Paper 1: SAQs

Paper 1 focuses on what the IB calls "the core."  It assesses your understanding of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural approaches to explaining behaviour. The paper consists of two sections: section A, with three short-answer questions (SAQs), and section B, with three essays.

In section A, you must answer all three short-answer questions.  This section of the paper is the same for both SL and HL students.

In section B, you are given three essay prompts - one for each of the approaches.  You must choose one essay to write. This paper is different for SL and HL.  On the HL paper, one, two or all three of the essay prompts may come from the HL extensions.

This section of the chapter focuses on the SAQs.

You have 20 minutes to write each short-answer question during the exam. A typical response to a short-answer should be between 250 and 400 words.

The command terms that can be used for SAQs are outline, describe and explain.  SAQs will ask you for one - and one only - piece of research to support your response. In addition, notice that the command terms that are used do not ask you to evaluate the research.  Please do not include evaluation in your SAQs.

Writing short-answer questions

As indicated, the short-answer question is short. This means that there is no introduction and no conclusion. You simply answer the question as it is. You do not need to evaluate in the SAQs since this is part of assessment objectives 3 and 4. The following points provide a guide to writing SAQs:

Read the question carefully. What is the command term? What content are you to address? Make sure that you address the question as it is written.

Begin your SAQ by directly answering the question.

Define any terms that are essential in order to answer the question.

Answering the question, making use of one piece of research. The study should be described in terms of the aim, procedure and results.  You do not need to memorize the statistical results.

Link the study back to the question.

In the box below you can see the rubric that is used to assess your short answer responses. Notice that the assessment focuses on three different criteria.  First, your response has to answer the question. If the question is asking you to explain a theory, but instead all you do is describe a study, that this is in the 1 - 3 range.  An explanation of the theory would first outline the theory and then give details about the assumptions of the theory.

Secondly, you are assessed on your knowledge of the theory and how much you can develop those ideas.

Finally, you are assessed on your ability to choose, describe and explicitly link a study relevant to the question.

The SAQ assessment rubric

MarkbandLevel descriptor
0The answer does not reach a standard described by the descriptors below.
1 - 3The response is of limited relevance to or only rephrases the question.

Knowledge and understanding is mostly inaccurate or not relevant to the question.

The research supporting the response is mostly not relevant to the question and if relevant only listed.
4 - 6The response is relevant to the question, but does not meet the command term requirements.

Knowledge and understanding are accurate but limited.

The response is supported by appropriate research which is described.
7 - 9The response is fully focused on the question and meets the command term requirements.

Knowledge and understanding are accurate and addresses the main topics/problems identified in the question.

The response is supported by appropriate research which is described and explicitly linked to the question.

Applying the assessment rubric

Below you will see three samples SAQs for the following SAQ from the biological approach:

Explain one study of one evolutionary explanation of one behaviour.

Which one do you think is the best?  What advice would you give the other two students?

Script 1.

One of the things that can influence our choice of partner is their MHC - Major Histocompatibility Complex, a group of genes that seem to play an important role in the immune system, and is expressed through body odour. Since the genes for immunity are expressed co-dominantly, it is in the partner's interest to have different versions of the gene to give better immunity to their off-spring.

Wedekind decided to carry out a study and assess if the MHC had an effect on the mating choice of university females. He first tested each participant for their MHC type and noted if the females were taking oral contraceptives. He then asked the males to sleep in the same shirt for two days and not to use any deodorant so that they would not change their natural body odor on the shirt. He then asked the female students to come to the lab and smell and score 7 different boxes with shirts inside them - three were from males of a different MHC than the female, three were from males of the same MHC as the female, and one was a clean shirt that was used as the control. The females scored the pleasantness of the smell of each shirt. The results showed that the females preferred the odor of the shirt from a male with a different MHC than they themselves had, but oral contraceptives caused this result to be reversed, implying that the contraceptives change a female's sense of smell and therefore influence her partner choice for the worse. (259 words)

The SAQ should begin with a direct response to the question. The response is a bit confusing as there is no mention of evolution in setting up the SAQ and no evolutionary argument (natural or sexual selection) is identified. The word “expressed” is incorrectly used.  The study is appropriate and described, but not explained in the context of evolution nor linked well back to the question.  The final sentence is not really focused on the key results of the study.  4 marks.

