Chemistry Extended Essay Topic Ideas

IB students around the globe fear writing the Extended Essay, but it doesn't have to be a source of stress! In this article, I'll get you excited about writing your Extended Essay and provide you with the resources to get an A.    

If you're reading this article, I assume you're an IB Student getting ready to write your Extended Essay. If you're looking at this as a potential future IB student, I recommend reading our other introductory IB articles first: What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? and What is the IB Curriculum? What are IB Diploma Requirements?

 

Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I'm a recipient of an IB Diploma, and I happened to receive an A on my IB Extended Essay. If you don’t believe me, the proof is in the IBO pudding,

If you're confused by what this report means, EE is short for Extended Essay, and English A1 is the subject that my Extended Essay topic coordinated with. In layman’s terms, my IB Diploma was graded during May 2010, I wrote my Extended Essay in the English A1 category, and I received a grade A. 

 

What Is the Extended Essay?

The IB Extended Essay (or EE) is a 4,000 word structured mini-thesis that you write under the supervision of an advisor (an IB teacher at your school), which counts towards your IB Diploma (to learn about all of the IB diploma requirements, check out our other article). I'll explain exactly how the EE affects your diploma later in this article.

For the Extended Essay, you choose a research question as a topic; this topic needs to be approved by IBO (which is not very difficult). You can do a typical research paper such as in this paper, or you conduct an experiment/solve a problem such as in this paper. Most schools allow you to pick your advisor (an IB teacher preferably at your school, although you can also get access to one at another school through the Pamoja Education). I'll explain how to pick your IB EE advisor below. 

The IB Extended Essay must include: 

  • A cover page
  • An abstract (one-page synopsis of your essay)
  • A table of contents
  • The 4,000-word essay (which will range from 10-20 pages depending on whether your topic requires illustrations such as an experiment would)
  • A bibliography
Your completed Extended Essay will then sent to the IBO to be graded (I will go into more detail on grading below). 

 

 

What Should You Write About in Your Extended Essay?

You can technically write about anything, so long as the IBO approves it. However, you should choose a topic that falls into one of theIB Course Categories, (such as Theatre, Film, Spanish, French, Math, Biology, etc.) which shouldn’t be difficult because there are so many class subjects. Here is a range of sample topics with the attached extended essay: 

You can see from how varied the topics are that you have a lot of freedom when it comes to picking a topic. So, how do you pick when the options are limitless? I will help you with that next:

 

 

6 Tips for Writing a Grade A Extended Essay

Below are the six key tips you need to follow to write an outstanding Extended Essay.

 

Tip #1: Write About Something You Enjoy 

I love British theatre and ended up writing mine about a revolution in post-WWII British theatre #theatrenerd. I really encourage anyone who pursues an IB Diploma to take the Extended Essay seriously. I ended up receiving a full-tuition merit scholarship to USC’s School of Dramatic Arts program and in my interview for the scholarship, I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay. I genuinely think my Extended Essay helped me get my scholarship.   

How do you find a topic you are passionate about? Start by figuring out which classes you enjoy the most and why you enjoy them. Do you like Math because you like to problem solve? Or do you enjoy English because you like to analyze texts?

Once you have figured out a general subject area such as Physics, you should brainstorm more specific topics by putting pen to paper. What was your favorite chapter you learned in that class? Was it astrophysics or mechanics? What did you like about that specific chapter? Is there something you want to learn more about? I recommend spending an hour on this type of brainstorming. 

 

Tip #2: Chose a Topic That Is Not Too Broad or Too Narrow

This is a fine line. You need to write about something specific, but not so specific that you can’t write 4,000 words on it. You can’t write about WWII because that would be a book's worth of material. You don’t want to write about what type of soup prisoners of war received in POW camps because you probably can’t come up with 4000 words on it. However, you could possibly write about how the conditions in German POW camps were directly affected by the Nazis successes and failures. This may be too obvious of a topic, but you get my point.

If you're really stuck trying to find a not too broad or narrow topic, I recommend trying to brainstorm a topic that uses a comparison. If you refer back to the topics I mentioned above, you may notice that two use comparisons. 

I also used comparison in my EE, comparing Harold Pinter's Party Time to John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in order to show a transition in British Theatre. Topics with comparisons of 2-3 plays/books/diets/etc. tend to be in the sweet spot of not too narrow or broad because you can analyze each portion and after doing in-depth analysis on each, you compare and explain the significance of the comparison. The key here is that the comparison needs to be significant. I compared two plays to show a transition in British Theatre.

