It’s so easy to get a 7 in Paper One…

Travis DixonAssessment (IB), Revision and Exam Preparation, Teaching Ideas

It's surprising how easy it SHOULD be to get a 7 in IB Psychology Paper One, and even more shocking how few students actually achieve it! At ThemEd, we think we can help.

….or at least, it should be.

Note: This is for the old syllabus, exams 2011 – 2018

Let’s crunch some numbers…

  • 70% is the mark to get a 7 (approximately).
  • 4% of IB Psych’ students get 7s.
  • 46 marks are available in Paper One.
  • 32/46 will get you 70%.

So by looking at the above numbers, let’s see one possible way of getting 70%:

  • 5/8 for all three SARs = 15 for Part A.
  • 17/22 for the essay = 32/46 Total Part A+B = 70% = 7!

Here’s another:

  • 6/8 for all three SARs = 18 for Part A.
  • 14/22 for the essay = 32/46 Total Part A+B = 70% = 7!

Advice for students

Based on these numbers, here is some advice:

#1: First of all, don’t aim for 70%, aim for 90%!

#2: Aim for at least 6/8 for all three SARs – it should be easy to do. If you can construct an argument and use the evidence (a study) to support it, this is very doable for nearly every student.

#3: Go beyond memorization. To get top marks you need to be able to apply studies to the question, which means using them to support an argument. This requires understanding, not just memorization.

#4: Don’t prepare by memorizing exam answers. This is a terrible approach! The questions change all the time and even if the question is similar, if you just re-write a memorized answer you might still get poor marks because you haven’t directly answered the question.

Remember that if you’ve bought or found an exemplar answer, so have other students. Examiners will know straight away if you’re just copying someone else’s work and it will negatively affect your marks. Use example answers to learn how to construct your own answers!

#5: Put time and effort into finding overlaps in the core and options and stream-lining your revision – this is far more effective than spending hours memorizing essays.

Teachers: we should be shocked by these numbers!

Why? Because it shows you just how easy it should be to get a 7 in IB Psychology (for Paper One, at least) and yet only 4% of our kids can do it. They could get a 7 without even getting in the top mark band for any of the short answer responses. They might not even have to get in the top mark band for critical thinking in the essay.

To get 5 or 6/8 for three SARs and 15-17/22 for an essay is achievable by a majority of IB students, in my experience. All they’re required to do in order to get these marks is show they can explain a key concept from the course. I’d almost guarantee they wouldn’t have to evaluate any study!

Examiners lament that the answers are “too descriptive.” This means that students aren’t clearly showing they understand how a variable influences a behaviour, or how a study shows a concept, or why a research method is used for a particular area of study, etc. These are the concepts we need to teach to and so far, myself included, it’s looking like we’re failing 96% of our kids.

So why do so few achieve 7s?

I won’t speak for everyone, just myself. Here I’ll give some reasons why I think in the past I have had multiple students capable of getting a 7 in Paper One and haven’t. I also offer the solutions I’m working on to fix this!

#1: Poor Resources: I’ve had poor resources and a poor course structure. I’m working hard to change that and already I’m seeing a caliber of answers across a wider group of students, earlier in the course, too, that I haven’t seen before. SolutionThe textbook we’re using and the revision resources I’m developing will help students streamline their revision, making it easier for them to reinforce conceptual understandings and apply the evidence. It’s also making it more fun for me to teach.

#2: Content: I underestimated the amount of content. There is a lot for students to remember in this course in order to be prepared for any exam question. I underestimated this because I teach the same thing every year and so I forget just how new it is for students – they’re not re-learning like I am every year, they’re starting from scratch. Solution: Re-designing my course to overlap core and options and streamline the learning in a themantic design is having a really positive impact. More kids are now getting the big ideas faster and they last longer, which makes sticking the evidence to these ideas much easier. It also frees up time for revision and makes revision much easier, as well.

#3: Teaching Writing: I didn’t do a good job teaching exam writing. I used to spend hours on command terms and I didn’t teach a basic approach that is consistent across all possible answers. SolutionThe exam answer frameworks I’ve developed and my streamlined feedback with the three levels of learning is really helping students show their knowledge and understanding in response to exam questions.

We have an exam answers pack that’s being designed right now and will be available very soon.

#4: Teaching Critical Thinking: I taught “critical thinking” as a whole class activity, like all of us evaluating a study together for the LOs that are level three. This was a terrible approach because my students wouldn’t grasp the evaluation if they don’t understand or comprehend the study in the first place. Also, for exam success actually being able to understand and use the study in support of an argument is far more important than being able to evaluate it. SolutionI’ve redesigned my lesson structure along the CHACER framework and I extend kids when they’re ready so they can learn to evaluate studies, and those that can’t still work at their own level. This being said, I also give an opportunity for whole class learning of evaluation of studies specifically in my “Quantitative Methods” unit and “The IA” which happen towards the end of Year One in my course.

Looking at my class this year, 50% are capable of getting a 7 for Paper One. I’ll report back in August how they did!

What can we learn from this?

My personal opinion is that there’s too much content in the IB Psychology syllabus – this is why we’re seeing that despite the fact that it should be ridiculously easy to get a 7 in Paper One, only 4% of kids can do it. Only 4%, it seems, can explain a concept and use evidence to support it. That’s all they have to do. The critical thinking is where we think that the students are failing – it’s not – it’s the understanding! 

I think we need to teach to ideas, not to studies. The studies are these are supporting evidence for the big ideas. We also need to teach psychologically holistically, so students understand the interactions of variables in behaviour, not just single explanations.

I’d welcome your thoughts…