Two of the most challenging aspects of the IB Diploma Programme are the Extended Essay (EE) and Theory of Knowledge (TOK). Most IB students begin the IB prepared to take on their six chosen academic subjects. However, it is easy to forget that on top of these six subject choices, just as important for the completion of an IB Diploma is CAS, the 4,000 word EE project, oral presentation and 1,600-word essay for TOK. Since the implementation of the Elite IB Summer Courses, the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge workshop has been a key, component of the Courses.
Completing these two aspects of the Diploma are of great benefit to students. However, as Elite IB Director Tim Hoffmann explains, students are often unprepared for beginning to tackle the EE and TOK. Recently the IBO changed the structure of the IB resulting in a greater focus on TOK, intending to make students more aware of how it works, the deadlines and the benefits. As a result, it has greater importance in the IB, but still as Tim puts it, “students often don’t know why they’re writing an Extended Essay and completing the TOK.”
The Elite IB Summer Courses help students to begin to consider what the value of these aspects are, allowing students to explore a topic of interest in more depth and gain valuable research skills, which are of advantage in applying to university. One of the things which the Mid-IB Course provides is a chance for students to explore subject selection for the Extended Essay, whilst taking part in a combination of subject selection workshops with essay writing workshops allowing students to build a solid foundation for approaching essay writing.
Being an IB graduate himself, Tim extols the benefits of the Core Elements of the IBDP, which encourage students to “learn how to solve problems, write essays and approach research across six different subjects means students are generally well prepared to approach both their Extended Essay and TOK when the time comes.” Over his many years of tutoring and running Elite IB, Tim has found that one skill that perhaps needs a bit of extra effort and thought in picking a very specific research question for the Extended Essay. Most students will pick quite a broad title, meaning their research is then too wide-ranging and results and answers may come across muddled. 4,000 words initially looks enormous, but having the foresight to see that this can really only touch the surface of an area of research is a skill in itself. For both the EE & TOK assessing the reputability of sources is important – with the wealth of information now available online, through Google and Wikipedia, it takes a keen eye to ascertain which routes to explore and to extract nuggets of key information in what can otherwise seem an endless supply of contradictory sources.
One of the key aspects of the Pre- and Mid-IB courses is to assist students in focusing their ideas. Constructing research questions correctly helps students conceptualise their research essay correctly, and in a focused and productive way.
While completing these Core Elements of the Diploma might seem stressful, they do bring many benefits. Being able to carry out independent research is a real hallmark of the IBDP, and sets students apart from those in other equivalent school-leaving systems. As Tim points out, ”it is a skillset absolutely necessary for university, and a necessary transition from some rote learning to more inquisitive and research-driven learning. As all students need to do them, it is also a nice leveller between the more humanities-focused students, and more scientifically minded.”
So, don’t think about the EE and TOK as tiresome tasks, but as an opportunity to explore areas of interest in greater depth and build useful skills. Because remember, as Tim says, you don’t know what you don’t know.