It's essential to show knowledge and understanding about qualitative methods in Paper Three.

How to write a Paper 3 exam answer

tdixon Assessment (IB), Research Methodology, Revision and Exam Preparation Leave a Comment

IMPORTANT NOTE: This example is for the old/current curriculum (last exams Nov 2018).

Three Simple Steps

Every Paper 3 answer will include all three levels of thinking/learning:

  1. Knowing
  2. Understanding
  3. Critical thinking

For this reason, I like to use these three levels as the three steps to making sure that Paper 3 answers will achieve high marks. For a logical structure to your answer, the three levels are often included in this order in the answer itself. This is similar to essays as well.

Get everything you need for Paper 3 HERE!


You can also use this basic acronym for Paper 3 answers:

  1. D (Define): the key terms in the question to show your knowledge
  2. E (Explain): how and why the methods are used in qualitative studies (or how/why the concepts are relevant to qualitative studies)
  3. A (Apply): Use details from the study to support your answer and to show your application to the stimulus material
  4. L (Limitations): Especially for methods, explain limitations of the methodology

Here’s a post that includes a summary of a qualitative study that could be effective for practicing writing Paper 3 answers. (Link)

This video on our youtube channel should make clarify the explanations in this page.


Step One: Show knowledge (identify/define/describe)

The answer should typically begin with an identification of relevant qualitative methodology, followed by an accurate definition of the relevant terminology.

You might also go further than definition and describe, but regardless of how much information you include, I would recommend always starting your answer by showing your knowledge. It’s just a logical place to begin.

  • For example, question 1 in Paper 3 will either be about an interview, observation or case study method. Therefore, the answer should begin with the relevant method being identified and defined.


Step Two: Show understanding (explain how & why)

After showing knowledge and providing context for the answer with accurate and concise definitions and descriptions, it’s important to show how and why particular methods are used in qualitative research. This part of the answer can be broad and applicable to any qualitative study. Keeping the explanation general shows an understanding of the field of qualitative methodology, which is what Paper 3 is all about.

This part of the answer shows an understanding of the field of qualitative research, which is what Paper 3 is all about.

  • For example, if you’re asked about a semi-structured interview, you should give a general description of how these are conducted during qualitative studies, as well as reasons why they’re a valuable method. This explanation usually comes back to heart of qualitative methodology: understanding participants’ subjective experience of phenomena.

You can prepare steps one and two for any answer before the exam. This way if you work hard you can guarantee that you could at least get a 5-6/10 for any question.

Step Three: Show critical thinking

There are two ways you can show deep understanding and critical thinking in Paper 3. The first applies to every question; the second depends on the command term.

Application: The answer must be applied to the stimulus study. This means that you have to incorporate relevant details of the stimulus in your answer. I include this as critical thinking as it does require a certain level of abstract thinking.

The most common way to apply the answer to the stimulus is to include it after the general “how and why” explanation to explain specifically how and/or why the methodology was used in the example provided.

  • For example, if the stimulus used semi-structured interviews, you need to apply particular characteristics to your explanation. It might, for instance, that the participants were adolescents and so the researchers wanted to make them feel relaxed, so perhaps the conversational nature of a semi-structured interview would help put them at ease, allowing them to provide more data.

DO NOT summarize the aims, methods and results of the study in your answer like you would in Paper 1 or 2. It’s not needed – the examiners know the study inside and out, so you’re just wasting time and space.

Evaluation: If the command term is a level three (evaluate, discuss, to what extent…etc.) some limitations of the use of methodology should be in included in the answer. I only mention limitations, because the “why” part of the explanation is typically going to be enough for the strengths of the method. You should not explain limitations if the command term is “explain.”

It is important to note, however, that for top marks the evaluation should also be applied to the stimulus material (download the example answer above to see how this can be done).

  • For example, if the first question asked to “Discuss the use of a semi-structured interview,” then this simply means you add one or two limitations.

Paper Three is only one hour long and there are three answers to write, so about 250 to 400 words is a suitable length. This means for discuss/evaluate questions, being concise and getting to the point is essential.

Practice Questions

Could you apply the above advice to these sample questions? You could SM’s case study as the stimulus.

  • Explain how reflexivity could have been used in this case study.
  • Discuss two ethical considerations relevant to this case study.
  • Evaluate the use of the case study method.
  • To what extent could findings be generalized from this case study?
  • Explain the importance of credibility in qualitative research.
  • Discuss the sampling technique used in this case study.
  • Explain how one or more effects of the use of triangulation on the credibility of this case study.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *