IA 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.

Carrying out the Internal Assessment

The internal assessment is the same for SL and HL students. It is required that students investigate a published study, theory or model relevant to their learning in psychology by conducting an experimental investigation and reporting the findings.

Group work

  • Students may not carry out an IA on their own.  They must work as part of a group.  If group members end up dropping out of the program after the IA is completed, this simply needs to be noted when submitting the IA for moderation.
  • Groups must be between 2 and 4 students.
  • The students must plan and conduct their IA experiment as a group, but after the data has been collected they must work independently. This means that when writing their IA, the procedure, materials and data tables will be identical.  Although many of the other sections of the report will be very similar, students must write these sections on their own to avoid academic dishonesty.
  • Students may not pool data for the internal assessment. For example, if three different groups of four students are investigating the Stroop effect, students may only use the data collected from within their own group and not the collection of data across the three groups.

Clarifications of the report

There have been many questions about why the report is the way it is.  I will summarize below what I know about the nature of the report itself.  Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Students must follow the prescribed headings: Introduction, Exploration, Analysis, Evaluation, and Works Cited.
  • Students should have appendices that include their materials and documentation of how they met ethical standards.
  • Students must use appropriate citation and have a list of references at the end of their report.
  • Samples are available both on Inthinking and on the My IB site. These samples should be used by students so that they know what is expected in each section of the report.


1. Do students need to have the original study in the introduction?

This is not required.  However, many students will find this a good way to support the theory or model that they are required to explain in the introduction.

2. Do students have to compare their results to the original study?

The IB response to this question is: Comparing an IA’s results with an original experiment was often relatively meaningless because of the IA’s simplifications/modifications relative to the base experiment/study. Comparing the findings is simpler and more appropriate. (The assessment criterion partially reads: ‘The findings of the student’s investigation are discussed with reference to the background theory or model.

3. Do students need to include their procedure in the Exploration?

They absolutely have to include their procedure.  This is how the moderator will be able to assess their Evaluation.  The procedure was taken out of assessment because it has to be the same for all members of the group - and it has to be approved by the teacher.  In addition, since it is often a replication, the procedure is often very similar to the original study. Although this is not awarded marks, it is required.

4. Do students need to justify their choice of statistics?

No, this is no longer required.  This led to very formulaic responses.  Students may use more than one descriptive statistic and are expected to discuss their own data in more detail.  They should discuss what they learn from the statistics, rather than why the statistic was the "best choice."

5. Do students need to discuss their ethical considerations?

Students are not required to do this, but it will most likely be part of their procedure.  How ethical considerations were met must be documented in the appendices.  This means that they must have a copy of their letter of consent (including parental consent for participants younger than 16) and debriefing notes. Students who do not have ethical considerations documented risk getting a zero for their IA.

6. Why are students no longer assessed on presentation?

Presentation marks are often seen as arbitrary.  Although the report must meet the requirements for each section and should have page numbers and a table of contents, this is no longer assessed. However, when it comes to citation - if the citation is not appropriate or is missing, the IA will be flagged for academic dishonesty. This may result in the IA being awarded zero marks.

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