Pre-IB advice from the experts: What you need to know about Internal Assessments, Extended Essays and Theory of Knowledge

Working in an international school I help many students through their IB and they often get caught out on the big written assignments. 

So, in this article I want to break down these three elements of the IB core and help explain them for anyone new to the IB or to students about to start the programme next year.

Before heading into acronym diversity (EE, IA, ToK), it’s important for future International Baccalaureate students to understand what these mean and what they entail in terms of written assignments.

When students follow the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (or IBDP), they need to complete various important pieces of written work. It can sometimes be confusing for pre-IB students to grasp the distinction between each assignment, their characteristics and what is required for each.

Internal vs External Assessment

It is important to note that there are two types of assessment: internal and external. Both the Extended Essay and the Theory of Knowledge essay (also known as ToK) are external, since, just like final exams, they are sent directly to official IB examiners. Internal Assessments are on the other hand marked by the class teacher.

The Extended Essay (or EE) – What is it?

The Extended Essay is mandatory for all diploma students and is seen as the main written assessment, since it has deadlines throughout both 12th and 13th grades. In fact, 12th graders will already have developed their research question (i.e., the first step of the research process) in the IB1 year. 

This 4’000-word independent piece of research is presented as a formal piece of academic writing. It demonstrates that the student has fully grasped the topic and helps prepare them for writing at a university level. Just like the other written assignments, it encourages students to use and develop their own critical thinking.

Students must choose to their topic from one of the 6 following DP subjects, ideally one that is of interest to them personally:

  • studies in language and literature
  • language acquisition
  • individuals and societies
  • sciences
  • mathematics
  • the arts

Or students can also take an interdisciplinary approach and write a World Studies Extended Essay. This particular type of essay “must focus on a topic of global significance”. This encourages the student to reflect on the world today in relation to issues such as the global food crisis, climate change, terrorism, energy security, migration, global health, technology, and cultural exchange. Check out more information on World Studies here.

As the official Extended Essay Guide explains, a World Studies essay “gives students an opportunity to undertake an in-depth and independent investigation into a topic of their choice that considers the relationship between subjects and allows for meaningful connections to be made in relation to their chosen area of research.”

The assessment process of the Extended Essay is based on 5 criteria:

  • focus and method.
  • knowledge and understanding
  • critical thinking
  • presentation
  • engagement

More and more IB students choose to write a World Studies essay, because links are created between the various IB courses and because these subjects tend to address current events that affect the 21st-century student.

Internal Assessments (or IA)

Throughout the IB Diploma, students are also asked to complete internal assessments for most courses. Common to both Standard Level and Higher-Level courses, the goal of this type of paper is to determine if students are capable of demonstrating the internal assessment criteria in relation to the research question.

Click here for the rules for IA’s.

In parallel to the Extended Essay, teacher assessments are also used for most courses, which include:

  • oral work in languages
  • fieldwork in geography
  • laboratory work in the sciences (chemistry, biology, physics)
  • investigations in mathematics
  • artistic performances

Internal Assessments are marked by the subject teacher and externally moderated by the IB at the end of the course and count toward the student’s final IB score for the diploma. The criteria for evaluating this type of assignment are as follows:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Application and analysis
  • Synthesis and evaluation
  • Select, use and apply a variety of appropriate skills and techniques.

The Theory of Knowledge essay (or ToK)

Click Here for more information.

The ToK essay plays an integral part of the IBDP and is mandatory for all Diploma students. It asks students to reflect on the general nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know. The evaluation of the ToK essay is completed through a 1,600 word essay and an oral presentation. While the essay requires the student to focus on the concept itself, the aim of the presentation is to evaluate how students apply the thinking of the Theory of Knowledge to real-life situations. This essay also aims to go beyond and link the subject areas taught in school.

Both the ToK essay and the related presentation will draw on what the students have gained throughout their ToK classes. It encourages them to use their critical thinking skills. Both the essay and the presentation need to reflect who the student is as a knower, by putting forward and defending their own thoughts and views. Students will ultimately learn about dialogue and critical discussion, as well as analytical writing skills. Each of these will become increasingly important when having to understand knowledge-type of questions and create the student’s own accountability.

So, what is critical thinking?

Critical thinking contributes to the integrity of the student’s paper. It will give them a more disciplined approach, showing that they have understood the topic at hand. People who think critically will constantly improve the quality of their thinking, which shows that they can form judgement. Ultimately, the aim is that throughout the development of each academic piece of writing, students gain these skills which will become essential in their later studies.

