Think. Type. Coffee. Repeat.
In October of their senior year, this becomes the routine of most seniors involved in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. East requires all seniors to write a senior paper, but IB students have to write the extended essay.
Basically, the extended essay is a 3000-4000 word research paper based on a topic of the student’s choice. Writing the essay is a requirement to receive the IB diploma, and East lets seniors write it in place of the senior paper.
“I think the extended essay is a really intimidating thing,” senior Anna Jones said. “It is a really big task to find something that you can write 4000 words about but at the same time is specific enough that you can find specific research about it.”
Typically, students are supposed to choose a category to write the essay about, pick a specific topic
and then phrase the topic as an answerable question. The most common categories are psychology, biology, history and English. After selecting a category and topic, students then choose a mentor who specializes in their chosen category at East to help them in writing the essay.
“[As a mentor] I help students refine their ideas and narrow their focus,” IB mentor and history teacher Robert Bickers said. “I help guide, but I do minimal hands-on work.”
According to extended essay facilitator Kim VanNice, certain topics are hard to fit into a specific category. In the past, IB students were encouraged to write whatever they wanted and then find a category that their topic fit once they were done. This has led to several problems with essays getting graded in the wrong category, which can cause students not to earn their IB diploma.
“There was also [an essay] that was about the culture of East Coast rap vs. West Coast rap,” VanNice said. “Rap is probably the most violent type of music, [and he] ended up submitting it in Peace and Conflict Studies.”
Situations like the one VanNice mentioned can lead to misinformed grading. With more organization and guidance from Theory of Knowledge (TOK) teachers, however, misgrading is happening less and less. TOK is an IB-specific class during seminar, where students engage in philosophical discussion, as well as learn about other facets of the IB program.
The extended essay is introduced in September of junior year in TOK, with the rough draft due October of senior year and the final paper due the following January. IB students are supposed to choose a topic by spring break of their junior year, and then spend the next few months researching and writing. After turning in rough drafts, students are then expected to make several revisions before having the final copy sent out to be graded overseas.
Although the extended essay is first introduced more than a year before its due date, by the time the rough draft is due, the essay becomes a blip on most IB students’ radars. Jones attributes this to “the mentality everyone has about procrastination. [You] have the time left, and then you don’t.”
Every year, a portion of IB students wait until the week the rough draft of the essay is due to begin working on it. This leads to hours upon hours of research, sleepless nights and heaps of stress.
The week the essay was due, Jones devised a system where she would write several hundred words at a time before taking breaks, sometimes working until 1 a.m. Jones was one of many seniors who would pull out their laptops in class to work on the essay, or spend their afternoons driving back and forth to multiple libraries to find new research. Leaving the Plaza Library, Jones even managed to hit a car in her haste. But she had to keep writing.
“That week,”Jones said. “I just went to the library and found books that were helpful and tried to stick to my outline and just write a set amount of words per view point or topic. And…it got done.”
Senior Henry Recker had originally decided to write about the occurrence of the golden ratio as his topic. Over the summer he had researched and written much of his essay, but after reading online that his topic was extremely difficult to write, he had to pick a new topic and do a complete rewrite.
As opposed to his old topic, Recker has had a much easier time writing about solutions to the cubic equation and their development. At East, IB students are generally advised against choosing Math as a category, as it’s difficult to find an essay topic that hasn’t already been answered.
The extended essay is part of IB’s curriculum so that students can learn how to write a research paper and become knowledgeable about a specific topic. Although many students put off writing the essay, most view it as a good learning experience.
“If I had to write [the essay] over again, I probably would write it over the same topic,” Recker said. “I think I can get a pretty good grade on this.”