The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an educational foundation with worldwide outreach founded in 1968 and which offers education programs to students or pupils 3 to 19 years old. In 2017, more than 4,650 schools worldwide taught International Baccalaureate programs – this corresponds to roughly 1.4 million IB students in 152 countries. Out of all schools, 1700 are located in the US alone.
An important International Baccalaureate Program (one of the four tracks available) is the Diploma Program aimed at students between 16 and 19 years old – in 2016, roughly 150,000 students worldwide took an IB Diploma Program exam. One of the mandatory IB Diploma requirements is to write an extended essay, which contributes significantly to the total score. Below, we provide some guiding information and a selection of extended essay topics to help get you started with this task.
Definition and Purpose
The IB extended essay is part of the core requirements/curriculum of an IB Diploma Program and involves focused independent research by the IB student on a chosen theme. Resulting papers have a typical length of up to 4000 words long (they should tend to reach this, although writing 3500 words can still be acceptable). A low score (E) for the extended paper and/or Theory of Knowledge essay revokes the right to receive an IB Diploma. By contrast, good marks contribute to the overall score, which could impact a student’s college application success.
While submission deadlines for extended essays are set by the IB, schools are free to set their own internal deadlines. Preparation and work on this assignment spans several academic terms – this includes choosing extended essay topics, submitting proposals, designating supervisors, information gathering (e.g. sources from local libraries), writing a draft (for instance, over a summer break), receiving feedback from supervisors, etc.
IB Extended Essay Layout
There are six required elements in an extended essay layout:
- Title page – should include the title, research question (e.g. “How did phenomenon A cause phenomenon B?”), subject it is registered in, category (for language essays), essay theme and subjects used (for world studies), total word count.
- Contents page – should be at the beginning listing headings and subheadings along with corresponding page numbers these can be found on (all pages should be numbered).
- Introduction – should describe the focus and scope of this research, used sources, line of argument to be presented.
- Essay body – this is the main section where research, analysis, discussion, and evaluation is being performed. The structure might vary from subject to subject but it is essential that evidence and argument development is presented clearly and in appropriate order.
- Conclusion – conclusions state what has been accomplished through this research, but also potential limitations, unsolved issues, open questions.
- References and bibliography – students should adhere to a chosen academic citation style and use it consistently (different citations styles might be required depending on the discipline).
A methodology section or other sections might also be appropriate. Also, there might be an Appendices section if you have supplementary material to add (this is not included in the total word count). Also note that starting with 2018, no abstract is needed – adding it will unnecessarily steal roughly 300 words from the total word count, which will almost certainly prove detrimental (so it’s wise to skip it).
How to Choose a Good Topic
IB students must take six subjects, one from each subject group (there are 6 in total) with the exception that no subject from the sixth group (Arts) is mandatory and can be substituted with a subject from any of the other five groups. IB extended essay topics are normally chosen so that they are related to subjects picked by the student but they must fall into a course belonging to any of the following six subject groups (categories):
- Group 1: Studies in language and literature – this includes subjects like student's native language, Language and Literature, Literature and Performance (interdisciplinary).
- Group 2: Language acquisition – this includes an additional language (either deepening existing knowledge or starting one from zero).
- Group 3: Individuals and societies – includes humanities and social science courses such as Economics, Geography, History, Business Management, Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS), Psychology, Philosophy, Social and Cultural Anthropology and Global Politics, Environmental Systems and Societies, World Religions (interdisciplinary).
- Group 4: Experimental sciences - Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Design Technology, Computer Science, Sport, Exercise and Health Science, Environmental Systems (interdisciplinary), Societies and Nature of Science (interdisciplinary).
- Group 5: Mathematics. Mathematical Studies, Mathematics, Further Mathematics.
- Group 6: Arts – Dance, Music, Theatre, Foreign Languages, Visual Arts, and Film.
It is highly recommended you choose a topic that interests and motivates you – after all, you’ll be working on and perfecting your extended paper over several months. Some challenge (e.g. unfamiliar fields) is also fine but risks should be reasonable. Choose issues that are narrow enough to be explored and covered comprehensively in 4000 words – attempting to do this with a very broad theme, would look very unprofessional.
