Internal Assessment - latest guidance

Saturday 1 October 2016

The 2016 examiners' report has just been released on the OCC. Are there changes or new instructions for the Internal Assessment? This blog post sumarises the main points to save you time.

Of course there is no substitute for reading the document yourself.
You can access a copy of the Examiners report for IB Biology here.

Has the write-up length and font size changed?

The first point to confirm is that the guidance on the number of pages has not changed. Clarification is given in the report that the font size and page margins should be, "sensible, to demonstrate good communication." This leaves some discretion for teachers but probably font size 11 and moderate page margins would be a good choice. There is no requirement for double line spacing, nor any prescription of a specific font to use, as there is in some other IB diploma subjects.

Where should teachers put annotations?

The examiners' report gives some pointers for teachers annotating student work. Please see my blog post How to annotate investigations for the moderator for more details about this topic.

  • Annotate the students work to help the moderator understand your marking.
  • Put comments in the document, next to the work which merits the marks.
  • Use software which puts text simply on the page and doesn't condense the comments as speech bubbles.
    Two examples are Microsoft Word to add comments, or Adobe acrobat to add text comments on the page in pdf documents.
  • Avoid 'topsheets' of comments, or comments on the last page as these are difficult for moderators to see at those crucial moments when they are trying to agree with your marks!

Students cannot work in pairs!

Students are expected to produce an 'individual' investigation. It is not possible for students to work together in pairs, or groups, on the same experiment. While doing so they would not have been able to cover the personal engagement (PE) and the exploration (EX) criteria completely independently.  Of course it is acceptable for students to offer each other practical assistance, a spare pair of hands, during the collection of data.

Any other recommendations?

The examiners reports suggests the following:

  • Use the IA assessment criteria in practical work throughout the course.
  • Explain the requirements for each component of each criteria.
  • Ensure the students have some individual purpose in their investigation.
  • Advise students how to do the following:
    • Focus the research question
    • Choose the investigation methodology wisely
    • Mention safety and risk assessments, ethics and environmental impact
    • Include citations of sources and latin names of species in italics
    • Design tables of results
    • Draw graphs
    • Make their report 'relevent and concise' - 6 to 12 pages long.
    • Communicate clearly using data tables and graphs
    • Give a single example of how raw data was processed, rather than including pages of processing.
    • Use the right statistical program for their data.

How can teachers apply the assessment criteria more rigorously?

This is another of the main recommendations, that teachers were more often too generous than too severe and thus teachers should "apply the criteira more rigorously".  This is a point worthy of a longer post but there is one crucial idea which is worth considering here: The choice between two marks in a band.

I think it is important to remember that the descriptors in a markband refer to the evidence required to award either the lower or the upper mark.  I found in my marking that I almost always awarded 4 marks in the 3-4 band (for example) if the work sounded like the 3-4 mark description. I learned that it was better to try to discriminate between the 3 and the 4 more carefully.
I think that this is really what this point, "apply the criteria more rigorously" in the examiners report refers to.

An example would be the communication criteria above.  I have separated the different aspects of the communication criterion as I find this easier to apply when marking.  When I first marked students' work I would mark a piece of work trying to decide the 4 marks box or the 2 marks box in each column, or possibly the 0 too.  I might have made the following observations about a piece of work.
I would put the red comments as annotations on the students work, not on the markscheme.

But actually, although the work met these descriptions it could have been better work in places, and I should have also considered 3 marks as an option for each judgement.  If I had done this I mught have decided something like the image below.

A problem that teachers might have to face is students who read the criteria and ask, "Why haven't I got 4 marks, I have done all the things mentioned in the grade 4 descriptor?"  A good answer might be, " Yes, but that is the descriptor for 3 or 4 marks. To get 4 marks requires a little more than the bare minimum in the description."

Keep a look out for the new updates of these old IA exemplars in the Biology teacher support materials on the OCC and watch out for another post about on the Inthinking blog about marking IA's "more rigorously" later this autumn.

One last point, actually the first sentence in the examiners report, and something worth remembering when completing the IA work this year, "A very large range of inventive and original investigations were presented. This was a huge positive move and teachers should be congratulated."


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