At the beginning of the school year, BSGE 11th graders begin their year-long assignment: the Extended Essay. Although this assignment may sound tedious and intimidating, it is a crucial part of the IB program. “I was overwhelmed at first because it sounded like a really complicated paper,” said Angelica Benares ‘16. This essay, put simply, is a mandatory independent research paper on a topic of interest with a maximum of 4,000 words.
At BSGE, students are required to choose their discipline from one of the three IB Higher Level classes— History of the Americas, English Literature, and Visual Art. However, every year there are a few exceptions to the rule: a very small percentage of students choose Standard Level topics, such as Biology SL or Math SL. The difference between IB HL and IB SL is that HL is generally more difficult and in depth than SL. Because in HL classes students are able to learn more difficult material, they are encouraged to write their Extended Essays on topics belonging to those disciplines. The few exceptions to this rule are students who have very strong interests in the SL subjects and also have extracurricular connections to them. For example, a student who attends a Biology class and lab at a community college every weekend may be able to choose Biology as their discipline for the Extended Essay.
For many juniors this year, choosing the right discipline was straightforward and easy. “I knew I was going to do history,” said Malcolm Sherman-Godfrey ‘17. “I like it because it’s facts, not just made up interpretations.” Each student writing the Extended Essay gets assigned a supervisor, usually a teacher with expertise in the subject. Because supervisors have limited time for their students, there are limited spots available for each discipline. In the initial steps of the EE process, after choosing their topic, every student is required to conduct research on the topic and then present it to their advisories. Their advisors will then grade their presentations based on content and delivery, and then determine whether the student should be allowed to pursue their intended discipline. In some cases, when too many students choose the same discipline, the students with the highest presentation grades are prioritized. Students who are unable to get their desired disciplines choose another discipline and topic to work on. In the previous years, there were often times when students could not get their desired disciplines because of supervisors’ limited availability. Fortunately, this year, all juniors were able to get their desired disciplines.
Based on statistics from the past 6 years (2010-2016), the discipline most frequently chosen by students is History. On average, about 32 students every year choose History as their discipline. The topics range in diversity from the War of the Pacific to Jim Crow segregation in the South to the Judicial Review. Along with this, an average of 15 students choose Literature (topics include the function of perspective in Art Spiegelman’s Maus and the motif of doubling in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) and 17 students choose Art (topics include the use of style in Otto Dix’s artworks and Barbara Kruger’s influence on American culture). Besides these three main disciplines, so far only two students have written about Biology, one student about Chemistry, one student about Math SL and one about Spanish B.
Once students have settled with their disciplines, they begin their year-long process of writing the Extended Essay. This includes constant trips to the library for research, weekend visits to museums, and, usually, excessive flipping through books. But don’t fret: supervisors and teachers will always be there to guide you. “Each step of the way was really beneficial for completing the final paper,” said Angelica. “If I had to give advice to anyone, I would say follow all the directions that your supervisors give, because that leads up to writing the actual Extended Essay.”