Understanding IB Psychology with 3 Easy Questions

Travis DixonAssessment (IB), Curriculum, Teaching Ideas, Themantics

These simple questions can help make sense of the IB Psychology course guide, whether you're a teacher or a student.

The IB Psychology course can be a confusing beast and while the official IB Guide is there to tell us what we need to teach (as teachers) and study (as students), it’s not always clear. So I came up with a way of breaking down the IB Psychology course into three simple questions.

Thinking about IB Psychology in the following 3 questions will be helpful for:

Teachers: It will allow you to plan each topic more carefully and can help you with planning for each of the topics. If you’re not sure what to teach, start with these three questions and apply them to the topic and see what you come up with.

Students: If you’re trying to study for the IB exams without any revision materials and taking a Do-It-Yourself approach, you can use these three questions to guide you. If you add these questions to any topic in the guide and you study so you can answer them, you’ll be well-prepared for the IB exams.

The 3 Questions

1. What is…

This is the first step to knowing the IB Psychology course. For every topic in the guide, begin with asking “what is?”

  • What is psychology?
  • What is “behaviour” and “cognition?”
  • What is neuroplasticity?
  • What is the multistore model of memory?
  • What is a research method? What is a true experiment?
  • What is a cultural dimension?
  • What is social identity theory?
  • What is an origin of conflict?
  • What is an explanation of one disorder?

These are basic knowledge questions and can typically be answered in one or two sentences. It’s essential that the study of any psychological topic begins with a “what is” question because we can’t understand or think critically about something if we don’t know what it is.

2. How does…

After we know what a topic is, we now need to seek to understand something important about that topic. This is where the “How does…” question comes in. After all, knowing something is great but we want to understand human behaviour and cognition, including how they work, so this level of thinking is imperative.

  • How does neuroplasticity occur?
  • How does the multistore model of memory explain memory formation?
  • How does a psychologist use a true experiment? And why?
  • How does individualism/collectivism influence behaviour?
  • How does social identity theory explain prejudice and discrimination?
  • How does realistic conflict theory explain conflict?
  • How does socioeconomic status influence PTSD?

If you can answer a “how does…” and even a “how and why does…” question for each of the topics that might be asked in an exam, you’re on track to acing the IB Psych’ exams.

You can easily change the verb to a plural by asking “How do…” for many topics. For example, “How do researchers use technology to study the brain?” You might even want to add the “And why…?” as well. The point of this post is to help build confidence to those confused by the guide.

3. But…

After understanding and application comes critical and creative thinking and this is where our buts come in. Critical thinking is “a critical reflection of the value and validity of one’s knowledge and understanding.” An easy way to critical reflect is to ask “but.”

  • But does neuroplasticity occur the same for everyone, or does it vary depending on things like age?
  • But does the multistore model of memory explain every type of memory formation?
  • But are there limitations in using a true experiment?
  • But aren’t we making the assumption that people from individualistic/collectivistic cultures are all the same?
  • But are there alternatives to social identity theories explaination of prejudice and discrimination?
  • How does realistic conflict theory explain every type of conflict in all contexts?
  • But is it socioeconomic status that’s influencing PTSD, or is it really something else like the stress associated with being poor?

You can see from the above questions that these are great beginnings to some awesome critical thinking points. To be fully developed they need exploring. Of course, these questions are based on my own knowledge and as critical thinking is inherently linked with knowledge, it would be important for students to come up with their own butts!

To think critically the first step is to ask the question. Just as important is to keep thinking and see if you can answer it.

If you look at the IB Guide’s list of critical thinking components you’ll see that these are lending themselves towards asking the but question:

  • Research methodologies: but are there limitations in the methodologies used?
  • Bias: but did researcher bias influence the results? But is my own bias influencing my interpretation of the study?
  • Assumptions: but are we making too many assumptions in this explanation of behaviour?
  • Alternative explanations: but are there alternative explanations for this behaviour? etc.

Read more: Critical thinking summarized in one word (But…) (Link)

There we have it – the three basic questions that cover IB Psychology from knowledge to critical thinking.

  1. What is…

  2. How does…

  3. But…

I hope this was helpful. These three levels of questions are closely linked with my three levels of thinking which is the foundation of the themantic model of curriculum and all the resources we produce. In the coming months and years I will be writing more about this model and its potential for positive impact in the classroom as I really believe it can make a big difference.

In writing this post I’ve come up with an easy activity that uses these 3 questions. I’m going to try with my classes to help them review. I’ll post that soon so make sure you’re subscribed and it will be sent straight to your email.