Script 2

Evolutionary arguments have been used to explain human mating behaviour. Evolutionary psychologists argue that our behaviours are the result of natural selection – that means that the behaviours that most improve our chances of handing down our genes and producing healthy offspring, these behaviours will continue.

Wedekind (1995) carried out a study to see to what extent MHC alleles play a role in mating behaviour. MHC alleles are responsible for our immune systems. They are inherited from both of our parents – and they are codominant. That means we end up with both immune systems. He argued that our “smell” is based on our MHC and it is best for a woman to choose a mating partner who has a different smell in order to maximize the immune system of her child.

Students were used in the study. The men were asked to wear a t-shirt for two nights. They were also told not to wear any perfume and to avoid spicy food, smoking and alcohol. They were also told not have sex. The researchers wanted to make sure that the men would not change their natural smell.

Two days later the women were asked to rank the smell of the t-shirts. They were tested in the second week after the beginning of menstruation when they have a better sense of smell. T-shirts were placed into boxes with a “smelling hole.” 3 boxes contained t-shirts from men with the same MHC as the woman, three were different and one was a clean t-shirt. Every woman rated the shirts for their “pleasantness.”

The women scored the t-shirts as more pleasant when the MHC was different than their own. This suggests that MHC influences human mate selection. If the woman’s mate has a different MHC allele, then both that allele and her allele will be inherited and expressed by a child, thus increasing its immune system and chances of survival. Research also shows that when a woman's partner has the same MHC as she does, she has a higher risk of miscarriage.  It makes sense that it would be to a evolutionary advantage to choose a partner with a different MHC in order to increase the health of our children and increase their potential for reproduction.  (372 words)

The SAQ clearly identifies an evolutionary explanation - natural selection. The study is clearly described and linked to the theory of natural selection. The study is explained with regard to the theory. 9 marks.

Script 3

Evolutionary psychologists argue that our behaviour is inherited. One study that looks at this argument is a study by Caspi who argues that depression may be inherited by a mutation of the 5HTT gene which is responsible for serotonin transport.  Caspi did a study in which he took a sample of both healthy people and people diagnosed with depression.  He then did a blood test to find out who had the two short 5HTT alleles.  He found that the participants with the two short alleles were the ones that had depression.  In addition, he found that those with the two short alleles who also had at least three stressful events in their lives in the past year were more likely to have depression.  This of course, raises some questions of whether it was actually the stressor, or the gene itself which led to the onset of depression.  Since the gene is inherited, it clearly shows a link to evolution and how the variation may have an advantage to human survival. (170 words)

The SAQ is rather short - but this alone does not give it a low mark.  The response is of limited relevance to an evolutionary argument.  Genetics and evolution are two separate arguments for behaviour.  Although a behaviour must be "inheritable" in order to allow evolution to occur, in this response there is no actual evolutionary argument identified - such as natural selection. The study is not relevant and is not described with a high level of accuracy.  There is an attempt to link the study to evolution at the end of the response, but it is not done in a meaningful or accurate way.  2 marks.

Do's and Don'ts for SAQs


Answer all of the questions.  There are no choices in this section of the exam.  You will have to answer one biological, one cognitive and one sociocultural short-answer question.

Write an answer that is between one and 1.5 pages long, depending on handwriting. This averages around 300 words.

Read the question carefully.  Note the command term.

Begin your SAQ with a direct response to the question.

Define any terms that are required to answer your question.  This includes outlining theories.

Provide ONE piece of research. Although it is very helpful to cite the researcher(s) by name, you do not lose marks if you forget the name of the researchers.  You do not have to learn the dates of the studies. Always outline the aim, procedure and results of the study that you are describing.

Directly link the study to the question.


Don’t rush.  You have 20 minutes to write a response.  You should use the full amount of time to write your SAQ.

If the question asks for one example of research or a theory, NEVER write more than one - even in an introduction.  You are ALWAYS marked on your first example.  Many students worldwide lose a lot of credit for not following this simple direction.

Do not write an introduction for this response.  It is not an essay.

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