Evaluation in ERQs

One of the big questions for the IB exam is, "Do I have to evaluate the research?"

This is a rather complex question, as there are different types of questions that require different types of responses.  Simply going on auto-pilot and evaluating the research may not lead to the results that you were hoping for.  

Remember, for SAQs you should never include evaluation.  This changes the focus of your response and may lead to lower marks. 

Below you will find advice for the different types of essay questions you can be asked on Paper 1 part b and on Paper 2.

The command terms


Discussion questions ask you to look holistically at the question. The recommendation is to evaluate the research you used, but then to have a paragraph in which you answer the question by discussing methodological issues (in general) in the study of that topic, areas of uncertainty and implications of the research.


Contrast essays do not require you to evaluate the research unless it is a point of contrast.  The critical thinking in this type of essay is all about the contrast.  So, for example, how there is biological support for the MSM, but very limited biological support for schema theory.

To what extent

To what extent asks you to look at two sides of an issue and then determine which is the stronger argument. In this sense, the evaluation of the research is relevant.  However, ethical evaluation is not highly relevant in most TWE questions.

Evaluating theory vs research

These two questions are rather problematic for students.

If you are being asked to "Evaluate research....", then you should outline the strengths and limitations of the studies that are relevant to the question.  You should not use the same evaluation strategies for all of the research.  Redundant responses do not earn high marks.  Try to use a range of evaluation strategies to earn the highest marks.

When asked to evaluate a theory, be careful.  In this case, you may evaluate the research as a way to discuss the strength of the evidence that supports the theory.  However, that is not enough for this question. Remember TEACUP. You should discuss such things as the operationalization of variables in the theory, cross-cultural validity, predictive validity and applications.  If you only evaluate research, you will not earn high marks for either critical thinking or for the focus of the essay.

Ethics and research methods questions

Perhaps the trickiest essays for students are the ethical considerations and research methods questions.

If you are asked to Discuss ethical considerations in the study of the brain and behaviour, then the only critical thinking that is relevant to the question is a discussion of the considerations.  Remember, do not evaluate the study from an ethical standpoint; instead, choose an ethical consideration (e.g. informed consent), choose a study to explain (e.g. HM) and then make the link between the two.  You need to explain the consideration (generally) and why it is important and then link it to what happened in the study you have chosen. You may also discuss why researchers made the choices that they did in the study that you have chosen.

If you asked to Discuss one or more research methods in the study of the brain and behaviour, then your evaluation should only focus on the research method. Do not discuss ethics, cross-cultural validity or sampling biases. You should focus only on the strengths and limitations of the research method which are relevant to the studies that you have chosen.  Once again, try to avoid redundancy.  It is helpful to either choose two different research methods or two aspects of the same method (a true experiment vs a natural experiment).

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