How to study for Paper 1 in IB Psychology
3 Steps to Prepare for Section B: Essays

Travis DixonAssessment (IB)

Follow these three simple steps to get ready for Paper 1, Essays in IB Psychology exams.

In yesterday’s post, I explained 7 simple steps for studying for Paper 1, Section A (SAQs) in IB Psychology. Now it’s time to look at how we can use that foundation to prepare for Section B – the essays. 

Studying for Paper 1 in IB Psychology is simple, but it’s not easy. Make sure you start your revision a few months before your exam dates. You can watch this explanation as a video here.

Step 1: Choose your approach

Whereas all three SAQs in Paper One are compulsory, you have a choice of which essay question to answer. There are three questions, one from each of the approaches. You only answer one. This is why you should choose one of the three approaches (biological, cognitive or sociocultural) to become an expert on for the essays.

After you’ve chosen your approach, you will use the same list of topics to study that you prepared for the SAQs. That is, of course, except for the “additional terms” which are SAQ only (agonists, antagonists, etc.)

HL Students: Don’t forget that one, two or all three of the essay questions might be based on the extension. This is important to remember when choosing which approach to study. My advice for students is to choose one approach for the essays and HL students study that same extension and not the other two. For example, if biological approach is your essay choice, then revise the animal research extension and skip the other two (technology and globalization).

Read More:

An example Section B (Essays) from the Nov 2019 exams.

Step 2: Find a second study for each topic

An important component of the IB Psychology essay rubric is “Use of research.” This means using studies to support the arguments and claims you’re making in your essay. Therefore, to score well in this section, it is advisable to prepare at least two studies for every topic. Since you already have one for the SAQs, you simply need to find a second one for the essays.

Here are some ways you could use two studies:

  • You could use a correlational study to show two factors are connected and then an experimental study to explain that relationship.
  • You could use two studies to support a theory or model. Each study could focus on a different claim of the theory/model.
  • You could use an older, “classic” study and then a more modern one to support it.
  • You could use one human and one animal study in the biological approach.
  • You could use studies from different cultures, comparing the results in relation to the topic.

You can see example exam answers in this pack.

Tip: I actually encourage students to prepare to use three studies in an essay – two that support the argument and one in support of a counter-argument. Remember, though, that this all depends on the question and there is not a single formula for essays because the questions are more variable than SAQs. You can score top marks with two studies, as long as you use them effectively.

A second example? You might think it would be good to add a second example for each topic. E.g. if testosterone is your hormone for SAQs, you could add cortisol for the essays so you can write about two. However, I advise against this approach because there is a big chance that the essay question will specify writing about one only – you can read more in this blog post. 

Step 3: Critical thinking

There are three main sections of the IB Psych essay rubric: knowledge and understanding, use of research and critical thinking. You show your knowledge and understanding with your central argument (the answer to your key question you planned for the SAQs). You’ll show your use of research with the studies you use. Now the only thing that’s left to prepare is your “critical thinking.”

What is critical thinking? Well, it’s not easy to explain but in this post I try to summarize it in one word. Essentially what you’re doing in your essay is arguing against your central argument and/or the evidence (studies) upon which it’s based. You want to show that you can evaluate explanations and evidence.

I recommend aiming to have three well-developed counter-arguments (critical thinking points) in your essay. Here are some possible ways you can do this:

  1. Evaluate the studies. Go beyond superficial statements and fully explain the limitations. Videos like this one on how to evaluate ecological validity properly might help.
  2. Evaluate the explanation or theory: Explain some limitations to your explanation of the topic (your answer to the key question). If your summarizing a theory or model, explain some limitations of the theory.
  3. Provide an alternative explanation: This could be an alternative explanation of the results (e.g. of a correlational study) or an alternative explanation to the one you’ve provided in your answer.

If this seems too complicated right now, it’s probably because you haven’t done enough groundwork in understanding the topics and studies first. You must understand the topics and studies before you can attempt to think critically about them.

All of this has been prepared for you in our Revision Guide, but remember the more work you do for yourself, the better prepared you’ll be.