Comparisons are not the only way to get a grade A EE. If after brainstorming, you pick a non-comparison based topic and you are still unsure if a topic is too broad or narrow, spend 30 minutes doing some basic research and see how much material is out there. If there are over 1,000 books/articles/documentaries out there on the exact topic, it may be too broad. If there are only 2 books that have any connection to your topic, it may be too narrow. If you are still unsure, ask your advisor! Speaking of advisors:

 

Don't get stuck with a narrow topic!

 

 

Tip #3: Choose an Advisor Who Is Familiar With Your Topic 

If you are not certain of who you would like to be your advisor, I would start by creating a list of your top three choices. Next, create a list of pros and cons (I know this sounds tedious, but it really helps!).

For example, Mr. Green is my favorite teacher, and we get along really well, but he teaches English, and I want to conduct an experiment to compare the efficiency of American Hybrid Cars to Foreign Hybrid Cars. Ms. White teaches Physics, I had her a year ago, and she liked me. She could help me design my experiment. I am going to ask Ms. White! 

Do NOT just ask your favorite teacher to be your advisor. They may be a hindrance to you if they teach another subject. I would not suggest asking your Biology teacher to guide you in writing your English EE.

EXCEPTION: If you have a teacher who is passionate and knowledgeable about your topic (as my English teacher was about my Theatre topic), you can ask that instructor. Consider all of your options first before you do. There was no theatre teacher at my school, so I could not find a theatre-specific advisor, but I chose the next best thing.

Some IB high schools require your IB Extended Essay advisor to sign an Agreement Form. Make sure you ask your IB coordinator if there is any required paperwork. IBO does not require any paperwork. If your school needs a Form signed, make sure you bring it with you when you ask a teacher to be your EE advisor. 

 

Tip #4: Choose an Advisor Who Will Push You to Be Your Best

Some teachers may just take on students because they have to and may not be passionate about reading drafts and may not give you a lot of feedback. Choose a teacher who will take the time to read several drafts and give you extensive notes. I would not have gotten my A without being pushed to make the draft better.

Ask a teacher that you have experience with through class or an extracurricular activity. Do not ask a teacher that you have no connection to; a teacher who does not know you is unlikely to push you. 

Note: The IBO only allows advisors to suggest improvements to the EE, but they may not be engaged in writing the EE. The IBO recommends that the supervisor spends approximately two to three hours in total with the candidate discussing the EE.

 

Tip #5: Make Sure Your Essay Has a Clear Structure and Flow

IB likes structure. Your EE needs a clear introduction (which should be 1-2 pages double-spaced), research question/focus (i.e. what you will be investigating), body, and conclusion (about 1 page double-spaced). An essay that has unclear or poor organization will be graded poorly. Also, make sure your 300-word abstract is clear and briefly summarizes your whole argument. An ambiguous abstract will make it more challenging for the reader to follow your essay’s argument and will also hurt the grading of your EE. 

The body of your EE should make up the bulk of the essay. It should be about 8-18 pages double-spaced (again just depending on whether or not you include diagrams). Your body can be split into multiple parts. For example, if you are doing a comparison, you might have 1/3 of your body as Novel A Analysis, 1/3 as Novel B Analysis, and the last 1/3 as Comparison of Novel A and B Analysis.

If you are conducting an experiment or analyzing data such as in this EE, your EE body will have a clear and obvious parts following the scientific method: stating the research question, discussing your method, showing the data, analyzing the data, discussing uncertainties, and drawing a conclusion/evaluating the experiment.  

 

Tip #6: Start Writing Sooner Rather Than Later!

You will not be able to crank out a 4,000-word essay in a week and get an A. You will be reading many, many articles (and, depending on your topic, possibly books, plays, and watching movies). Start the research possible as soon as possible. 

Each school has a slightly different deadline for the Extended Essay. Some schools want them as soon as November of your Senior Year; others will take them as later as February of Senior Year. Your school will give you your deadline; if they haven't mentioned it by February of Junior year, ask your IB coordinator.

Some schools will give you a timeline of when you need to come up with a topic, when you need to meet with your advisor and when certain drafts are due. Not all schools do. Ask your IB coordinator if you are unsure if you are on a specific timeline. Here is my recommended timeline, it is earlier than most schools, but it will save you so much heartache (trust me, I remember):

  • January/February of Junior Year: Come up with your final research topic (or at least top 3). 
  • February of Junior Year: Approach a teacher about being your EE advisor (if he or she says no, keep asking others until you find one - see my notes above on how to pick an EE advisor). 
  • April/May of Junior Year: Submit an outline of your EE and a bibliography of potential research sources (I recommend at least 7-10) to your EE advisor. Meet with your EE advisor to discuss your outline. 
  • Summer between Junior and Senior Year: Complete your first full draft over the summer between Junior and Senior Year! I know, I know no one wants to work during the summer, but trust me this will save you so much stress come the fall when you are busy with college applications and other IB internal assessments for your IB classes. You will want to have this first full draft done because you will want to complete a couple of draft cycles as you likely won’t be able to get everything you want to say into 4000 articulate words the first time. Try to get this first draft into the best possible shape you can, so that you do not have to work on too many revisions during the school year on top of your homework/college applications/work/extracurriculars/etc.  
  • August/September of Senior Year: Turn in your first draft of your EE to your advisor and receive feedback. Work on incorporating their feedback into your essay. If they have a lot of suggestions for improvement, ask if they will read one more draft before the final draft. 
  • September/October of Senior Year: Submit second draft of EE to your advisor (if necessary) and receive their feedback. Work on creating the best possible final draft. 
  • November-February of Senior Year: Submit two copies of your final draft to your school to be sent off to IBO. You likely will not get your grade until after you graduate. 

 

The early bird DOES get the worm!

 

How’s the Extended Essay Graded?

Extended essays are marked by external assessors (examiners appointed by the IB) on a scale of 0 to 36. There are "general" and "subject-specific" criteria, at a ratio of 2:1 (24 possible marks for the general criteria and 12 marks for the subject-specific one). The total mark is converted into a grade from A to E, using the below parameters:

Rubric Assessment Points Earned Descriptor Letter
Grade 30 – 36Excellent: A
25 – 29Good: B
17 – 24Satisfactory: C
9 – 16Mediocre: D
0 - 8Elementary: E

Here is the typical breakdown of scores (from 2008):

% Awarded Grade

A

B

C

D

E

Extended Essay

10.59%

16.50%

38.88%

27.62%

6.41%

How Does the Extended Essay Grade Affect Your IB Diploma?

The Extended Essay grade is combined with your TOK (Theory of Knowledge) grade to determine how many points you get towards your IB Diploma. To learn about Theory of Knowledge or how many points you need to receive your IB Diploma, read our other articles on What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? or IB Diploma Requirements. This diagram shows how the two scores are combined to determine how many points you receive for your IB diploma (3 being the most, 0 being the least). 

 


 

So, let’s say you get an A on your EE and a B on TOK, you will get 3 points towards your diploma. Note: this chart is slightly outdated. Prior to the class of 2010, a diploma candidate could receive a failing grade in either the extended essay or theory of knowledge and still be awarded a diploma. However, as of 2014 (for the first examination in May 2015), a student who scores an E on either the extended essay or TOK essay will not be eligible to receive an IB diploma.

 

Sample Extended Essays

In case you want a little more guidance on how to get an A EE. Here are 50 Excellent (grade A) sample extended essays for your reading pleasure:  

 

What’s Next?

Trying to figure out what extracurricular you should do? Learn more about participating in Science Olympiad, starting a club, doing volunteer work, and joining Student Government. 

Studying for the SAT? Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check out our guide to cramming. 

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

Extended essay in chemistry

The following is an overview of the extended essay guidelines for chemistry (IBO documents)

An extended essay in chemistry provides students with an opportunity to investigate a particular aspect of the materials of our environment. Such extended essays must be characterized by a particular chemical emphasis within a more general set of research criteria.

The outcome of the research should be a coherent and structured piece of writing that effectively addresses a particular issue or research question and arrives at a particular, and preferably personal, conclusion.

Choice of topic

It is important that the extended essay has a clear chemical emphasis and is not more closely related to another subject. Chemistry is the science that deals with the composition, characterization and transformation of substances. A chemistry extended essay should, therefore, incorporate chemical principles and theory, and emphasize the essential nature of chemistry, relating to the study of matter and of the changes it undergoes.

Although the same assessment criteria apply to all extended essays, for an extended essay submitted in chemistry the topic chosen must allow an approach that distinctly involves chemistry. Where a topic might be approached from different viewpoints, the treatment of the material must be approached from a chemistry perspective. For example, an extended essay in an interdisciplinary area such as biochemistry will, if registered as a chemistry extended essay, be judged on its chemical content, not its biological content.

The scope of the topic and the research associated with it should enable all the criteria to be addressed. A good topic is one where the single research question is sharply focused and can be treated effectively within the word limit. Perhaps the most important factor is the depth of treatment that can be given to the topic by the student. Broad or complex survey topics (for example, investigations into health problems caused by water pollution, chemotherapy for cancer treatment or the use of spectroscopy in chemical analysis) will not permit the student to discuss conflicting ideas and theories, nor to produce an in-depth personal analysis within the word limit.

Some topics may be unsuitable for investigation because of safety issues. For example, experiments involving toxic or dangerous chemicals, carcinogenic substances or radioactive materials should be avoided unless adequate safety apparatus and qualified supervision are available.

Other topics may be unsuitable because the outcome is already well known and documented in standard textbooks, and the student may not be able to show any personal input. An example might be a study of the reactions of the alkali metals with water as this is already covered by the syllabus. However, some care does need to be exercised in deciding whether a topic is suitable or not; for example, previously, the study of the allotropes of carbon might have been thought to be trivial but this would not be the case today.

Example essay titles

The following examples of titles for chemistry extended essays are intended as guidance only. The pairings illustrate that focused topics (indicated by the first title) should be encouraged rather than broad topics (indicated by the second title).

“The ratio of the gases evolved at the positive electrode during the electrolysis of common salt solution” is better than “Electrolysis of solutions”.

“Spectrophotometric determination of trace amounts of lead in drinking water” is better than “Water analysis”.

“The effects of sugar-free chewing gum on the pH of saliva in the mouth after a meal” is better than “Acid–base chemistry”.

“How can the natural oxidant rutin be extracted and purified from the seed of the Chinese Scholartree?” is better than “Extraction of natural products from plants”.

Moreover, it may help if the student further defines and refines the topic chosen for study in the form of a research question or statement.

Title

The ratio of the gases evolved at the positive electrode during the electrolysis of common salt solution

Research question

Is there a relationship between the concentration of aqueous sodium chloride solution and the ratio of the amounts of oxygen and chlorine gas that are evolved at the positive electrode during electrolysis.

Title

The caffeine content of a cup of tea

Research question

Does the time it takes to brew a cup of tea using a specific commercial brand of tea leaves significantly alter the amount of caffeine that is dissolved in the drink?

Title

Analysis of strawberry jellies by paper chromatography

Research question

The use of paper chromatography to determine whether strawberry jellies obtained from 24 different countries in 5 different continents all contain the same red dyes.

Treatment of the topic

An extended essay in chemistry may be based on literature, theoretical models or experimental data. Whichever category or combination of categories is chosen, the student should ensure that sufficient data is available for evaluation and that the topic can be researched accurately using locally available resources.

Students who choose to write an extended essay based on literature and/or surveys should ensure that their extended essay clearly shows its chemical basis. Essays written at the level of a newspaper or news magazine article are unlikely to achieve a high mark.

Since chemistry is an experimental science, students are strongly encouraged to undertake experimental work as part of their research, although this is not compulsory. In order to place their research into the appropriate context, students should research the area of the investigation before commencing any experimental work. Where possible, they should consult original research using scientific journals, personal communications and the internet. Textbooks should never be the only source of information.

All essays involving experimental work undertaken by the student should include a clear and concise description of the experimental work. Students should indicate clearly whether they have personally designed the experiment, or give the source of an existing experiment method that they have used and state how they have adapted and improved upon it. All essays must be supervised by a school supervisor.

Many of the best essays are written by students investigating relatively simple phenomena using apparatus and materials that can be found in most school laboratories, and this approach is to be encouraged. If the practical work is carried out in an industrial or university laboratory, the essay should be accompanied by a letter from the external supervisor outlining the nature of the supervision and the level of guidance provided. The school supervisor must be satisfied that the work described in the essay is genuine and essentially that of the student.

Data collected from an experiment designed by the student is of little value unless it is analysed using appropriate scientific techniques, evaluated and perhaps compared with appropriate models.

It is possible to produce an extended essay in chemistry in which the student has used data collected elsewhere as the primary source. In such cases, the element of personal analysis and evaluation is extremely important.

In any chemistry extended essay, students should be able to demonstrate that they understand the theory underlying any experimental work and state any assumptions made. They should show an understanding of the results obtained and be able to interpret them with reference to the research question posed. They should be critical of inadequate experimental design, the limitations of the experimental method and any systematic errors.

Students should be encouraged to consider unresolved questions in their research, and to suggest new questions and areas for further investigation in their conclusion. Throughout the whole of the essay, students should emphasize clearly their own personal contribution.

