History Extended Essay Tips

The Extended Essay is an individual project of 4000 words.

It is a chance to study a topic that interests you which is not covered by the syllabus.
It can cover any historical topic of your choice from within the past 10 years.
It is supervised by your History teacher, but marked by the IB board.
It will involve an emphasis on personal research and the use of primary sources.

Click on the following headings to get guidance in choosing a question and writing your study.

After the first batch of studies are marked according to the new criteria in Summer 2018, I hope to upload some particularly good studies to this website to share with everyone.

It gives you a chance to study in real depth a topic that you have an interest in.
It can relate to any period and any topic within the last 10 years.
It gives you the chance to work closely with your History teacher to 'fast-track' your historical skills with one-to-one tutoring.
As such it is a great opportunity to produce a mature academic study on something that you might never again have the chance to research.

Both the IA and the EE in History award students who choose an interesting question which they research thoroughly and answer coherently through critical evaluation of evidence.

The IA is only 1500 words long; the EE is 4,000 words.
The EE requires a much heavier emphasis on the use of primary source material than the IA.
The IA is structured into specific sections; the EE is structured more flexibly.
The IA markscheme grades each section separately; the EE markscheme grades each criteria across the essay as a whole.

You will select which of your IB subjects will form the basis of your EE in the Spring Term of the first year of IB. This will usually (although not always) be one of your Higher Level subjects. The supervisor will set a series of internal deadlines and meetings for each student to ensure the completion of the study in a timely fashion.

Start by considering if there is a period / place / person / issue in history that would like to investigate further. Maybe this is something you have read a little about, watched a film about or are interested in from your other studies / hobbies. The only strict rule is that anything that happened in the past 10 years is not allowed.

The three main focuses of study tend to be focused on

  • EITHER Causes of an event / situation;
  • OR Consequences of an event / situation
  • OR Relevance of particular evidence about an event / situation (e.g. a painting, novel, film, biography).

The following resources may help you in your quest for a topic:

Online archives:

Other resources:

  • History Department Magazine collection
  • History Department DVD collection

Once you have settled upon a topic, you have to then turn this into a question - a problem that your study will solve, in other words.

The following table could help you get started

To what extent was...[Event]

responsible for...

the most important result of...
How useful is...the Novel...
the Album...
oral testimony...
the painting...
the film...
to the historian studying...
How successful / significant was...[Individual] (e.g. politician / sportsperson / entertainer / film director / etc)in the context of...

The following list of past Extended Essay questions from the IST will also be helpful:

  • How has politics influenced Berlin's architecture over the 20th century? (Predicted 'A')
  • To what extent was World War Two a catalyst for British Decolonisation? (Predicted 'B')
  • How decisive was Spanish intervention in World War Two? (Graded 'A')
  • How far did Nietzsche's ideas influence the Third Reich? (Graded 'B')
  • How reliable is Hogarth's 'The Rake's Progress' as evidence of 18th century London? (Graded 'A')
  • How and why do Historical sources disagree about the life and career of Bonnie Parker? (Graded 'B')

You are now ready to complete the Initial Proposal Sheet and hand it to your teacher.

Make sure that this is a detailed, considered proposal. Your supervisor will schedule a meeting with you to talk about how you plan to structure your essay in particular.

Buy the book!

Transform your history classroom.
ActiveHistory provides entertaining, educational award-winning interactive simulations, decision-making games, self-marking quizzes, high-quality worksheets and detailed lesson plans for teachers and students.

Home of the "Head to Head"
Virtual Interviews

Testimonials from subscribers

In this blog, Anna outlines the initial steps to choosing an IB History Extended Essay topic and question as well as how to approach the planning process.

Step 1 – Choosing your Topic

  • The topic chosen must focus on the human past (at least 10 years ago). If you choose to ignore this, you will lose many marks across several criteria.
  • It does not need to be a topic you are studying in your course, but can be. However, your supervisor must accept it.
  • Try to avoid an overlap with your History IA question.
  • There is a heavy emphasis on the use of BOTH primary and secondary sources and a broad range of different types of sources.
  • Like your History IA, it is important that you keep the scope of your EE narrow to stay within the 4000 word limit.

Students often choose History for their EE as it lends itself well to essay writing as well as offering interesting topics. However, that does not mean it is just a matter of writing anything. There is a requirement that you ‘critically analyse’. Therefore, you must avoid questions that lead to a narrative response.

Step 2 – Choosing your question

Types of questions that work are:

  • How successful…?
  • How significant…?
  • To what extent…?
  • How far …?

Focused topics

  • An examination of the economic reasons that led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan.
  • An evaluation of the success of denazification carried out in the US zone of Germany 1945–48.
  • An examination of the extent to which the Holodomor in the Ukraine 1932–33 was a failure of Stalin’s policy of collectivisation.
  • An examination of the extent to which the overthrow of Allende in 1973 was the result of external factors.

Too Broad topics

  • The overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan.
  • Denazification in Germany after the Second World War.
  • The introduction of collectivisation in the Soviet Union.
  • The coup against Allende 1973.

Don’t forget one of the key concepts should be addressed through your question:

  • causation
  • consequence
  • change
  • continuity
  • significance
  • perspectives

Step 3 – Selecting and Using Sources

Not enough sources?

There should be enough sources to make the investigation meaningful, and if you find there are not enough, then you should change your direction.


Possible approaches to the research question include:

  • using primary and secondary sources in order to establish and appraise varying interpretations,
  • analysing sources in order to explain changing views over time of particular happenings or developments,
  • using source material for a case study or local history project, perhaps leading to a comparison of local and national developments,
  • collecting and analysing oral and written data from family and other contacts to help explain past happenings, perhaps leading to a comparison of local and national developments,
  • using all available sources to answer the question posed.[2]

Step 4 How to approach your essay

Once you have decided on your topic and designed your question, usually with the help of your Supervisor, you need to decide how you will tackle the investigation. Before diving straight in it is advisable to create a flexible flow chart – outlining your approach.

An example of this is below:   

Topic – The Cuban Missile Crisis and Containment.

Research question – To what extent were the objectives of the United States of America’s Policy of Containment achieved in relation to Cuba between April 1961 and October 1962?

Step 1 – General reading around the topic to provide myself with greater context and to select relevant sources.

Step 2 – More detailed research on the policy of Containment and whether changes were applied from its origins, using when possible both primary and secondary resources.

Step 3 – To research the Cuban Missile Crisis between April 1961 and 1962, using (when possible) both primary and secondary resources.

Step 4 – An examination and evaluation of different interpretations needs to addressed.

Step 5 – An evaluation as to whether the Policy of Containment in relation to Cuba between April 1961 and October 1962 was achieved, allowing a conclusion to be reached.

Step 6  – Select and evaluate at least two main sources using the OPCVL approach, but this should be later integrated into the main essay.

Step 7 – Select historical perspectives on the topic and be prepared to show why they have this opinion – again this should be integrated into the essay.

Step 8 – Decide on subheadings, if required,  for the essay.


Don’t forget it essential that you record your research notes. See how to do this in my blog ‘Tips for success: How to research your IB History IA’, as the same process applies.




HistoryInternational Baccalaureate (IB)

More about Anna

Anna qualified as a teacher in History in 2002, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.

Anna is a History teacher living in Germany

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy the following:

0 Replies to “History Extended Essay Tips”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *