I’ve been playing around a bit with scaffolding for essay writing, and from what I’ve found, a general guideline for essay structure is as follows:
- Core argument
- Supporting evidence (min. 2 x studies).
- Counter argument
Of course, this is just a template and sometimes the structure varies. For example, you might have one study supporting the core argument and one study supporting the counter one. Regardless, you should have two studies in the essay.
Some people recommend 1,000 words for an essay but I’m doing my best to show how excellent answers can be written in about 800 to 900 words, because realistically this is all there’s time for in an IB Psychology exam.
As a general guideline, I recommend the following approximations in terms of length (read below to find out why this is important to think about).
- Introduction – 100 words
- Central argument – 150 to 200 words
- Supporting evidence – 300 to 400 words (2 x studies)
- Counter-argument – 100 to 200 words
- Conclusion (50 – 100 words): Restate central and counter-arguments.
Why is essay length important to think about?
I don’t want you to think that I use these numbers on a daily basis and they dictate my course planning. This is more what we discuss in class in designated exam prep’ lessons.
But I do think it’s important to think carefully about the depth of knowledge and understanding that students need in order to be well-prepared for the exams. This is because we have to carefully structure our courses so we have a balanced between developing knowledge, understanding and critical thinking skills. If we try to get students to remember too many studies or in too much detail, we reduce time available for developing understanding and critical thinking (because, despite what many people think, these things to do not happen concurrently). This is also valuable for students to think about so they can manage their revision.
I used to give students 1,000 word study summaries, but now I know better. They spent too long comprehending the study, and never developed an understanding of how to properly apply them. I think this is common and it’s why examiners complain about essays that are “too descriptive.”
I believe that my students have historically under-performed in IB Psychology because my course used to be too content heavy, which took away time and cognitive energy from developing understanding and critical thinking.
When you look at it, students only really need to be able to explain studies in about 100 to 150 words. That’s not much. They just need to core details to describe and an ability to apply the study to support a particular argument.
Download Example Essay Here:
Please leave feedback in the comments and feel free to be critical.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.