Introduction to the Role of the Extended Essay Supervisor

The extended essay will be addressed to the student in the following way in order to place the onus on them to take ownership of the essay writing process.

While you may not be an expert on the subject the student has chosen, it helps if you can share the student’s interest in the topic chosen. An open honest and friendly relationship will build on the trust that the student places in you. At times you may need to be quite tough with the student in order to avoid them continuing with a poor research question or if you think their work on the essay is below the standard you would expect from them.

Your role as supervisor is to ensure that:

  • the student completes the information on EE Requirements and on Research before launching into the essay;
  • students use all the resources available to them online and any resources in their schools;
  • students choose a suitable research question that will lend itself to an analytical approach;
  • student develop the best possible essay in line with their ability;
  • the essay complies with the formal requirements of an academic essay;

Helping students come up with a research question:

  • This is a really vital area and supervisors need to be cruel to be kind and to stop students from carrying on with a poor research area.
  • The research area can be identified early in the process but may be refined/changed once the research and writing has started.
  • The question needs to be approached with an open mind. Phrases like “I intend to prove” may lead to presumptions and false research.
  • Be very wary of students who want to measure the unmeasurable i.e. sometimes they will force a connection between two phenomena or events and assume an impact/connection that is not there.

When students are reviewing their resources, ask:

  • What key terms did they use to search for resources?
  • Where did they research?
  • Did students use the school library? If so, what was the result?
  • Did they ask the school librarian? If not, why not?
  • Did students use online databases, as opposed to the free Internet? If so, what were the results?
  • Did they consider using local university libraries, especially for journals and databases?

Commenting on parts of the essay or the full draft:

This is a vital part of your role as supervisor and provided you know the limits of your intervention it is going to improve the essay at every stage. The key to success is to increase the student’s understanding of the shortcomings of their essays by posing open-ended questions and directing them to see what improvements are needed. Comments can be added that indicate that the essay could be improved. These comments should be open-ended and not involve editing the text.

Note: Keep an eye on the survey question “Are you clear with where you intend to go with the essay?” you may find some of the students to be unsure or stuck. They will require some feedback to get them on the right track. View the ‘Can’ and ‘Cannot’ tabs to guide you how to do this.

The supervisor’s role in commenting on one completed draft of the essay:

This is a very important stage in the essay writing process and as it the last time you will be able to give advice it is important to get it right. If you are too light on the advice the essay will go forward as a weaker piece of work than it needs to be; too heavy and it does not comply with the model for the EE which is that it is owned and written by the student.

The best approach is for the student to submit the essay ahead of the online meeting. You should take some time to read the essay through and check it against the student extended essay Checklist. It is also a good idea to assess it against the extended essay assessment criteria and to give the student some indication of the mark/grade reached this stage. If they have also assessed their essay but given it a very different mark it could be useful to discuss why you have this difference in marks. Then you will probably want to add comments on the essay that can then be discussed. Please refer to the guidance aforementioned on the best way to comment on essays. Also in this dialogue, you may need to address any concerns the student has flagged up in analysing their own essay.
Additionally, it is the responsibility of a supervisor to confirm that, for each student, he or she has supervised, to the best of his or her knowledge, the version of the extended essay submitted for assessment is the authentic work of the student.

Both plagiarism and collusion are forms of malpractice that incur a penalty.

A grade scheme A-E has been created but please place the actual score in the feedback for the student.

According to IB, Supervisors are required to:

  • undertake three mandatory reflection sessions with each student they are supervising
  • sign and date each reflection summarized on the Reflections on planning and progress form and provide comments at the end of the process. If the form is not signed by both the student and the supervisor, it may result in:
    • a delay in a grade being issued for the extended essay
    • criterion E (engagement) being compromised—the examiner may not be able to apply criterion E due to missing or lacking information
    • the essay being referred as a possible case of academic misconduct as a result of not being authenticated
  • provide students with advice and guidance in the skills of undertaking research
  • encourage and support students throughout the research and writing of the extended essay
  • discuss the choice of topic with each student and, in particular, help to formulate a well-focused research question which is suitable to the subject of registration and ensure that the chosen research question satisfies appropriate legal and ethical standards with regard to health and safety, confidentiality, human rights, animal welfare and environmental issues
  • is familiar with the regulations governing the extended essay and the assessment criteria, and gives copies of these to students
  • monitor the progress of the extended essay to offer guidance and to ensure that the essay is the student’s own work (this may include presenting a section of the essay for supervisor comment)
  • read and comment on one draft only of the extended essay (but do not edit the draft); this should take place after the interim reflection session, but before the final reflection session, the viva voce
  • ensure that the final version of the essay is handed in before the final reflection session (viva voce) takes place, and that no changes are made to it subsequently
  • read the final version and, in conjunction with the viva voce, confirm its authenticity.