Why is academic honesty important?

Academic honesty is an essential aspect of teaching and learning, where action is based on inquiry and reflection (“Academic honesty in the IB educational context”, International Baccalaureate Organization, 2014) It plays a crucial role in all written examinations of the IBDP. Students should visit the school library when they have specific questions (for example about what makes a good research question), or more particular requests about referencing their sources. The most used bibliographic formats for all IB papers are MLA, Chicago, and ISO 690. The latter is used for students who choose to write their essay in French.

Keep all deadlines to avoid last minute panic and stress.

  • At TutorsPlus we often get calls from desperate students who have left their work until the last minute and are suffering the strain of having many different deadlines arriving all at once. Listen to the advice from the IB Co-ordinator and follow the timings they have given you.  They have planned the deadlines to make it easier for students to balance the heavy workload. It goes without saying that students need to adhere to all assignment deadlines set in advance by the IB organization, since these are there to help them with the various chronological phases related to each assignment.
  • It is crucial for all IB students to take all written examinations seriously, and therefore organization is key when taking on any scholarly piece of writing. As a secondary school librarian, I often see IB students in a stressful last-minute rush to finalize their written assignments.  This can be avoided by being better prepared and organized. Plan your work and give yourself plenty of time to meet every deadline. 
  • It can also be easy to fall behind, especially with the other classes and assignments taking place during the two IB years. To avoid this from happening, students should set themselves personal goals and deadlines to stick to, as best as possible. Not only does this help them in regard to planning their work, but also shows responsibility and commitment to their assignment.
  • Most importantly if you are stuck ask for help.  Do not put it off.  Your teacher, mentor and IB Co-ordinator are there to help, not to mention your librarian or the TutorsPlus tutoring team too!

What is the role of Mentors?

  • All IB students are assigned a Mentor during their Extended Essay, and it is crucial that students should maintain regular contact with their own Mentor throughout the whole research and writing process and until the assignment is officially handed in.
  • Mentors are there to help students with any type of feedback and it is important that students take advantage of this opportunity.

How should students record their sources?

  • Students should note down each source of information as they go, whether it is online or on paper.  This is because the bibliography will need to cover all sources referenced throughout their assignment, the purpose being to avoid plagiarism.
  • This organizational aspect will become especially useful when it comes to online sources, so as not to forget where the information originally came from and when it was consulted.
  • If students forget to go this it can be a huge time drain to have to go back and try to locate all the sources later.

Use the school library to help with research. 

  • Students often rely on Google when researching online information for their assignments. It is highly recommended that students also use other evaluation criteria tools when doing so, such as the CRAP test (currency, reliability, authority, and purpose) that determines whether a website is credible or not. This tool will save students a lot of time and is sure to help them find great quality online resources.
  • IB students should remember to visit their school library to receive extra help and feedback. This can be about the general structure and writing style of their essay or about finding relevant online sources. In this respect, librarians are there to teach students how to differentiate between good and poor-quality web sources.
  • The role of librarians is essential. The purpose of their work, as well as that of the teachers, is to attain a common goal of helping the student achieve academic success.

If English is not your mother tongue these are our top tips to help

  • For students whose mother tongue is not English but chose to write their assignments in this language, it can sometimes be difficult to find the right sentence structure and be understood throughout the entirety of their paper. For the non-English student to hand in the best possible written assignment, there are various points to be considered, such as:
  • Using online dictionaries and encyclopaedias (e.g. Britannica, or Universalis when writing in French) to check the meaning and spelling of specific words and terminology used within one’s assignment.
  • Depending on their availability, asking for help from at least one of the student’s language teachers, when revising the piece of writing and before handing it in.
  • Getting an appointment with the learning support department within the school, where professional staff can help the student with any difficulties, they may face related to language barriers.
  • Using the library resources to find any useful information that will guide the student towards success in academic writing (most likely all school libraries should have a section with this type of resources), as well as asking librarians for additional help.

TutorsPlus offer pre-IB tuition in all subjects to help international students prepare for this demanding programme.  Tutors are experienced IB teachers and examiners and tutor students in their Extended Essays, Internal Assessments and Theory of Knowledge.

Get in touch with us on 022 731 8148, or to find out more about our pre-IB courses and information about our tuition.

Author Bio

Louise Valentin is a TutorsPlus tutor and works for a Geneva International School.  She helps students prepare and organize themselves to successfully complete their ToK, Extended Essay and Internal Assessments for their IB Diploma. If you would like to have tuition with Louise, please visit

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