IB Extended Essay Rubric. Grading Criteria

Hello, IB scholars! As an experienced IB mentor, I understand the importance of fully grasping the IB extended essay rubric. Your extended essay is a significant part of your diploma, and knowing the grading criteria is crucial for success. From my experience, a clear understanding of this rubric can distinguish between an average essay and one that truly stands out.

What Is IB DP Extended Essay?

The IB extended essay is a core component of the Diploma Programme, aimed at students aged 16 to 19. It is independent, self-directed research that finishes with a paper of a specific word count. The project offers an opportunity for students to investigate a topic of their choosing, giving them a taste of what university study is like.

The extended essay aims to develop high-level research and writing skills and creativity. It allows students to engage in personal research on a topic of their own choice under the guidance of a supervisor (a teacher in the school). It leads to a significant piece of formally presented, structured writing in which ideas and findings are communicated rationally and coherently appropriate to the chosen subject. Students select a topic that interests them and aligns with one of the subjects in the IB curriculum. It could range from history to biology, literature, or even mathematics. I also recommend you avoid overused IB extended essay topics.

Moreover, the IB extended essay is highly valued by universities, as it gives students a chance to demonstrate their ability to undertake serious research projects and communicate their findings effectively. It is also an excellent opportunity for students to research a topic of personal interest in depth.

Key Components of the IB Extended Essay

First things first, let’s talk about the basics. Every extended essay needs a properly formatted title page, a concise abstract summarizing your work, and a clear table of contents. It sets the stage for a well-organized essay, and, believe me, getting these elements right from the start sets a positive tone for the graders.

Remember that your introduction should present your research question and the scope of your investigation. The body of your essay should then methodically break down this question, supported by evidence. Lastly, your conclusion must briefly summarize your findings and reflect on the research process. As I know, a well-structured essay helps maintain focus and keeps your argument compelling.

Moreover, accurate referencing and well-organized appendices are not just a formality. They demonstrate your dedication to academic integrity and detail, which, according to general IB criteria, are essential for a top-grade paper.

Detailed Breakdown of IB Extended Essay Rubric

The extended essay is assessed externally by IB examiners. It is graded based on criteria that evaluate the paper’s formal presentation, the student’s ability to conduct research, the development of their argument, and their overall reflection on the learning process. These criteria focus on the essay’s structure, the research question’s clarity and purpose, the research’s extent and depth, and the findings’ analysis and discussion.

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Criterion A. Focus and Method (6 points)

From my extensive experience as an IB educator, I’ve observed that the clarity of your focus and the robustness of your methodology are foundational to your essay’s success. This criterion evaluates how effectively you define and approach your research question. It’s not merely about choosing a topic but about demonstrating a sharp, precise focus and deploying a methodological approach that is both rigorous and appropriate to your subject.

A strong focus helps maintain the relevancy of your research. At the same time, a robust methodology ensures that the investigation is conducted systematically and scientifically, which is essential for producing credible and reliable results.

Criterion B. Knowledge and Understanding (6 points)

Your essay should also demonstrate a profound understanding of the topic. This criterion goes beyond simply recounting facts. It involves analyzing these facts, connecting different pieces of information, and critically discussing their implications.

It’s about showing your grader that you’re not just repeating information but can interpret and contextualize it within the framework of your research question. A deep engagement with the material will showcase your ability to synthesize knowledge and contribute original insights to the discourse on your chosen topic.

Criterion C. Critical Thinking (12 points)

Critical thinking lies at the heart of the IB philosophy and is essential to your success in the extended essay. This criterion involves the analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of knowledge.

From my years guiding IB students, essays that score well in this criterion typically present well-constructed arguments supported by robust evidence. They also consider and address potential counterarguments, demonstrating students’ ability to think broadly and critically about their topic. It improves the essay’s depth and illustrates the student’s capacity for balanced reasoning.

Criterion D. Presentation (4 points)

The way you present your essay is critically essential. This criterion assesses the organization, clarity of expression, and adherence to the prescribed formatting guidelines. These elements significantly influence your essay’s readability and its overall impact on the reader.

From my experience, a well-presented essay not only makes the content more accessible but also leaves a powerful impression of professionalism and attention to detail. Proper formatting, a clear structure, and a coherent presentation of ideas facilitate effective communication of your research findings.

Criterion E. Engagement (6 points)

Lastly, your engagement with the research question can significantly boost the quality of your essay. This criterion measures how well you demonstrate your motivation, interest, and effort in your research.