In order to pick an interesting topic, it might be very useful to have brainstorm sessions on your own (this will help you focus on your interests) but also to browse the web or other resources for lists of potential themes (especially if you feel confused or stuck) – it could very well happen that one such topic would inspire you to choose a related one, which would be even better adjusted to your interests and goals.
Choosing a topic is not the only challenge encountered while writing an extended essay – writing up in a clear, organized manner and using correct language is also a must. Even if you proofread your extended paper several times, there might still be errors you can skip (occasional comas, wrong spellings, etc.).
100 IB Extended Essay Topic Ideas
Below is a list of IB extended essay topic ideas sorted by subject that might help you identify a favorite.
Biology extended essay topics
- Endosymbiotic theory – evidence for how ancient bacteria were “subjugated” and transformed into eukaryotic cell organelles (mitochondria, chloroplasts)
- Fungi – metabolic and molecular similarities with both plants and animals
- Evidence supporting life evolution on Earth near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor
- Current theories and evidence for biological mechanisms responsible for increasing rates of allergic diseases in developed countries
- Tracking ancient people migration events using relative frequencies of blood groups in various geographic regions
- How millennia of breeding made domesticated dogs respond to eye contact by bonding (by producing oxytocin hormone)
- Biological mechanisms of magnetoreception for geographical navigation in various organisms
- Benefits and advances in modelling entire organisms in silico (using computers) – the example of Mycoplasma genitalium as a “whole cell” model
- An analysis of recent adaptive traits evolved in humans (tolerance to arsenic in drinking water in Patagonia, better nutrient assimilation from dairy products in Europe, or from vegetal food in Africa, etc.)
- Neanderthalian DNA in people with European ancestry
Read also: 130 Interesting Biology Research Paper Topics
Psychology extended essay topics
- An interpretation of various historic personalities using the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory
- Abuse suffered in childhood as a reason for oppressive behavior in adulthood
- Instability of memories – how replaying a memory can alter it. Implanting false memories.
- Novel methods to treat phobias
- Self-help therapies using cognitive behavioral therapy
- Lucid dreaming – proven techniques to take control over your dreams
- Imaginative character and trauma as prerequisites for multiple personality disorder onset
- Post-traumatic stress disorder in elephants as compared to humans
- Importance of spaced repetition in learning and modern productivity tools employing space repetition
- Difference between focused and diffuse modes of thinking/learning
English extended essay topics
- An analysis of neologisms (new words) in modern English – the main sources/fields of knowledge or life they come from
- How English grammar rules, word order, etc. influence the way we think (there could be links with psychology)
- Tracing naturalized English words with origin in Sanskrit language
- Systematizing differences between American English and British English
- Most popular English words assimilated by other cultures during British colonialism
- French influences on English language evolution
- American English phonetics – general distinctive patterns systematized
- Foreign languages from which English borrowed words ranked by contribution
- English learning curve as compared to other languages (in categories like pronunciation, grammar, spelling and various subcategories (e.g. article use, verb tense, etc.)
- Main semantic categories in which borrowed Spanish words fall into among English speaking Americans
Literature extended essay topics
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing style (distinctive features, innovation, etc.)
- Postmodernist elements in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five
- Artificial languages in literature (basic statistics, features, limitations, most comprehensive examples, etc.)
- Role of supernatural in Macbeth
- Evolution of ideal woman portrayal in literature
- A depiction of human nature in Kafka’s Metamorphosis
- The gift and curse of intelligence in Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- Widespread misinterpretation of Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf
- An interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize award in literature (including potential controversy)
- Major stylistic Innovations brought by various Nobel prize winners in literature
Read also: Literary Analysis Essay Topics for Students
Geography extended essay topics
- Role of geological evidence in inspiring Darwin’s theory on the origin of species
- Extensive coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef resulting from climate change
- Response of the Caribbean ecosystem following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
- Salt accumulation in soil resulting from unsustainable irrigation practices
- Anticipated climate change impact on oceanic currents
- Massive power outages caused by solar storms – future prevention strategies
- Massive eruption of the Vesuvius supervolcano as the potential cause of Neanderthal extinction
- Polar vortex instability resulting from climate change
- Siberian permafrost thawing – current estimates of methane volume risking to be released and potential implications (according to models)
- Impact of fertilizers on the ecosystem of the Mississippi river
History extended essay topics
- Discovery of the Rosetta stone – event history and importance
- Oldest human settlements as suggested by archeological data, radioactive dating, etc.
