EE Criterion A. Focus & method

Criterion A in the new Extended Essay curriculum focuses on three strands: the research question, the focus and scope of the essay and the selection of sources.  The introduction is assessed under this first criterion, but the overall focus of the essay is also assessed.

The introduction is a very important part of the extended essay. It has the important role of framing the argument. It tells the reader what the paper is about and what the position of the paper will be. It also makes important clarifications in order to set limits on what will be discussed and define important psychological terminology. Finally, the introduction should catch the reader’s attention and justify the importance of the research topic.  This criterion is worth 6 marks.

Assessment strands

Under criterion A, students are assessed on the following three strands.

  • The topic is communicated accurately and effectively.
  • The research question is clearly stated and focused.
  • The methodology of the research is complete.

In the next sections, these three strands will be explained in more detail.

The topic

The performance indicator for a top mark for this strand is: Identification and explanation of the research topic is effectively communicated; the purpose and focus of the research is clear and appropriate

In the introduction, before the research question is stated, sufficient background should be given.  This is often referred to as the theoretical framework.  What are the key theories that inform the debate today?  What is the nature of the debate about this topic in the field of psychology?

In addition, students must explain why this question is worth investigating.

Finally, the focus of the entire paper is also assessed here.  If the paper is supposed to be on the role of biological factors on aggression, is the focus on the impact of biological factors, or is the essay more a discussion of physiological processes?  If it is the latter, low marks will be given for this criterion.

The research question

The performance indicator for a top mark for this strand is: The research question is clear and addresses an issue of research that is appropriately connected to the discussion in the essay.

When choosing a research question, it is important that the question is clearly stated and focused.  When choosing the research question remember the following guidelines:

  • Avoid very general terms like "mental illness". Be much more specific.
  • Do not choose a "nature vs. nurture" debate.  This is too general and unfocused; such questions lead to low marks.
  • To what extent questions should focus on a single set of variables.  A good question is "To what extent do sociocultural factors play a role in Major Depressive Disorder?"  A poor question is "To what extent do sociocultural and biological factors play a role in depression?"  The second question is actually two different questions combined.  Of course, when evaluating the extent to which sociocultural factors affect depression, biological factors may be addressed in order to discuss the question of extent.
  • Avoid "and".  For most questions, as soon as there is an "and," there is a problem.  How effective is CBT and psychoanalysis in the treatment of depression and OCD?  This question has two "and's."  Even worse.  It would be better to write a paper on one of the two treatments for one of the disorders.

Finally, please note that in this curriculum the research question must be phrased as a question.  If that is not the case, students will be penalized.


The performance indicators for a top mark for this strand are:

  • An appropriate range of relevant source(s) and/or method(s) have been applied in relation to the topic and research question.
  • There is evidence of effective and informed selection of sources and/or methods

This part of the rubric is looking at the breadth and quality of the sources used.  It is important to note that an essay can earn top marks with only ten resources.  However, certain types of resources should be used with caution:

  • Blogs
  • Inthinking pages
  • News sites
  • Simply Psychology
  • Youtube videos

When defining terms, it is better to cite an online psychological dictionary or encyclopedia, rather than  Although news sites may be used to provide statistical information in order to justify the question in the introduction, they should not be the source for research used to support the argument.  And revision sites like "Simply Psychology" are not considered academic sources.

It is also important to note that the sources that are selected must be used.  In other words - if you don't cite it, take it out of the references.  In addition, all sources that are cited must be used in the essay.  The following is unacceptable:  Studies on aggression (Crane 2001; Hannibal 2011; Meyers & Toft 1999; Turner et al 1991; Bandura 1961; Crane & Hannibal 2004; Peterson et al 2015; Markus and Kityama 1990) show that it can be learned. It is not appropriate to list these sources in the references for the EE unless they are actually used in creating an argument - that is, they must be described and linked to the argument.  Padding of sources does not earn credit for criterion A.

Finally, in order for the sources to be credited, the citations in the text must match those that are in the references.  If there is a significant number of sources that are cited in the text but not listed in the references, in this new curriculum the paper will be flagged for academic dishonesty.


To summarize - this criterion assessed the focus of the essay, the choice of sources and the introduction.

The introduction has four goals:

  • Outline the scope of the essay. 
  • Identify the psychological theories and studies that will be used in the essay.
  • Operationalize any concepts or variables that will be essential to the essay.
  • Justify the importance of the research question.

A sample of a good introduction can be seen here: EE introductions.

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