On the other side of the page – Behind the scenes of the Extended Essay for IB coordinators

Second semester rolls around and junior IB diploma candidates are faced with their most monumental task: the Extended Essay. It is a paper consisting of 3,000 plus words with hours of research put into it. When all of the extended essay’s pieces are seen from afar, they seem impossible. For the junior diploma candidates, the extended essay seems to be a challenge solely on their part. What they do not realize, however, is all the work IB Coordinators Lisa Green and Wendy Vu have to do during the process.

“All IB tells us is when they want the essays sent in by,” Green said. “We have to plan every other thing ourselves.”

Green said that she and Vu work backwards from the deadline they are given. They must decide when to start, what they will introduce on what dates, when drafts are due and when students should turn the essays in. Their planning, alone, is only a small percentage of the overall task they have to accomplish throughout the year.

“You’re better off having done it,” Vu said. “It’s a process that helps your research skills, and that is the ultimate goal.”

Despite the number of candidates and essays, Vu and Green both said they have favorite things about the process. For both coordinators the experience of working with students to figure out what they are interested in is the most rewarding piece of the extended essay process.

“I love talking to students about the topics they are interested in,” Green said. “One of my students is doing a paper on the myths of Machu Picchu and it’s interesting for me too, which is the best feeling.”

There is a checklist for how much each candidate has turned in, Green said, and that this helps her and Vu keep every student in check. Vu said they are often forced to track down candidates to make sure they are keeping up with their research or drafts.

“We don’t like doing it,” Green said. “We don’t think students mean to lie to us, but it’s still hard on our part.”

When students turn in their extended essay during the fall of their senior year, Vu and Green’s real work begins. Vu said they must take the time to read each paper and ensure that its formatting is correct and that it will not fail once it gets to IB. Most often, she said, some papers will need to be returned to correct formatting errors. Then, they must go through the essays again and completely approve of them.

Once all of the essays are deemed ready, Green said they must give them back to the mentors for one final check. If the essay is approved by the mentor, there is still the long process of sorting, packaging, weighing and mailing all of the essays.

At the end of each year, Vu said they go back and look at what they could have done differently. She said this is normal, and in the ten years she has been coordinator they have never done the process the same way. It is not because the year was not efficient, Vu said, but because they sit down at the end of each process and figure out what they could have done better. She said this process, for coordinators and students, is about reflecting and discovering what is best. 

Vu said, “It makes sense to adapt, because this isn’t a static program. The extended essay is about persevering, and it’s why I love this job.”