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Extended Essay (IB): Working with ideas

To guide IB students through the Extended Essay process. New format for September 2020.


Working with ideas

Working with other people's ideas - and with your own - is a key skill that you will develop throughout your DP course and in particular through the Extended Essay. This area involves:

Effective note taking

Cornell method (2.5 inch margin on left, 2 inch summary section at the bottom, 6 inch class note section):

  • Quick way of taking notes as you read
  • Creates neatly organised notes
  • Summarises notes systematically
  • Pull out major ideas and concepts
  • Makes notes easier to review

Best for understanding key ideas and relationships

But pages need preparing beforehand, and time needs to be taken to review and summarise what was covered - which is not necessarily a bad thing!

How to use it:

  • Use main notes section to take notes as you read
  • Use cues section (left margin) to review notes - things to remember, prompts, vocab, study questions
  • Use summary section to summarize notes, highlight main points from that page

Mapping method:

  • Visual method
  • Helps remember and connect relationships between topics
  • Page organised by topic
  • Notes can be easily edited, or added to

Best for visualising connected topics and ideas

Good if you are unsure of the content of a topic, and want to try to structure it as you go along

Not so good if you run out of space on a page as you are mapping

How to use it:

  • Begin map with main topic as you read
  • Branch off the main topic with subtopic headings as they arise
  • Write important notes underneath subtopic
  • Subtopics can then have their own subtopics

Outline method:

  • Easy to use, which should help focus
  • Notes can be neatly organised
  • Structure is clear to see
  • Key points highlighted in a logical manner
  • Relationships between topics and subtopics easy to see
  • Easy to turn points into questions for yourself

Works well in topics with a relatively clear structure

Not so good for subjects requiring formulae or charts

How to use it:

  • Begin notes with main topic - on left hand side of page
  • Use a bullet point and indent (slightly to the right) for the first subtopic
  • List any details below this subtopic
  • For next subtopic, use a bullet point like the first one and indent as before
  • If subtopics have their own subtopics, use a different bullet point, indented slightly further to the right.

Charting method:

  • Organises facts and statistics clearly
  • Easy to review
  • Each column represents a unique category so rows are easy to compare
  • Highlights key pieces of information for each topic

Best for reviewing lots of facts, especially for exam preparation

But it takes time to create the chart and decide on the best headings, so not necessarily the best way to take notes in a lesson - can be very time-consuming.

How to use it:

  • Divide page into columns (as for the start of a table) by category
  • Fill in the rows below with details
  • When next topic begins, begin a new row on the table.

Sentence method:

  • Main points jotted down, so easy to see important information
  • Can cover lots of details and information quickly
  • Simplified notes - makes study and review easy

Best for taking quick and simple notes

But does require time spent afterwards to make sure everything is clear and structured as well as possible

How to use it:

  • Write down information your sourcehas emphasised - full sentences or points
  • Start a new line - as a sentence or point -  for each new detail
  • Use headings to organise points by main topics.

Boxing method:

Best for digital note-taking so that boxes can be resized as required

  • All notes on one topic grouped together in each box
  • Different topics are easy to identify
  • Easy to focus on individual topics when reviewing

Good for lessons that have a number of different but related sections

But does require time to group notes afterwards

Not so good if no umbrella topic can be assigned, or the structure is not clear.

How to use it:

  • Use one box for each topic - with a heading
  • Write only the notes on that particular topic on that box
  • Begin a new box with a new topic
  • Organise (reorganise) boxes on the page as a sensible order/structure becomes clearer

Constructing your understanding from your information

Before you start to write your essay you need to understand the argument you are trying to make clearly, and that you know what information you are required to include. This resource has been carefully designed using Group 4 mark schemes to make sure that you address all the main points required. Complete it in note form once you are close to completing your investigation to help you to structure your final essay.

While this is not an official IB document, so is not compulsory, it is very strongly recommended and it will almost certainly make it much quicker and easier to write your essay if you complete this first.

Investigative Journal

An excellent way to keep track of your investigation. Use one page per source and don't forget to insert a citation at the top of the page. If you choose not to use it, think about what you will use instead.

This is an ideal tool for using in your Researcher's Reflection Space.

MInimum information to gather for citing and referencing later

It is so frustrating when you are under pressure to write up your work and you suddenly realise you can't find all the information you need to reference a source! Ideally you would gather all the information you need as you go along, but what is the minimum you need to gather to make sure that you can reconstruct the reference at the end?

  • For books: Title, author, publisher, date and place of publication and the page number of any useful quotes. There are no shortcuts here!
  • For websites: full URL and date accessed. However, if you think the site is likely to change then gather all the referencing info at the start
  • For online articles (from a database), make sure you have the permalink if you are offered it, and the date you accessed the article. The title of the article and the database you accessed it from should be enough to locate it again if there is a problem with the link later. Don't rely on a URL - for some databases this will just take you back to the home page.

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