In preparing for our recent IB Psych’ Teachers Workshop in Florida I created a few materials to help clarify and simplify the writing process for exam answers. I figured out that the following 7 steps can be taken in order to create excellent short answer responses (SARs)* for Paper 1, Section A.
You could write an excellent short answer response by following the following 7 simple steps.
1. Restate the question
This is a great thing for students to get comfortable doing because in the essays they can get 1 mark just by doing this properly. This is why I like SARs and essays to begin the same way. One sentence, maybe two.
2. State the study (or studies) that will be used in the answer
Steps 1 and 2 are in the introduction. We can also teach these as transferable writing skills because they’re simply doing what any good introduction does – telling the reader what to expect (i.e. providing context for the answer). One sentence, maybe two.
- Top 5 Mistakes in SARs and How to Avoid Them (Link)
- Example Short Answer Responses – Downloadables (Link)
- What is the difference between “Outline” and “Describe” (Link)
3. Define the key term (or terms) in the topic
Some people recommend doing this to begin the answer, and that’s fine, but personally I rather this being the first sentence or two of the central argument. One reason is because I like students to begin an SAR by restating the question and their essays the same way. The other reason is because I think it makes for a pretty good opening to a central argument and shows good knowledge. One sentence, maybe two.
In this post I include some advice on what key terms to define and which to avoid.
4. Explain the topic
All SAQs are asking students to show their knowledge and understanding of a topic so students must have a central argument that both answers the question and shows they “get it.” After all, the purpose of the exams to show that students are competent psychologists so somewhere there needs to be evidence of this and it comes in the explanation of the topic. A major mistake students make in SARs is focusing only on the study and completely forgetting about this important step.
Check out one of the exam question banks (e.g Biological bank here) and see if you can identify the central arguments students should be making in response to these questions
5. Summarize the supporting study
When preparing for IB Psychology exams it’s important to bear in mind the two central questions we are addressing:
- How and why do humans think and act the way they do?
- How do we know?
Thus, all good SARs should respond to these two questions in some way. Steps #3 and #4 address the first question while Steps #5 and #6 address the second.
6. Explain what the results of the study say about the topic
This is perhaps the most common error in all IB Psychology answers, including SARs and Essays. It is imperative that a summary of a study does not end with the results but goes further and links the study back to the question. For example, if using Loftus and Palmer in an SAR about reconstructive memory it can’t just end with the speed estimates and the %s of participants who saw broken glass, but the answer must go further and explain how these results show that memory is reconstructive in nature.
Read More: How to turn descriptions into explanations (Link)
Exam reports often lament that there is “too much description” but this is misleading – you can’t have too much description as description of a study (aims, methods, results) shows knowledge. What the report should say is “not enough explanation” which means linking the study back to the question and the central argument and showing its significance to the topic. i.e. what does the study show or suggest about the topic? This explanation shows understanding.
7. Conclusion (optional)
This could simply be a one sentence statement that neatly restates the central idea of the answer, but it’s not needed. One sentence max!
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*SAQs and SARs mean the same thing. I prefer the term short answer responses because that’s what students are writing – responses.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.