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IB Diploma Programme research shows extended essay improves student approach to learning in higher education

A research project to explore the impact of the Diploma Programme (DP) extended essay (EE) on student success at university has shown positive results in how it prepares IB graduates for onward learning.

The project involved a series of studies on the extended essay by researchers from McGill University in Canada, Warwick University in the United Kingdom and the University of Virginia in the United States. The overall aim of the project was to explore the learning outcomes attributable to the International Baccalaureate (IB) DP extended essay in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other aspects that might prepare students for university studies.

The DP is designed as an academically challenging and balanced programme of education that prepares 16–18 year old students for success at university and life beyond. The extended essay, a requirement for all DP students, asks students to engage in independent, in-depth research on a topic relating to one of the six DP areas of study.

The latest study (research summary), Exploring the learning outcomes of the IB extended essay in preparing students for university studies in Canada, involved two phases (Phase 1 and Phase 2). Firstly, the study sought to understand which variables best differentiated IB from non-IB undergraduate students in terms of their inquiry self-efficacy, views on the nature of science, inquiry values, epistemic beliefs and approaches to learning. This study found that former IB students indicated higher ratings of aspects of inquiry learning that represent self-regulation in the inquiry process and that, on average, IB students were less likely to view learning as primarily memorization of information. Secondly this study aimed to further explore the learning benefits of completing the EE. Analysis of the results of student responses to the questions about what they learned from participating in the EE revealed a number of academic learning outcomes, including enhanced organization, reading, writing and reasoning skills.

The second study (research summary, full report), Student perceptions of the value of the International Baccalaureate extended essay in preparing for university studies, by a researcher from the University of Warwick, found that students who had taken part in the EE were generally very positive about their experience. One student noted “this was probably the only time in school when I decided for myself what I wanted to learn about”. The study suggests that most of the aims of the EE had been met and that the EE taught students a lot, especially in terms of being critical and independent thinkers. Former IB students were also more positive about their pre-university education in general than the former A-level students. Several students did note, however, that they had few opportunities to use their research skills in university.

The final study (research summary, full report) Exploring the benefits of the International Baccalaureate extended essay for university studies at the University of Virginia (UVA), aimed to better understand the research experience of former IB students and describe student perceptions of the value of the extended essay. Former IB students and a comparison sample of former Advanced Placement (AP) students were selected for participation in the study. When compared with former AP students, IB students were significantly more likely to indicate that they: felt prepared for college-level coursework involving research; had executed a research project at UVA; were proud of their research; intended to conduct future research; and found their research skills to be important to future success.

Across all three studies, some common themes could be identified:

  • Pride and a sense of achievement in completing the EE and a clear feeling that Diploma Programme students had learned a great deal from the experience.
  • A view that there were not enough opportunities to engage in research at university.
  • Recognition of learning that occurred as a result of selecting and delving into a particular topic.
  • Preparing students for conducting various facets of the research process and an increased level of confidence in doing research reports.
  • The recognition of the challenges in designing, conducting and reporting research.
  • All of these reports can be found at


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