Interpreting the assessment criteria

Criterion A: research question

Many research questions can be formulated as an actual question or questions. A typical example is: “What gas is evolved when zinc is added to copper (II) sulfate solution and what factors affect its formation?”. However, in chemistry extended essays it is perfectly reasonable to formulate the research question as a statement or as a hypothesis rather than an actual question. “An analysis of the amount of aluminium in three different brands of underarm deodorant by visible spectroscopy” and “The kinetics of oxidation of iodide ions with hydrogen peroxide in acidic solutions” are two such examples where a statement rather than a question is appropriate. Whichever way it is formulated, it should be identified clearly as the research question and set out prominently in the introduction.

Criterion B: introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to set the research question into context, that is, to relate the research question to existing knowledge in chemistry. It is usually appropriate to include also the underlying chemical theory required to understand how the research question has arisen. Some research questions require some background knowledge that is not related to chemistry—for example, “Do the fossils found in different strata of rocks at a particular location contain different amounts of sulfur?” . For the essay to make sense, it would be important to state the ages of the rocks and give some geological background. In such cases, only the essential non-chemistry information should be provided in the introduction, as the essay will be marked on its chemical content. If it is necessary to include more non-chemistry (for example, geological) information, then the appropriate place for it is the appendix.

Criterion C: investigation

The way in which the investigation is undertaken will depend very much on whether or not the essay contains experimental work performed by the student. For non-experimental essays, students should endeavour to show clearly how the data has been selected. They should distinguish between primary sources (original scientific publications, personal communications, interviews) and secondary sources (textbooks, newspaper articles, reviews), and show awareness of how reliable these sources are. For experimental work, sufficient information should be provided so that the work could be repeated if necessary by an independent worker. Students should make it clear which experiments they have designed themselves and which they have altered, adapted or improved from existing methods.

Criterion D: knowledge and understanding of the topic studied

Students should show that they understand fully the underlying chemistry behind the context of their research question and their subsequent investigation. They are not expected to explain basic chemistry forming part of the Diploma Programme chemistry course, but they are expected to show that they fully understand the relevant principles and ideas and can apply them correctly. They should also demonstrate that they understand the theory behind any techniques or apparatus used.

Criterion E: reasoned argument

Students should be aware of the need to give their essays the backbone of a developing argument. A good argument in chemistry will almost certainly include consideration and comparison of different approaches and methods directly relevant to the research question. Straightforward descriptive or narrative accounts that lack analysis do not usually advance an argument and should be avoided.

Criterion F: application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject

A thorough understanding of the reliability of all data used to support the argument should be shown. Inadequate experimental design or any systematic errors should be exposed. The magnitude of uncertainties in physical data should be evaluated and discussed. Approximations in models should be accounted for and all assumptions examined thoroughly. Where possible, the quality of sources accessed or data generated should be verified by secondary sources or by direct calculations.

Criterion G: use of language appropriate to the subject

Correct chemical terminology and nomenclature should be used consistently and effectively throughout the extended essay. Relevant chemical formulas (including structural formulas), balanced equations (including state symbols) and mechanisms should be included. The correct units for physical quantities must always be given and the proper use of significant figures is expected.

Criterion H: conclusion

The conclusion must be consistent with the argument presented and should not merely repeat material in the introduction or introduce new or extraneous points to the argument. In chemistry, it is almost always pertinent to consider unresolved questions and to suggest areas for further investigation.

Criterion I: formal presentation

This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).

The essay must not exceed 4,000 words of narrative. Graphs, figures, calculations, diagrams, formulas and equations are not included in the word count. For experiments where numerical results are calculated from data obtained by changing one of the variables, it is generally good practice to show one example of the calculation. The remainder can be displayed in tabular or graphical form.

Criterion J: abstract

The abstract is judged on the clarity with which it presents an overview of the research and the essay, not on the quality of the research question itself, nor on the quality of the argument or the conclusions.

Criterion K: holistic judgment

Qualities that are rewarded under this criterion include the following.

Intellectual initiative: Ways of demonstrating this in chemistry essays include the choice of topic and research question, and the use of novel or innovative approaches to address the research question.

Insight and depth of understanding: These are most likely to be demonstrated as a consequence of detailed research and thorough reflection, and by a well-informed and reasoned argument that consistently and effectively addresses the research question.

Originality and creativity: These will be apparent by clear evidence of a personal approach backed up by solid research and reasoning.


Resources

The assessment criteria

Past essay titles

Example extended essay 2013

Example extended essay 2013

Example extended essay 2013

Example extended essay 2012

Example extended essay 2012

Extended essay examiners report 2012

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