A challenging aspect of the IB Psychology course is remembering all the studies. It can be made easier. With some careful course planning (by teachers) and wise studying (by students), the Abnormal Psychology option could be covered in 7 studies.
The IB Guide states that “Each option is divided into three topics. For each option, there will be three essay titles to choose from, one for each topic in the option.” (IB Guide, pg 35). This is incredibly important to remember because it drastically reduces the amount of content you have to prepare.The following guidance is for the Abnormal Psychology option, since it’s the most popular.
Abnormal Psychology – Overview
Abnormal Psychology has three topics:
- Factors influencing diagnosis
- Etiology of abnormal psychology
- Treatment of disorder(s)
The fact that questions might link “…research, ethical considerations, or the approaches to understanding behaviour … to the topic heading” (IB Guide, p35) means that you must choose which specific topic you revise carefully.
The examples provided in this post are based on the material in our PTSD unit in the textbook.
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IB SL students can prepare for Paper Two in just 7 studies*.
Abnormal Psychology – The Exam Questions
Before we know which studies to choose, we have to know what exam questions might appear. The content for the Etiology topic is simple:
- Explanations for disorder(s)
- Prevalence rates and disorder(s)
Plus the potential exam questions on the following:
- Research methods used to study the etiology of abnormal psychology
- Ethical considerations in studies on the etiology of abnormal psychology
- Biological approach to study the etiology of abnormal psychology
- Cognitive approach to study the etiology of abnormal psychology
- Sociocultural approach to the etiology of abnormal psychology
Abnormal Psychology – The Studies
Explanations for Disorders
The following image shows how 7 studies can cover the topic “Explanations for disorders” (PTSD) in 7 studies. By carefully selecting explanations that are directly relevant to the three approaches, those questions are covered also.
Somes studies can be used for multiple approaches, like Urry (bio and cog) and Luby (soc-cult and bio).
Next we have “Prevalence.” When discussing prevalence of PTSD, we look at particular groups who have higher rates of diagnosis (i.e. PTSD is more prevalent in these groups). Three studies can cover three examples, including people from low socioeconomic status, racial minorities and women.
I encourage my students to become experts on socioeconomic status as a risk factor for PTSD, since this can be used for sociocultural explanations or prevalence rates.
I recommend revising the same studies for research methods and ethics to make these questions more manageable. For instance, anonymity is always relevant in correlational studies, especially those gathering sensitive data like symptoms of PTSD. The following three correlational studies could be used for an essay question on research methods and anonymity.
Note: It is possible you could be asked for a second research method. In this case, be prepared to write briefly about Urry et al. as a true experiment. Similarly, be prepared to write about a second ethical consideration, like informed consent (also relevant to Urry et al.)
Personally, I think Etiology of Abnormal Psychology lends itself to the best exam preparation. This is because it’s most logical how the three approaches are linked to this topic. Imagine how hard it would be to answer a question on how the biological approach is used to understanding factors influencing diagnosis. This is a potential question, albeit not a likely one.
Now you’ve made the exams easier by limiting the studies, focus on the concepts. This includes being able to explain how and why certain factors are associated with PTSD, as well as how and why research methods are used and ethical considerations are relevant. Develop your critical thinking as well and you’ll truly separate your answers from the rest. The goal isn’t about reducing studies, it’s about increasing your knowledge and understanding of psychology.
*This year (May 2021) Standard Level don’t actually have Paper Two since it’s cancelled due to covid. This means it’s actually HL students who can do Paper 2 in just 7 studies.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.