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Top Tips from an IB Veteran on Selecting a Topic for The IB Extended Essay (EE)!

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An Introduction to IB Extended Essay Topic Selection:


The International Baccalaureate (IB) Extended Essay (EE) is a core component of the IB Diploma Programme, offering students a unique opportunity to engage in independent research and produce a scholarly piece of writing. While the prospect of writing a 4,000-word essay might seem daunting, particularly for ESL students, we find that planning the process slowly and decisively can yield great results. Let's breakdown various tips in order to tackle the IB Extended Essay (or EE) below!


A student studying and planning for the IB Extended Essay

Tip 1. Know the timeline for selecting an IB Extended Essay (EE) topic


We generally recommend that you have your EE research topic ready anywhere between 10 and 12 months before your exam date.

First of all, a general tip for IB students, even outside of the Extended Essay, is to handle deadlines carefully. What this means for the Extended Essay is that, for example, students taking the May 2026 IB examination series should try to have their EE research topics ready somewhere between May and July of 2025, and November 2026 IB examination students should try to have their research topics ready some time between November 2025 and January of 2026


There are two primary reasons why such a deadline is advised:

  1. Any earlier and you’ll likely not have a sufficient understanding of the subject matter to judge whether it’s an appropriate topic for an Extended Essay.

  2. Any later and you’ll be facing an increasingly stringent time crunch due to IB exams, university entrance applications and other commitments.


Don't worry though, as there is ample time left for your EE research topic selection. The final submission deadline is more than a year away, allowing you the opportunity to explore various options. Should you come across an EE topic that truly interests you before that time, it would be fantastic! Please bear in mind that the suggested timeframe is flexible and is only a general tip. Trust your intuition and do what feels right for you!


Tip 2. Selecting a subject for the IB Extended Essay (EE)


It’s generally important to start with a subject that matches your aptitude and interests. When selecting a topic for the Extended Essay, it is important to consider which IB subject the topic falls under.

A student thinking about various topics and what topic to choose for the IB Extended Essay.

This will inform both your research methods and the way you format that research. Mathematics and economics essays may both deal with the same topic in entirely different ways for example.


First of all, cautionary tip: students typically begin by looking at IB subjects that are commonly perceived as "easy." In other words, subjects that usually yield high scores when chosen by students. Choosing your Extended Essay topic in this manner results in overlooking your unique skill set.


Hence, if you excel in STEM subjects rather than language arts, opting for language arts as your EE topic just because it resulted in high scores in the past year will negatively impact your motivation and, consequently, your overall performance in the long run.

So here's my IB Extended Essay tip for choosing a subject:

Begin by shortlisting at least 3 IB subjects where you find the content interesting and appealing.

Keep in mind that your list doesn't necessarily need to contain your IB HL subjects or the IB subjects you are studying. However, it is strongly advised that you do so. After narrowing down your selection to 3 subjects, explore the typical research methods associated with each subject. Bear in mind that these standard research methods will shape your research for the EE and consequently influence your writing and overall IB grade in the future. Feel free to ask your IB subject teachers or advisors for advice!


Tip 3. Finally Deciding on an IB Extended Essay topic


Finally, look at some common research topics within your subject of study. If you are struggling to find something suitable to your taste, a tip is to consider looking at topics you enjoy within the IB curriculum, and think about how you may expand upon them in complexity and/or nuance in your Extended Essay. Once you have done so, for each of your shortlisted topics for the Extended Essay, consider the following:


  • Passion and Interest: Are you passionate about the topic? Your enthusiasm will keep you motivated throughout the research and writing process. To test this, attempt to hold a conversation on the topic you shortlisted for up to half an hour with a close friend or family member. If you are able to do so without difficulty, you can assume safely that the interest will continue throughout your extended essay research.

  • Scope and Focus: Is your topic narrow enough to cover within the EE word count? Broad topics can become overwhelming and superficial. Talk to the IB subject teacher about your particular topic for their opinion. They will be more than happy to provide you with their insight.

  • Research Availability: Do you have sufficient resources to undertake your research? Check out academic journals, books, and other credible sources to reference in your EE. If your topic necessitates first hand experimentation (such as with regards to the natural sciences) see if materials can be sourced easily.

Student having decided on the IB Extended Essay topic. Girl with computer on the desk with a bookshelf in the background.

At this point you will likely have narrowed it down to no more than 2 or 3 potential EE topics, in which case, pick whichever of your remaining topics feels best. Congratulations! You’ve officially selected a topic for your IB Extended Essay.




Tip 4. Additional details and Tools for the IB Extended Essay



Additionally, your IB certified school will likely have a multitude of resources and support staff in your journey to write your Extended Essay. Feel free to make the most of these resources!


  • Your Extended Essay coordinator: The person at your school with the greatest understanding of IB EE compliance standards. While they may not be able to assist with subject specific matters, they will be able to talk you through the process of deciding on a topic, and be able to search for and provide example material for you to be inspired by.

  • Your Extended Essay advisor: A teacher assigned to assist you with subject specific content, as well as proofreading your extended essay. They will also likely provide you with useful advice with regards to the pacing of your writing, as well as providing additional insight into the appropriateness of your topic.

  • LLM chatbots (such as chatGPT): The use of LLM chatbots is a recent development within the course of the EE writing process. At the time of publishing, the IB has approved the use of such tools to provide inspiration and guidance. However, they are very clear that such use must remain in line with the IB academic integrity policy, and that material produced through AI tools does not constitute a student’s own work. For more information, visit the IBO website at the following link: https://www.ibo.org/news/news-about-the-ib/statement-from-the-ib-about-chatgpt-and-artificial-intelligence-in-assessment-and-education/ 



In conclusion, the IB Extended Essay is undeniably a daunting task, but the work you produce is undeniably one of the most rewarding parts of the IB journey. You will not be alone in this undertaking, and provided you are able to pick a topic that fascinates you, the job is half done. For any support you may need, do feel free to sign up here for a free trial lesson with one of our many experienced tutors, who have gone through the exact same process! Good luck and happy research!


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