Assessment clarifications

There have been several clarifications given by the IB over the past year.  Many have said that these clarifications are difficult to follow.  I am organizing these clarifications below, based on the relevant aspects of the curriculum. These clarifications are from the assessment clarification (June 27, 2018), the FAQ document (June 2018) and clarifications sent to all workshop leaders (Sept 19, 2018). The most recent update is the updated version of the guide, released on December 16, 2019.

This page shows where we are with clarifications as of January 1, 2020.

The structure of the exams

One of the key questions has been how the questions will be set. Here is a summary of the clarifications.

Paper 1

  • Questions on paper 1, section A will use the command terms describe, outline, or explain.
  • Specific terms and concepts and information under the boldface headings will not be used in the formulation of assessment questions on Paper 1, but is offered as guidance for teaching.
  • Some additional terms may be used in the setting of questions as of May 2020 in the SAQs.  These terms are identified in the Paper 1 clarification page. These terms may not be used in the essays.
  • Questions related to ethics and research will only be formulated from the topic headings - that is, they cannot ask a question specific to content.  A valid question is Discuss ethical considerations in the study of the individual and the group. However, a question could not be asked on the ethics of stereotyping research.
  • For HL students, one, two or all three of the essays may reference the additional HL extensions topics.
  • All questions in paper 1, section B will use the command terms evaluate, discuss, contrast or to what extent.
  • Section B of paper 1 consists of one essay from a choice of three; one for each of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural approaches to behaviour.

Paper 2 overview

Paper 2’s questions will come from the four options. There will be three questions for each of the four options - one from each of the topics. SL students have one hour to complete an ERQ worth 22 marks. HL students have two hours to complete two ERQs, one from each option they have studied, for a total of 44 marks. Examination questions for paper 2 will be drawn from the content column, except for questions linked to research, ethics, or the approaches, which are linked to the topic heading.

This means that they may be asked to discuss sociocultural factors in personal relationships; they may not be asked to discuss sociocultural factors in why relationships fall apart.

Paper 3 overview

Paper 3 is an examination paper for HL students only.  It is a one-hour examination and focuses on the approaches to research. Students are given stimulus material to read, which can be from qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a mixture of both. Drawing from the stimulus material, students are required to answer three questions for a total of 24 marks. Question 1 is worth a total of nine marks, with each static question worth three marks. Question 2 is worth six marks and Question 3 is worth nine marks.

Please note that static questions will not change and are listed within the guide.

Research methods

There have been several questions about what will qualify as "research methods" when asking a question specifically about the use of research methods.  For example, Discuss the use of research methods in the study of the brain and behaviour.

  • When asked about research methods, students should write about experiments, observations, correlational studies, interviews, or case studies.  The clarification reads: Twin, adoption, and longitudinal studies are examples of research designs. Meta-analyses are a quantitative statistical analysis of several similar experiments or studies for which the pooled data is tested for statistical significance.  To clarify further, twin, adoption, longitudinal studies and meta-analyses are not considered research methods and will not be accepted on IB exams as valid responses. This also applies to Paper 2.
  • When studying the brain, fMRI, MRI, EEG, CAT, PET are the most frequent techniques used to study the brain; however, they are not research methods.

Research methods and ethics will be assessed on Paper 2 as part of the options. The guide states: “In addition, the options provide the opportunity to explore the different approaches taken in research and highlight ethical considerations and sensitivities pertinent to a specific line of inquiry”. This will only be asked at the topic level.  A valid question would be "Discuss research methods used in the study of factors that influence diagnosis."  Please note that "Discuss research methods used in the study of the validity and reliability of diagnosis" can not be asked.

Application of assessment criteria

1. Research now means only "studies."  Theory is considered part of the knowledge and understanding which is assessed separately from "use of research."

2. With regard to how much research is necessary in an SAQ or ERQ, the response is still a bit unclear.  All responses require research. Therefore, all SAQs will require a study. As for essays, the clarification reads:

As Psychology is evidence-based, it is expected that students will use their knowledge of research to support their argument. There is no prescription as to which or how many pieces of research are appropriate for their response. As such it is important that the research selected is relevant, appropriate and useful in supporting the argument they are making. One piece of research that is clearly relevant, appropriate and used well is better than several pieces that repeat the same point over and over.

The final sentence should not be interpreted as one study is enough. Rather that two studies that make the same argument are no better than using one study.

3.  The question of what is meant by criterion A in the rubric is still not clear.  The response from IB is:

Students must identify the problem or issue being raised by the question, which they can do by restating or breaking down the question. Students who go beyond this by explaining (giving reasons or causes) the problem demonstrate their understanding of the issues or problems.

4. Critical thinking must be relevant to the question.

5. In the past, students have not been penalized for using the word "experiment" when meaning "study."  It is common to see students write, "The experiment done by Festinger was a covert participant observation."  This will now be penalized under criterion B.

For specifics on Paper 3, please see the Paper 3 clarifications page.

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