The Extended Essay guide is the ultimate place to go for all official IB information on this aspect of the Diploma. This gives information about what your responsibilities are as an advisor, the assessment criteria and their clarifications for physics essays. On this site we summarise the requirements and reflect on some physics-specific requirements.
As a quick rule of thumb, remember 4 4 4:
- 4000 words
- 40 hours of work
- 4 hours of meeting time
The basic requirements of a physics essay make sense:
- Develop an area of interest
- Research a framework on which to conduct an investigation (e.g. an equation or law)
- Data analysis
However, it is important to familiarise yourself and your student with other key aspects of the Extended Essay before kicking off.
Towards the end of the first year of their Diploma Programme, all IB students at your school will start to choose their Extended Essay (EE) subject. Some of them might choose physics, which is where you come in! Your supervisee should already be familiar to you as a student of physics already (probably at Higher Level). Regardless of the subject chosen, the essay has a 4000 word limit and should conduct approximately 40 hours of research. This is the time when students get the chance to go deeper into a subject giving you the supervisor the chance to work on a more individual level with the keenest students (in theory!).
Having supervised about 100 essays in 20 years' of teaching the IB, Chris took up the challenge to have a go at doing one himself! Here are his thoughts...
Although I didn't use the whole 40 hours the experience has given me a new insight into the process that I hope will be useful. Maybe my first piece of advice should be "go write one", its the best way to learn what it's about. My students thought it was pretty cool but wanted to know why I'd waited until they had submitted theirs. Anyway I submitted it to an experienced marker and got an A, now I feel ready to give advice to both supervisors and students. The essay used the same research question that an ex-student of mine had used, I remembered it to be a neat idea so thought I'd have a go at doing the experiments myself. Recently I met the student and he sent me his original essay and gave me permission to post it (Dusan's essay). Unfortunately a couple of the images are missing but it still makes sense. He also got an A and I have to admit that his analysis was more thorough than mine.
This will take the form of 3 formal interviews:
- The first will be early in the process, perhaps during the first hours of data collection and with a sample of writing. This is also to point to check that your supervisee has all the necessary skills for their project (ICT, data collection, research, referencing, writing).
- The second is an interim meeting, in which you should be intellectually critical of the students' decisions to date and to advise them on the final steps to making a valid conclusion. However, it will probably be too late at this stage to amend the methodological approach.
- The last is a viva voce, when the student has submitted a final draft of their work.
A written report must be completed by the student after each interview. These reports are signed by the supervisor with brief comments and are submitted to the IB along with the essay. They will be assessed and evidence of a good process with growth in sophistication can get the student 6 out of 34 marks.
Between meetings 2 and 3, you will formatively mark a near-complete draft of the student's work, but without being too prescriptive - there is exemplar guidance in the Guide on the sort of feedback permitted.
Ensure that you liaise regularly with your school's Diploma Coordinator for their in-house supervisor training or to agree to your local procedures (e.g. timing, deadlines).
There are five separate aims that are listed in the IB guide; these are what the student will gain by doing an EE.
Essentially an Extended Essay provides the student with the opportunity to:
- engage in independent research with intellectual initiative and rigour
- develop research, thinking, self-management and communication skills
- reflect on what has been learned throughout the research and writing process.
Tthe extended essay should be an opportunity to develop certain skills and experience what it is like to take part in research. It's an introduction to the sort of work that they will be involved in at university. The rest of the IB physics programme is focussed around passing the exam and learning how to fulfil assessment criteria, so this is a brilliant opportunity to go a bit beyond the constraints of the course (but not beyond the constraints of the EE criteria).
Many students will comment on how writing an EE has given them an advantage at university. They already know how to structure an essay, make references, insert diagrams, etc. The process of writing an EE enables the student to develop along the lines of the official aims although not all get to "experience the thrill and excitement".
Interestingly enough there is no mention in the aims of "giving the brilliant student the chance to excel" or "enabling the student to go way beyond the realms of the syllabus" but this is how the EE is sometimes portrayed and that misconception may even have found its way into the minds of some markers. Why would we expect students to be able to write an essay on topics not even touched on in class? The point is they are supposed to use the knowledge they possess to investigate something new. Of course there is nothing wrong with the brilliant student being able to extend their knowledge but this shouldn't be the norm.
There are 10 objectives required in order to meet the aims:
- To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the topic chosen and the research question posed.
- To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of subject specific terminology and/or concepts.
- To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of relevant and/or appropriate research sources and/or methods used to gather information.
- To select and apply research that is relevant and appropriate to the research question.
- To analyse the research effectively and focus on the research question.
- To be able to discuss the research in terms of a clear and coherent reasoned argument in relation to the research question.
- To be able to critically evaluate the arguments presented in the essay.
- To be able to reflect on and evaluate the research process.
- To be able to present information in an appropriate academic format.
- To understand and demonstrate academic integrity.
One thing to note about the aims and objectives is that they are very much about what skills the student is going to develop and what they are expected to do. The job of the supervisor is to give advice and encouragement when needed. The supervisor may meet with the student for 4 of the 40 hours, but most of the time the student is alone. This is deliberate: the student should show initiative and experience what it is like to work independently on a big project. If the supervisor gets too involved then the aims will not be met.