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Choosing studies

Sunday 24 January 2016

One of the banes of the IB Psychology course is the number of studies that students are expected to learn. For a long time I have been telling workshop participants to look for two-fers - that is, studies that could be used to answer more than one question. However, on exams students sometimes take this too far. For example - on the recent Paper 1, the questions were: Localization of function, ethics in cognitive and research methods in cognitive. There were several students who used HM for all of these questions on the exam. What do we think about that?

Examiners only see the question they are marking, so there is no prejudice which says "This student's knowledge is so limiting, there is no way that I am giving full marks!" However, there is an inherent problem that goes with using the same study three times.

When students do this, they often describe the study literally the same way each time. They start off with "One study in the BLOA is HM" or "One study in the CLOA is HM" - and then they tell his story and the findings of the study. And they don't answer the question. This auto-pilot approach often leads to low marks. The use of the same study is actually something that is rather tricky. Students need to be able to "reframe" the study to fit the question. So, for the above example:

1. Localization of function: the study needs to focus on the function of the hippocampus. This includes the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory, as well as assisting in the retrieval of information.

2. Ethics: The question should first outline an ethical consideration - for example, informed consent. A full explanation of the role of the hippocampus is not relevant here. The focus of the response should be on what informed consent means in this case and why it is problematic.

3. Research methods: This essay would presumably focus on the case study method. In this response, the study should be described in terms of method. The examiners would like for things like the use of structured interviews, observational studies, psychometric testing, interviewing his wife and family - in other words, how the method was triangulated over time to gather rich data, which is the definition of a case study.

When students write a description of a study on an exam, they create a schema of that description. That schema can then impair their ability to see that study from a different perspective. So, yes, students may use the same study to answer different questions - however, they need to practice this and understand that the demands for the questions are different, so their approach to the description and explanation of the study also has to be different.

Tags: exam preparation


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