of Yr 11’s or 12’s to help you out. That way you can take a step back, watch as an audience member, direct or get immersed into the workshop, this will help you get a different outlook each time.

Your question will definitely change over time, and that’s not something to be afraid of. Like mine, your question might start out to be incredibly broad. But as your research and exploration of the topic continues, you’ll start to it narrow down until you find the perfect one. Although 4,000 words seems daunting and a lot at first, it’s not enough to cover a broad theatre topic. So narrowing your question down will make your extended essay a tiny bit easier.

My top tip for a theatre EE, is to immerse yourself in the topic. Over the summer, read plays, books, articles, reviews go see plays that correspond to the subject. Watch interviews and speeches that involve directors, practitioners, actors and theatre companies. This will help you further your knowledge in the topic, but you’ll also be immersing yourself into it, getting new ideas as to how you could approach and organise your EE. The school, has an excellent and incredibly helpful theatre database. Get familiar with it, so you know how to access and use it over the summer. Also if you get a lot of research done over the summer, you will thank yourself in seminar week. Trust me.

One last thing, the EE at first may seem daunting and scary. But, a theatre EE can be fun and interesting if you approach it  with a more positive outlook, it won’t seem as bad. A negative outlook on your EE will make you less motivated to organise and do your practical, leaving things to the last minute. You choosing your topic means there must be something that interests you there. If you’re planning on studying theatre and university, a theatre EE can be very helpful in terms of your personal statement and your interview. Talking about your EE, can lead to an incredibly insightful conversation with your interviewer, as well as a place to that uni!

Things to watch out for

Again (whether you’re doing a practical or not), plan and organise yourself in terms of how you’re going to research and write your EE. Don’t leave everything to the last minute.

Check out the theatre criteria, it’ll help you a lot.

It’s easy to get lost in your theatre research, therefore when researching make sure you have a specific goal for what you’re looking for.  If you’re stuck, there’s always your mentor to help you out! Don’t hesitate to brainstorm, or run your ideas by them.

Learn how to source well since the start! Yet again, you’ll thank yourself later for it.