How research is assessed

Candidates often think: "If I write a good essay, I will get good marks." Certainly the quality of writing is important. But the quality of the writing depends on the quality of the argument, and the quality of the argument depends on the quality of the research and sources. Candidates are, to a large extent, assessed on the quality of their research. In the table below, a few points have been selected from Criteria A-C and highlighted and explored for your consideration.

Criteria Top-level descriptors Comments
A: Focus and method Level 5-6

Methodology of the research is mostly complete.

  • An appropriate range of relevant source(s) and/or method(s) have been applied in relation to the topic and research question.
  • There is evidence of effective and informed selection of sources and/or methods.

Examiners will consider the appropriateness of the sources. A bibliography with references to wikipedia, Spark Notes and textbooks only will not score well. Examiners will look at the quality of methods. Simplistic questionnaires, basic experiments or shallow interviews will not score well. 

B: Knowledge and understanding

Level 5-6

Knowledge and understanding is excellent

  • The selection of source materials is clearly relevant to the question.

Students may have excellent sources, but if they are not relevant to the question, they cannot be awarded marks on this criterion. 

C: Critical thinking

Level 10-12

The research is excellent.

  • The research is appropriate to the research question and its application is consistently relevant

The words 'appropriate' and 'relevant' appear. It's interesting to note the connection between critical thinking and research. 


It may help to think of your 4,000-word Extended Essay as a tip of an iceberg. Perhaps you spend 10 hour or writing the essay and 30 hours researching the essay. The writing should make the research visible.

Last modified: Wednesday, 3 June 2020, 10:52 AM