Command Terms

Command terms in IB psychology and assessment objectives

In the IB psychology course there are 3 levels of assessment objectives.

  • Level 1: Knowledge and comprehension
  • Level 2: Application and analysis
  • Level 3: Synthesis and evaluation

The command terms indicate the level of study, i.e. how much in depth you should study a particular learning outcome.

The way students are assessed works like this:

  • A learning outcome at level 1 and 2 will only be assessed with command terms at these levels. All command terms at level 1 and 2 can be used interchangeably. If a learning outcome is written in the guide with a level 1 or 2 command term, then a level 3 command term may not be used on the exam for that learning outcome.
  • A learning outcome at level 3 can be assessed at level 3 as well as level 1 and 2. All command terms at level 1,2 and 3 can be used interchangeably. This means that a level 3 question in the guide can be changed into a level 2 question in a SAQ in paper 1 section A.
  • In SAQ questions there can only be level 1 and level 2 questions. In essays there can be level 3 questions.

Command terms level 1: Knowledge and comprehension

Command Term Explanation in the guide What it means Example
Define

Give the precise meaning of a word, concept, phrase.

Say what it means in psychology and use precise vocabulary to do that. Define attachment.
Describe

Give a detailed account

Write a narrative that outlines the details of something using examples. Describe the role of situational factors in explaining behaviour.
Outline

Give a brief account or summary of something.

Give a brief summary of whatever is mentioned in the question. Outline one principle that defines the biological level of analysis.
State Give a specific name or other brief answer without explanation.

Give a very brief answer but don't explain anything.

State the role of communication in maintaining relationships.

Command terms level 2: Application and analysis

Command term Explanation in the guide What it means Example
Analyse

Break down in order to bring out the essential elements

Analyse means to consider existing evidence in relation to a specific problem; investigate possible explanations of a psychological problem.

Analyse why relationships may change or end.

Apply

Use a theory or an idea to a given problem or issue

Describe how a theory would explain a given psychological phenomenon or solve a problem.

Apply one theory to explain burnout in sport.

Distinguish Make clear the differences between two or more concepts. Indicate differences between two concepts or theories. Distinguish between altruism and pro-social behaviour.
Explain Give a detailed account including reasons and causes. Give reasons and causes for a behaviour or psychological phenomenon. Explain factors related to the development of addictive behaviour.

Command terms level 3: Synthesis and evaluation

Command term Explanation in the guide What it means Example
Compare

Give an account of the similarities between two or more items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

Focus only on similarities and refer to these throughout the response.

Compare two theories of cognitive development.

Compare and contrast

Give an account of similarities and differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

Focus on both similarities and differences and refer to these throughout the response.

Compare and contrast two theories of cognitive development.

Contrast

Give an account of the differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

Focus only on differences and refer to these throughout the response.

Contrast two theories explaining altruism in humans.

Discuss

Offer a considered and balanced review that includes a range or arguments, factors or hypotheses. Conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence

Address the question in a balanced way (not biased) where you consider available evidence and choose the most appropriate evidence to support your argument.

Discuss factors related to overeating and the development of obesity.

Evaluate

Make an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations of something

Assess the value of something (e.g. a theory or a study) by looking into the evidence. Explain the strengths and limitations of the study or theory.

Evaluate one sociocultural explanation of violence.

Examine

Consider an argument or concept in a way that uncovers the assumptions and interrelationships of the issue.

Carefully scrutinize an argument (or theory, concept, explanation) to see how it explains something and perhaps why. An examination could also include finding similarities and differences.

Examine models of health promotion.

To what extent

Consider the merits of otherwise of an argument or concept. Conclusions should be presented clearly and supported with appropriate evidence and sound argument.

Assess the value of a theory or concept in explaining a psychological phenomenon (e.g. depression). The conclusion must be clear and supported by relevant evidence (i.e. empirical studies and evaluation of the theory) throughout the argument.

To what extent do biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors influence abnormal behaviour?

Student copy

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Comments 4

Heather Doherty 18 September 2016 - 18:28

Dear Mr. Crane,
Thank you for this great resource. I find the above explanation very clear: "If a learning outcome is written in the guide with a level 1 or 2 command term, then a level 3 command term may not be used on the exam for that learning outcome". However, the student copy reads as follows: "Command 3 level command terms cannot be used in exam questions". Is this sentence on the student copy possibly misleading? Thank you for your help!

John Crane 18 September 2016 - 19:21

Thanks, Heather. The document is now fixed. Well spotted!

Dwi Astuti 9 January 2017 - 04:00

Dear John,

Since English is not the first language in my country, could you please explain the difference between "Outline" and "Describe" further? To what extent "brief" in command term "outline" is good enough?

John Crane 11 January 2017 - 15:20

Dear Dwi - a very good question. To be honest, I don't think that there is a clear distinction of the two words. If you have to outline a principle or describe a principle, I don't see the difference. I tell my students that both of these are "tell you what you know" command terms.


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