Essays that reflect genuine curiosity and enthusiasm stand out; they capture the reader’s attention and make the discussion more compelling. From my experience, students who connect personally with their topic are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and produce insightful and engaging work. Your investment in the topic is evident through meticulous research, thoughtful analysis, and an enthusiastic presentation of your findings.

Strategies to Maximize Scores in Each EE Grading Area

Focus and method (Criterion A) begins with a well-defined research question that is specific and manageable, guiding your entire research process. Outline your methodologies clearly, showing their relevance to your research question, and justify why these methods best fit your study.

Knowledge and understanding (Criterion B) require a demonstration of both breadth and depth. You should:

  • Use a range of sources. Use diverse sources to show a broad understanding, then focus on specific areas for detailed research.
  • Link to course concepts. Connect your discussions with theories and concepts from your IB courses, which adds depth and context.
  • Focus on analysis. Distinguish your essay from mere description to analysis, providing insights demonstrating a deep understanding of your topic.

For critical thinking (Criterion C), construct a coherent argument that is evident throughout your essay, supported by robust evidence. Evaluate the reliability of your sources and include various perspectives to enrich your discussion and demonstrate comprehensive analysis.

Presentation (Criterion D) is crucial and should adhere to the IB’s strict formatting guidelines. Ensure that your essay is well-organized, with logical transitions between sections, and rigorously proofread to enhance readability and coherence.

Lastly, engagement (Criterion E) can significantly boost your score. Reflect on your learning and research path, highlighting any challenges and strategies to overcome them. Show your passion and personal connection to the topic, which enriches the authenticity and depth of your engagement.

Common Mistakes in IB Extended Essays

Knowing common pitfalls in writing an IB extended essay can significantly impact the quality and effectiveness of your work. Understanding and implementing strategies to avoid these mistakes boost your final submission.

One major issue that often plagues students is straying from the research question. It’s easy to diverge into tangential areas, especially when the topic is broad or fascinating. To avoid this, always keep your research question in mind as you write and research. Make it a practice to regularly refer back to the question, ensuring that all parts of your essay directly contribute to addressing it. This focused approach keeps your essay coherent and tightly structured.

Another critical mistake is overlooking the importance of formatting and presentation. Many students fail IB extended essays because they don’t realize that a well-formatted work is not just about aesthetics but also reflects the seriousness of your work. Proper formatting helps to organize information clearly and makes it easier for examiners to follow your arguments.

To avoid losing points on presentation, strictly adhere to the IB extended essay guidelines, which include specifications for the structure, font size, line spacing, and citation style. Moreover, thoroughly proofreading your essay to correct typographical, grammatical, and formatting errors can substantially affect how your work is perceived.

Additionally, some students underestimate the importance of a concise, impactful introduction and conclusion. The introduction should present your research question, outline your approach, and capture the reader’s interest. A strong introduction sets the essay’s tone and clarifies what to expect. Similarly, the conclusion should briefly summarize the essential findings and reflect on the significance of the research. It’s your final chance to impress and convey the depth of your analysis and its contributions to the field.


Understanding and adhering to the IB extended essay rubric is crucial. These guidelines help you structure your research and deepen your engagement with the topic. Armed with the right strategies, you’ll be well on your way to excelling in your IB extended essay.

Keep these guidelines in mind, stay organized, and let your curiosity guide your research. Good luck, and remember that our experienced IB experts are always available to help with your extended essay.

Nick Radlinsky

Nick Radlinsky

Nick Radlinsky is a devoted educator, marketing specialist, and management expert with more than 15 years of experience in the education sector. After obtaining his business degree in 2016, Nick embarked on a quest to achieve his PhD, driven by his commitment to enhancing education for students worldwide. His vast experience, starting in 2008, has established him as a reputable authority in the field.

Nick's article, featured in Routledge's "Entrepreneurship in Central and Eastern Europe: Development through Internationalization," highlights his sharp insights and unwavering dedication to advancing the educational landscape. Inspired by his personal motto, "Make education better," Nick's mission is to streamline students' lives and foster efficient learning. His inventive ideas and leadership have contributed to the transformation of numerous educational experiences, distinguishing him as a true innovator in his field.

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Understanding the IB extended essay rubric is essential for success. The rubric provides a framework that grades students on several key criteria including the sharpness of their research question, the rigor of their methodology, the breadth and depth of their knowledge, the fluidity and clarity of their argumentation, and their personal engagement with the research topic.

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