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The extended essay: going beyond research

We asked Diploma Programme (DP) graduates to share stories about their IB experiences. Sofia Parunova tells us about a critical moment during the DP and its outcome on her life after graduation.


By Sofia Parunova

“The overwhelming freedom of being able to research and write whatever you like can be equally intimidating and exciting.”

When I was a DP student, the extended essay was the longest and most substantial piece I had ever been asked to write. It was an intellectual challenge and another hurdle before graduation. I felt positive about the process of finding materials and writing the 4,000-word piece in IB history Standard Level (SL). Having established a good working relationship with my supervisor, I was confident researching, writing, proofreading, and formatting the extended essay. I received stellar feedback throughout and was keen to get the extra three points to my final score.

I poured my heart into the essay, followed every page of the guide to make it perfect—only to receive a “C” and a single bonus point to my final score. It broke my heart to see such a discrepancy between the comments I had been receiving and the final ones.

I had heard only praise about my writing and could not understand how I had failed myself so badly. What hurt even more was that my final score was not as high as it needed to be, three points below what a UK university had requested of me for law school.

Sofia Parunova graduated from the Diploma Programme at Kolding Gymnasium, Denmark.
It’s never easy to face criticism. It’s even tougher accepting you are not brilliant at something you thought you were good at. What my C grade taught me early on was that not everyone would agree I was a good writer, researcher, or good anything. Such an experience is humbling, but it turned into the hard kick needed to accelerate onward. The extended essay was an introduction to university-like academic work, inspired me to be proactive about knowledge and taught me how to accept criticism, even when it hurt.

“Seven years later, I write longer research papers and other types of content using the pillars I built while completing the extended essay.”

The overwhelming freedom of being able to research and write whatever you like can be equally intimidating and exciting.  But, you don’t need to gain this experience the same way I did.  Although a mark can be important, it is the process you go through to get it and the lessons you learn on the way that matter just as much.

If you are starting your extended essay here is my advice:

  • First, start with something you want to know more about and are interested in—the extended essay is a rigorous academic activity which can’t be done well with a subject that doesn’t inspire you.
  • Second, keep having discussions with your supervisor—your ideas and topic will change, having someone to refine them will point you in the right direction.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to research and delete whole sections of the extended essay because it is bound to change.
  • Once written, let it rest; read it after a week with a critical eye.
  • Finally, if you must print it, don’t do it on the day of the deadline—printers play tricks when you most need them.

In the end, I did receive an offer to study law in the UK despite my extended essay grade. Seven years later, I write longer research papers and other types of content using the pillars I built while completing the extended essay. The extended essay was a bitter lesson worth learning for many reasons. Some were academic: I learnt to respect my own and others’ work, analyse huge amounts of information and stay focused on the point I was pursuing. Others were personal and I realised I had learnt them later: when in university, no paperwork was ever too long or difficult; every time before receiving any kind of feedback, I remind myself that it might be damning. But that’s what the IB does—it pushes you to your unknown limit and then nothing is too hard.


Sofia Parunova completed the Diploma Programme at Kolding Gymnasium, Denmark. She continued her studies with a bachelor’s in law at the University of Essex, UK and a master’s in intellectual property and Information law at King’s College London. She joins us this year as a 2018 alumni contributor and will share her experiences over the course of the year.