1.3 Setting up for success

1.3.4 Your supervisor

As you set out to write your extended essay, know that you are not alone. You have a supervisor. The role of your supervisor is to guide you. Here is a mind map to help you make sense of the roles, requirements and recommendations for supervisors. 

Figure 1.3.4a - Mind map of the roles, requirements and recommendations for your supervisor

Acceptable practice NOT acceptable practice

Your supervisor can read several versions of your research question and guide you towards finalising your research question.

Your supervisor may not think of and write out your research question for you. 

Your supervisor can give oral or written feedback on one complete draft of your extended essay. 

Your supervisor may not annotate or edit any versions of your extended essay. 
Your supervisor (or anyone else) can give generic advice, for instance telling you that you tend to write very long sentences, and perhaps the essay would read better if you shortened many of them.

Your supervisor (or anyone else) cannot put a red pen to your essay and show you where the full-stops (periods) should go. 

You can ask your librarian or your supervisor how to cite, for instance, a blog post or a paper read at a conference.

You cannot ask your librarian or your supervisor to check and correct all your citations and references.

You can ask for help in obtaining specific papers or articles – perhaps following up a reference in something else you have been reading. 

Your supervisor (or anyone else) cannot tell you to delete this particular quotation and instead use a different quotation from a different writer's work. 

Frequently asked questions

Do I choose my supervisor, or does my supervisor choose me?

This depends on your school. The IB recommends that supervisors spend around 3-5 hours on each extended essay that they supervise.  Many schools encourage you to approach teachers at your school and ask them to supervise you. If you have this freedom, consider choosing a teacher in your intended essay subject to supervise you. If you are slow to decide on your subject, you might find that your preferred supervisor has already reached the maximum number of supervisions allowed, and you might have to choose - or be assigned - a supervisor in another subject.

To what degree can my supervisor ‘help’ me?

There are IB rules about the degree to which your supervisor may be involved in your EE planning and progress. The table above indicates examples of acceptable and unacceptable practice. While you are the one held responsible for the final result, your supervisor will have guided you along the way.

What if I don’t like my supervisor?

The success of your extended essay should not depend on the degree to which you ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ your supervisor. Some supervisors may be more experienced than others. Some may be more knowledgeable than others. Some may have better people skills than others. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to make the most of your situation. The IB does not hear complaints about supervisors. You may be able to discuss the matter with your school’s DP Coordinator.

Does my supervisor mark my extended essay?

No. After your essay is submitted to the IB, an external examiner, knowledgeable in your subject, marks your essay according to the assessment criteria. Before you submit your essay to the IB, however, it is recommended that you and your supervisor discuss how you together think it may be marked according to the criteria. This is a perfect discussion to have when discussing your complete draft (not the final one). Please keep in mind that your supervisor also writes comments on your planning and progress, which will be read by the examiner and taken into consideration for Criterion E: Engagement.


  1. If you cannot make a meeting let your supervisor know.
  2. Be prepared before meetings. Send you supervisor a copy of your journal or your work so far ahead of the meeting. Agree an agenda for the meeting.
  3. Use your supervisor as a sounding-board for your ideas.
  4. If your supervisor listens to you, it’s suggested that you listen to his or her advice.
  5. As well as the longer reflection and draft discussion meetings, arrange to meet frequently, for shorter sessions and check-in meetings.