The key to a great IA is attention to detail. The Exploration is worth the fewest marks (4) but probably requires the most attention. I don’t think the Exploration is a difficult section to write, as long as you follow some basic guidelines.
I’ve already made a video explaining how to use the What-How-Why method (State-Describe-Explain) to explain each section of your Exploration. I’m going to break this down even further for your “Materials.”
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What “materials” should you explain?
You should aim to explain three materials: your stimulus, your measurement and your informed consent.
You probably presented something to your participants as a stimulus for the experiment. What did you present? Explain it by saying how and why you chose it or created it. Here are some examples:
- Loftus and Palmer – the video: what video did you choose and why? I’m sure you went through a few before you chose the right one. Explain your thinking in this part of the planning.
- Glanzer and Cunitz – the word list: like many memory studies, this one relies on presenting a word list and having students remember the words. How did you create your word list and why did you choose the words you did?
- Mueller and Oppenheimer – the information: When testing which note-taking format is better, you have to present a stimulus to participants to give them information to take notes on. What did you choose and why?
- Bransford and Johnson – the passage: This study often just relies on using the materials from the original study. That’s fine, but be sure to explain why you decided to do this.
You can list basic things like pens, paper, a classroom, etc. But anything generic like this you shouldn’t explain.
Sometimes you’ll use a proper questionnaire created by psychologists to measure something, like the PANAS scale measures mood.
- Anchoring effect – the guess: How did you measure people’s guess? Sometimes you might design an online questionnaire or use pen and paper. Think carefully about the choices you made when deciding to do it this way and explain them.
- Facial feedback hypothesis – PANAS scale: State the PANAS scale and explain how you used this to measure the change in mood. Explain why you used this scale. Also explain any modifications you made (e.g. if you just focused on the change in negative affect).
- Mozart Effect: Like many experiments, this one requires a comprehension test or some kind of cognitive test. State the test you used. You probably had to create it yourself so describe how you created it and explain why.
Don’t think that “Explain” means you have to write hundreds of words. Most of the time a good explanation is 1-2 well-written sentences. For example, the IB accepts “we used opportunity sampling as it was the most convenient sampling method to use” as a suitable explanation for this sampling technique.
Your Informed Consent
You must state somewhere in your exploration the ethical guidelines that you followed. This assures examiners that your study was conducted ethically. When you were creating your informed consent, I’m sure you worked hard with your team to make sure you gave them enough information to make an informed decision about joining the study. But you also probably didn’t tell them everything because you’d worry that might affect the results. This is exactly what you should be explaining in your exploration.
You could also explain other materials you used regarding ethical guidelines, like debriefing emails.
General Materials Tips
- I would recommend using bullet points and bold headings for each material, just so it’s clear to the examiner what you’re explaining (you can see an example IA in the IA Support Pack).
- You can list generic things like pens, paper, a projector, but this is not necessary.
- You could also explain the location of your experiment if you are not confident in your explanations of your stimulus, measurement and informed consent.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.