Writing for IB External Assessments

Format of the assessment

The IB Psychology assessment is divided into three papers. On the first day of the exam, students will write a total of four essays-- three mandatory short answer essays and one extended essay. Day two of the exam, students will write on the optional topics that we covered during the course. SL-students will select one extended essay topic and HL-students will select two topics to write about. Lastly, HL-students will write complete paper 3.

Paper 1 | Section A

You will have three essays that you will need to write on the biological, cognitive, and sociocultural approaches to psychology, which assesses your understanding of the "core" of the curriculum. These essays are in the short answer question (SAQ) format; so, they are approximately 300-400 words long (about 1.5-2 pages). You will have 20 minutes to answer each of the questions. The format of this section of the exam is the same for SL and HL students.

Tips on writing the SAQs

Because these essays are short answer, you will not need to include an introduction and conclusion. You are able to jump directly into addressing the prompt with minimal planning. I would suggest taking these steps:

Read the question carefully, making certain to also identify what the command term is asking you to do. Double check that you understand what the prompt is asking you to do.

Begin your SAQ by directly answering the question. For example, if the prompt asks you to explain one methodology used to understand the cognitive approach, you would state...A methodology used to understand the cognitive approach to psychology is experiments.

Define any and all terms that are pertinent to your essay. An experiment shows causation as one variable is manipulated by the researcher between two conditions.

You will need to address one piece of research that helps you answer the question. Show your understanding of the research by citing the aim, procedure, and results. You will not need to incorporate statistics, but it is suggested that you are able to state the name of the psychologist who conducted the study. An example of an experiment that furthers our understanding of the cognitive approach to psychology is the Schatcher and Singer vitamin experiment. The researchers' aim was to test their two-factor theory of emotion and show that a cognitive appraisal of the activation of the autonomic nervous system influences emotions. Male participants agreed to receive an injection- the control was a saline solution and the independent variable (IV) was an injection of adrenaline. After the injection, participants were put into one of four conditions. Group 1 received the IV and were not told about potential side effects, Group 2 received the IV and were informed that there could be potential side effects of an increase in heart rate, Group 3 received the IV and were told that side effects may include numb feet or a headache, and Group 4 received the placebo and were not informed of any side effects. The participants were then either introduced to a confederate who was amusing or one that was annoying, and the emotional behaviors of the participants were catalogued (the emotional behaviors being the dependent variable). Participants who were unaware of the side effects had an increase in emotional behaviors (either more amused or more annoyed by the confederates) than participants who knew about the side effects. This experiment showed that acknowledging and appraising of the body's reaction to a stimulus impacts emotions. Experiments shows causation and is useful for understanding the cognitive approach to psychology.

Lastly, you will need to link back to your study.

I also suggest underlining any psychological research that you include.

Note that you will be asked to answer all THREE of the prompts. You will have plenty of time to complete this, so go slowly and be certain to include everything needed for an excellent essay.

SAQ Rubric (Paper 1.A)

For examples of Paper 1.A, check out John Crane's website.

Paper 1 | Section B

You will select ONE of three essay prompts on the biological, cognitive, and sociocultural approaches to psychology, which assesses your analysis of the "core" of the curriculum. This essay is in the extended response question (ERQ) format; so, they are approximately 800-1000 words long (about 4 pages). You will have 60 minutes to answer one question. The format of this section of the exam is the same for SL and HL students. However, the questions can be different for SL and HL because HL has extension topics for the "core" topics.

Tips on writing the ERQ

First, read all three prompts. Select the one that you can discuss with specific psychological research. It is best if you write down the research that you can use. Identify the command term.

Write an introduction which addresses the prompt and the command term and present a claim that you will defend.

Address your first piece of research that supports your claim. For each study or theory, you will want to state the aim of the research, the methodology and details of the research, the findings, and the strengths and limitations. Simply summarizing the research will result in a low score- you MUST ANALYZE and show critical thinking.

In the next paragraph, you will want to analyze another study that either supports or refutes the aforementioned research. State how it supports or refutes using your psychology words-- method, sampling, ethical considerations, generalizability, validity, credibility, and bias. Again, you will want to analyze the research.

Try to include a few more studies if possible and follow the guidelines above. "FOUR or MORE" studies are amazing, but you will need at least TWO.

Provide a conclusion that shows your claim is valid.

ERQ Rubric (Paper 1.B & 2)

Paper 2 | The options

This paper will be written on day two of your exams, usually in the morning. The requirements for SL and HL are different.

SL paper 2

You will have select ONE of prompts from ONE of the optional topics-- abnormal, health, human relationships, and developmental. I highly suggest that in your revision, you select ONE of the FOUR options to focus on. This essay is in the extended response question (ERQ) format; so, they are approximately 800-1000 words long (about 4 pages). You will have 60 minutes to answer one question. For a list of possible questions, you will want to consult the learning objectives sheet.

See Paper 1 | Section B tips above for details on how to write this ERQ.

HL paper 2

You will have select ONE of prompts from TWO of the optional topics-- abnormal, health, human relationships, and developmental. Therefore, you will write a total of two essays. I highly suggest that in your revision, you select TWO of the FOUR options to focus on-- usually we cover abnormal and health psychology. These essays are in the extended response question (ERQ) format; so, they are approximately 800-1000 words long (about 4 pages). You will have 120 minutes to answer two questions. For a list of possible questions, you will want to consult the learning objectives sheet.

See Paper 1 | Section B tips above for details on how to write this ERQ.

ERQ Rubric (Paper 1.B & 2)

Paper 3 | HL only

Paper 3 will happen on the second day of exams, after you complete paper 2. You will receive a stimulus of actual research and are required to analyze the research through a series of six questions shown below:

  • Each stimulus will have these questions (9 marks):

1. Identify one method used and outline its characteristics.

2. Describe the sampling method used in the study.

3. Suggest an alternative or additional method giving one reason for your choice.

  • And asked these questions (6 marks):

4. Describe the ethical considerations that were applied in the study and explain if further ethical considerations should be taken.

5. Describe the ethical considerations in reporting the results and explain ethical considerations that could be taken into account when using the results of the study.

  • Finally, ONE of the following questions will be asked (9 points):

6. Discuss the possibility of generalizing the findings of the study.

7. Discuss how a researcher could ensure that the results of the study are credible.

8. Discuss how the researcher in the study could avoid personal and/or methodological bias.

Paper III