Critical Thinking in the New Course

Travis DixonAssessment (IB), Revision and Exam Preparation

Thinking is key in IB Psychology.

The following is adapted from an extract in the introduction to IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide

Critical Thinking

The IB Psychology course is aimed at developing an understanding of relationships: relationships between variables, behaviour, ethics and research methods. But students also need to be able to develop the skills to go further than understanding and to be able to reflect critically upon their own understanding of these relationships. The IB Psychology guide provides several areas of your understanding that you can reflect upon:

  • Research design and methodologies
  • Triangulation
  • Assumptions and biases
  • Contradictory evidence, alternative theories or explanations
  • Areas of uncertainty

In the themantic model, we would include these under the “abstraction” level of thinking, but for now let’s use IB jargon.

Essentially, these criteria mean that after you demonstrate a conceptual understanding of a significant relationship in psychology, students then need to reflect on that understanding and this is an important next step to aim for. Coincidentally, it’s also what the abstraction extensions in the text are designed to help students with.

Research design and methodologies: students may demonstrate critical thinking about a study that they have used to demonstrate a significant relationship. This would involve analyzing and critiquing the methods of the study and explaining how this might affect the validity of the conclusions and applications of the study itself. For example, if a natural experimental method was used this could affect the types of conclusions that could be drawn and the applications of the findings.

Triangulation: To triangulate data in psychology means to get information (data) from more than one source. It helps to strengthen the validity of conclusions. There are a few types of triangulation, including methodological triangulation, researcher triangulation and data triangulation. These are explained throughout the abstraction extensions. Students can reflect on applications and conclusions regarding relationships by explaining how triangulation may affect their validity.

Assumptions and biases: An assumption is something that is believed, without necessarily having any proof or evidence. Bias could likely refer to researcher bias. Assumptions and biases can influence the validity of conclusions in many ways. It’s hoped that students can learn to try to see where bias and assumptions may have influenced research or conclusions. This one is tricky, though.

Contradictory evidence or alternative theories or explanations: There’s often more than one way to explain a phenomenon in psychology so thinking critically could involve offering a different explanation for a relationship a student has explained, or contradictory evidence that challenges that relationship in some way. If you focus on biological explanations of behaviour, for instance, you could counter with an explanation of how sociocultural factors may be influential.

Areas of uncertainty: This is my favorite critical thinking criterion because it’s so vague that it can be applied in so many ways. It really leaves students freedom to think critically in multiple possible ways. For example, a “discussion” can involve hypothesizing, so if a student is discussing a relationship they could come up with interesting hypotheses as to how that relationship might be applied in multiple ways, but as it’s only a hypothesis they can say that it’s an “area of uncertainty.” Correlation vs causation might also be relevant in a discussion of an area of uncertainty.


All of these critical thinking criteria can be addressed in a point-counter point structure in an essay that addresses one of the command terms that will be used in the exams:

  • Discuss
  • To what extent…
  • Evaluate
  • Contrast

I’ll keep posting resources that will show examples of how critical thinking can be demonstrated in student answers.