Extended Essays - overview

What is the Extended Essay?

"..... the extended essay, a substantial piece of writing of up to 4,000 words, enables students to investigate a topic of special interest that they have chosen themselves.
It also encourages them to develop the skills of independent research that will be expected at university."

(The IB Extended Essay Guide 2013 p.2)

Self-directed Learning

One important aspect of the Extended essay is the possibility for self-directed learning.

Resources for students writing their Extended Essay

The IB Extended Essay Guide for 2013 - is a must for students and supervisors. Biology pages begin here

Ethical guidelines are also provided by the IB and should be shown to students.

The IB Animal Experimentation Policy should be given to all students who express an interest in an essay in Biology. There has been some new guidance from the IB during spring 2014 about the use of animals in experiments. The guidance says that in all IB work we should consider, replacing the animal with a simulation, refine the experiment to alleviate any stress on the animal or reduce the number of animals involved.

"Any investigation involving animals should initially consider the replacement of animals with cells or tissues, plants or computer simulations. If the animal is essential to the investigation, refinements to the investigation to alleviate any distress to the animal, and to reduce the numbers of animals involved, should be made.

Experiments involving animals must be based on observing and measuring aspects of natural animal behaviour. No experimentation should result in any cruelty to any animal—vertebrate or invertebrate. Therefore, experiments that administer drugs or medicines, or those that manipulate the environment or diet beyond that which can be regarded as humane, are unacceptable in IB schools."

IB teacher support material, august 2014

Ethical guidelines are also provided by the IB and should be shown to students.

Many schools have produced their own support documents for the students- here is a booklet designed for students at Munich International School.


Schools are required by the IB to provide an Extended Essay Supervisor to each student, who is responsible to guide the student through the criteria, the research process and finally the writing process. As this is most likely the first piece of research that a high school student will undertake, I feel it is important that the supervisor consider the whole learning process.

Essays in Biology

An essay in Biology needs to be based on some experimental data, either collected through a student designed investigation or primary data provided from another source. Students should avoid super-sophisticated university laboratory-based experiments as the examiner is likely to suspect that the design of the investigation, the process of data collection and interpretation of the data is not that of the student. Actually, simple investigations that students can do at home can be very successful. Descriptive essays will not be appropriate for earning higher marks.

The topic of the essay must lie clearly within Biology and not lean into other subjects. So what does this mean? Biology is the study of life,so the essay must deal with living organisms. Biochemical topics can be pursued but must be focussed on the effects on the living thing not the chemical aspects. For example, a study of enzymatic kinematics falls under chemistry but the factors that affect enzymes and how this impacts on the ecological niche of an organism becomes a Biology topic. An Essay which deals with how organisms learn to negotiate a maze is more likely to be considered as Psychology but if the behaviours are related to the survival of the organism then this falls towards Biology.

To read more about helping students choose a topic for their extended essay in Biology read  Extended Essay titles.

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.