Command Terms That’ll Never Be in an Exam

tdixon Assessment (IB) Leave a Comment

The IB has designed their assessments around the use of command terms to try to provide more clarity in what students are required to do. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. So here’s a couple of tips about some of the command terms that will never be in the exams…well I should say “highly unlikely to be in the exams” just to cover my backside because it’s not written anywhere definitively that they’ll never be used. I’m just making a calculated guess based on good assessment practice.

Basically, many of the Level One command terms (identify, define, state) are highly unlikely to be in an exam. If they are they would have to be coupled with another prompt as by themselves they wouldn’t allow the student to show enough understanding of the topic in question.


In order to state something you only need to write a word or short phrase, so there wouldn’t be much point in asking a question like “State one factor that influences conformity”. My answer would be “Culture.” This wouldn’t get many marks, and so wouldn’t be an exam question (by itself).


Again, I could write some pretty good definitions in one sentence so it’s unlikely this would be in an exam. One of the learning outcomes is “define culture and cultural norms.” This is a nonsense learning outcome though because how could you objectively measure a student’s knowledge of such a subjective concept as the definition of culture?


In order to identify (as opposed to state) you need something from which to make the identification. As Paper 1 and 2 in the IB exams do not have stimulus material there is nothing from which to identify, so it’s not likely that this would be asked.

The only Level one command term I would really worry about in an exam sense is “Describe”. The three command terms above would not be questions by themselves; in order for them to be in an exam they’d need to have a second prompt. However, I doubt this would happen for two reasons:

a) This just makes the questions unnecessarily confusing

b) As you can see below, the requirements of these command terms are often involved implicitly in the questions

So that’s not to say understanding identify, state and define are not important. They can actually be quite helpful in planning your answer. For teachers, they are useful for breaking down the exam requirements for students and scaffolding good answers.

Let’s take for instance a SAQ prompt: Explain one factor that influences conformity.

Now before I can explain the factor I need to simply state what that factor is. It may then be a good idea for me to provide a definition or a brief summary of that factor. I would then need to outline the relevant research and then explain how the research demonstrates the factor. So understanding these terms can be helpful as they’re implicitly involved in exam responses.

So my plan for my SAQ might be:

Explain one factor that influences conformity

  • State: normative social influence
  • Define: changing one’s behaviour so they feel part of the group
  • Describe study: Asch’s study on line lengths
  • Explain: how this study shows normative social influence

Good exam answers should be planned and using the level one command terms can help you make brief plans.

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