- Property rights of black people during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War
- Use of corruption and deception by Abraham Lincoln to pass the 13th amendment
- Reasons for world dominance by Western countries throughout modern history
- Estimates of casualties due to epidemics following landing of Spanish colonizers in South America
- Roosevelt’s evolving rhetoric in WW2 regarding involvement in WW2 against Nazis
- Simultaneous invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and USSR in 1939
- The two-millennial history behind the Terracotta Army: what does it tell us about the Chinese society back then
- The use of human-piloted torpedoes by the Imperial Japanese Navy in WW2
Physics extended essay topics
- “Spooky action at a distance”: quantum entanglement – experimental evidence of a most mysterious phenomenon in universe
- Recreating nuclear reactions happening in the Sun back on Earth: an international scientific quest of harnessing unlimited energy from nuclear fusion reactions (to focus on stellarators and tokamaks)
- The amazing physics of Prince Ruppert’s drops
- Physical mechanisms underlying Earth’s magnetic field
- Cosmic microwave background as evidence supporting the Big Bang
- Redshifted light from galaxies as evidence supporting an expanding universe
- Gravitational waves - generation, propagation laws, detection on Earth, etc.
- A revolution in imaging space: telescope arrays – how do they work?
- Physical properties of laminar flow – application in biosecurity (e.g. ventilation hoods), engineering, decoration (e.g. creative fountains), etc.
- Physical explanation of flashing lights preceding some earthquakes
Film extended essay topics
- Social protest elements in Charlie Chaplin’s movies
- The quest for righteous revenge as a key element in Tarantino’s movies
- Filming techniques used by Guy Ritchie
- Correlation between IMDB marks and various national and international film awards
- Metamorphosis of masculinity in modern times as depicted in Fight club
- Varieties of timeline manipulation techniques in cinematography
- Massively distorted scientist or scientific method portrayal in Sci-Fi movies
- Moving camera – innovative techniques (e.g. as used in Matrix, or Guy Ritchie’s movie)
- Computer graphics capabilities and use in modern cinematography
- Avoiding the “soap opera” effect - why movies stay at 24 frames per second (including future predictions)
Economics extended essay topics
- NAFTA’s impact on Mexican corn producers
- Correlation strength between functional democratic institutions and economic wealth worldwide (including mechanisms)
- Strategies used and advantages exploited by modern China to propel its economy
- Offshore financial centers as a major cause of global economic obscurity – measures to impose global transparency
- How to handle taxation in a world dominated by global corporations
- World’s largest corporations as classified by country
- Impact aging population on global economics
- South Korean phenomenon – reasons for economic miracle
- Implications of the recent discovery of huge rare metal deposits by Japan
- Anticipated economic effects following from job substitution by AI in the USA
World religion studies extended essays topics
- Jesus Christ’s figure in Islam and Judaism
- Buddhism as a religion focused on understanding human nature and human experiences
- Major differences between Buddhists branches
- Common elements shared by world religions (e.g. birth from a virgin, resurrection, antagonism between evil and good, life after death)
- Universe formation (cosmogony) myths in various religions
- Heaven and hell in Christian thought
- Depiction of life after death in various religions (similarities, differences)
- Missionary behavior/attitude as a prerequisite for active expansion of a religion
- A comparison of attitudes adopted by Buddhism and Christianity towards scientific progress/discoveries
- Good vs bad (pure vs sinful) – human nature in various religions
Need Some Expert Help?
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