The student may work with or consult external experts in a particular area of specialism but it remains the responsibility of the supervisor within the school to complete all the requirements described above. See the section on the role of external mentors.

According to IB, Supervisors are strongly recommended to:

  • read recent extended essay reports for the subject
  • spend between three and five hours with each student, including the time spent on the three mandatory reflection sessions
  • encourage the development of a Researcher’s reflection spacefor students
  • set a clear schedule for the reflection sessions
  • ensure that the chosen research question is appropriate for the subject
  • advise students on:

What supervisors can do:

Here is a list of likely problems/scenarios with essays and a suggested comment that does not overstep the mark for a supervisor but which should help the student to improve their essay:

Issue: How to comment:
The research question is written differently in two or more of the following: the abstract, the title page, the introduction. Check the research question in these two/three places –do you notice anything?
The student is writing the essay in their second language and there is a passage where the meaning is very unclear. I am having difficulty understanding what you mean here. Could we talk it through with me to help you re-write it in your own words?
The essay digresses and there is no definite argument I am finding it difficult to follow your argument here-can you explain what you are trying to assert?
 The student has made an error in their calculations. You need to check this page carefully.
The essay has an incomplete reference You need to check this page for accuracy of referencing.
The writing style of the essay changes suddenly and becomes more fluent than is usual for the student. You need to show that you have noticed a change of writing style in their essay. (It is tricky because you do not want to accuse the student of plagiarism. What may have happened is that they have unintentionally plagiarised a passage from a written source).
The student seems to have left out a section of the essay. I think you may be missing something here-I suggest you check this section against the table of requirements?
The essay places something in the essay that should be in an appendix or vice versa. Are you sure this belongs here?
The conclusion is poor. What is it you are trying to say here? Have you included all your findings? Have you looked at unanswered questions?

What supervisors cannot do:

  • Correct spelling and punctuation
  • Correct experimental work or mathematics
  • Give students an idea for a theme
  • Re-write any of the essay
  • Indicate where whole sections of the essay might be better placed

What to do if your student is stuck!

If you have a student who is not able to come up with a topic you may have to guide them towards an effective research question by holding a dialogue with them. It is important that they take themselves towards the question without too much direction from you.

The dialogue about a history extended essay below illustrates how you might manage to do this:

Student: I want to do an EE in history because it is my favourite subject and I think I want to study it at the university.
Supervisor: Is there anything you have studied in the history course that you would like to get into more deeply?
Student: Well perhaps something in 19th-century French history.
Supervisor: Well that narrows it down, but remember you need to have a very tight focus and be able to access a range of sources for the extended essay to work well-think about an event you might like to focus on
Student: I’m quite interested in the Dreyfus Affair.
Supervisor: That could be a very promising topic area but you need to guard against just telling the story of what happened to Dreyfus. What aspect of the Affair interests you do you think?
Student: I’m not sure but I was wondering whether to home in on the novelist Zola’s role in it.
Supervisor: Well that sounds a great focus -why don’t you go away and read up on the Dreyfus Affair and Zola’s role in it and see if you can come up with any angles on it that could develop into research areas.

–A week later–

Supervisor: Any joy then-what did you find out?
Student: I was pretty surprised by how much of an impact Zola’s pamphlet J’Accuse seems to have made on the Dreyfus affair.
Supervisor: In what way did it make an impact?
Student: I think you could say it marked a turning point in splitting opinion in France and giving Dreyfus’ supporters a voice
Supervisor: Ok that is great so you could look at the impact J’Accuse made or whether it did mark a turning point in the affair. How might you turn your thinking on this into a working research question?
Student: So my research question could be something like either What was the impact of J’Accuse on the Dreyfus affair? or To  what extent did the publication of J’Accuse mark a turning point in the Dreyfus Affair?
Supervisor: Great! The second question is almost a subset of the first and takes you into a more precise area. What I suggest is that you keep both these questions in mind as you do some more research. Before too long one of the questions will emerge as the better of the two.

Remember: In order to ensure you do not spend more than the IB required 5 hours with each student, please ensure you keep track of your time with each student. This time includes reading their submitted work which we predict would be around 1 hour 45mins in total and you should have been planning to spend at least 20-30mins for a meeting ( see below). The guidance here has been designed to give a mandatory 5 meetings plus a viva voce (15mins) which is a total of 2hours 45mins (at 30mins a meeting). This gives you 30mins leeway if the student needs a meeting not set out in the course. If you feel a student needs more points of contact with you during their EE, try and limit the meetings to 20 mins which will allow you to have 9 meetings spanning 3 hours.

Related resources:

IB Extended Essay Guide (updated)

How to prepare your students for Extended Essay

Bringing TOK into the student’s preparation for the Extended Essay