How to write your IA evaluation

Travis DixonInternal Assessment (IB)

The Evaluation for IB Psych IA is the toughest section to write. Hopefully this post will help.

If you miss one important detail you could lose marks. Read carefully so you can score 6/6 in the IA Evaluation.

Of the four sections in the IA (Introduction, Exploration, Analysis and Evaluation), the Evaluation is the hardest to write. Fewer students score in the top mark band (5-6 out of 6) for this than any other section. In fact, I’d guess about 1% score 6/6. Why? There are 5 things you must do and most students skip one or more of these.

Learn More:

Evaluation Checklist

  1. Clearly summarize your results.
  2. Discuss your findings in relation to a background theory or model. 
  3. Explain strengths of: design AND sample AND procedures.
  4. Explain limitations of: design AND sample AND procedures.
  5. Suggest modifications that are based on your limitations.

Linking your results to the original study is not needed, however most students do this. It’s acceptable and might even help you make sense of your own results.

#1. Summarize Results

File:Bobo doll-en.svg - Wikimedia CommonsWrite a brief summary of the results you’ve just written about in the Analysis. This includes the descriptive and inferential statistics and the final conclusions you draw regarding your hypothesis.

Tip: You’re studying some kind of an effect, most probably an effect of some variable on a cognitive process. Make it clear in your summary what your results suggest about this effect.

Example:  Imagine I was studying the effects of observing an violent/passive model on aggression. I would need to make it clear if my results showed how the different type of model increased or decreased aggression based on differences in the results and whether or not these results were statistically significant. You can also link to your hypothesis.

I am going to use hypothetical IA results based on the Bobo Doll study because this would not be acceptable for the IB Psych IA. This is deliberate because it means you’ll have to think about your own IA for yourself. I did the same for the example IA included in the IA Teacher Support Resources.

#2: Link to theory/model

You can do this in two ways.

(1) Explain how your results support or contradict the theory/model. For instance, if I found that kids who watched an adult play nicely with a Bobo doll had fewer aggressive actions than the experimental group, I could explain how this result challenges social cognitive theory’s central claim that kids’ behaviour can be influenced through observational learning. I might even go further and give possible reasons why the results are inconsistent with the theory based on temporal validity: kids’ behaviour might be different now since they’re more exposed to media compared to when Bandura proposed his theory.

Do not use the word “prove” in your study. Here’s why!

(2) Use the theory to explain your results. For example, I could use the triadic reciprocal causation aspect of SCT to explain my results that contradict the claim of observational learning. Kids are more exposed to media now than when Bandura proposed the theory. This environmental factor could have desensitized children to media violence, thus not having the same effect on their behaviour. This is consistent with the TRD aspect of SCT.

Tip: If your results are not significant or contradict the background theory or model, it might be difficult to explain a detailed limitation. One possible solution is to explain why the results might not support the theory and/or look for another theory that might explain your results. However, I only recommend doing this if you’ve got time after doing the rest of the Evaluation.

Read More: How to link your results to the background theory/model.

The IA Teacher Support Pack comes with an IA template for students to use.

#3: Strengths

The biggest mistake students make is they don’t include strengths of all three: design, sample and procedure.

  • Design: independent samples, repeated measures or matched pairs. Experimental is not a design.
  • Sample: sampling technique or characteristics of your sample. It does not refer to sample size.
  • Procedure: any of the following: materials, controlled variables, operational definitions, other procedures.

Try to write at least two sentences for each aspect. (1) Identify the specific aspect you’re evaluating and (2) give a reason why it was a strength. The best explanations are those that focus on validity, not practicality or ethicality.

Example: In my fictional Bobo doll study I might say that the strength of my independent samples design was that it controlled for order effects. If kids watched both adults the learning from one condition might influence their behaviour in another.

#4: Limitations

Validity - Free of Charge Creative Commons Typewriter image

Evaluations based on practicality are vague and score low marks. For instance, many students say strengths of their procedures were that it was “easy” or “fast” and the materials were “effective.” Focus on VALIDITY by explaining the possible effects of extraneous variables on youry study (limitations) and how you effectively controlled for these (strengths).

You must also explain limitations of the design and sample and procedure. Many students focus on superficial explanations like small sample sizes and unclear instructions. These are unlikely to score well. Focus instead of careful analysis of each aspect.


  • Design: Identify a specific confounding variable that might have occurred (e.g. participant variability, practice effects, order effects, etc.) A matched pairs of often a good suggestion.
  • Sample: It’s difficult (I think) to write a good evaluation of your sampling technique that isn’t vague and generalized. I recommend focusing on characteristics of your sample.
    • Example: My Bobo study used participants in high school. This is a limitation because by adolescence many behaviours and attitudes are already formed because teenagers gain independence. This means the effects of models on observational learning might not be generalized to younger populations like middle or elementary school kids.
  • Procedure: Were there differences between your two conditions that weren’t based on your IV? (or sample). This is what you should explain here. Very few students focus on the materials they used. I think they miss out on the potential to provide some insightful critical thinking. Other possible evaluations include extraneous variables (e.g. time of day).
    • Example: In my Bobo doll study one material we used was an inflatable clown doll because this is what they used in the original experiment. However, our participants were teenagers and it’s unlikely that they would want to play with an inflatable doll. This could explain why they weren’t as likely to copy the behaviour as in the original experiment. A suggested modification is…

#5: Modifications

You must suggest ways in which this study could be modified for the future to improve upon the limitations you’ve explained.

Tip: I recommend writing one modification based on each of your limitations. This makes it clear how your modifications are linked and fully justified.

Example (continued from #4): A suggested modification is…to have the model demonstrating violent or passive behaviour in a way that’s more relatable to teenagers. For example, the model could be playing a video game with a friend and acting friendly or aggressively towards their co-player.

Some students think “modifications” means how they modified their study from the original. This is not what you should do.

Small sample size? This is not a relevant limitation to talk about. Why not? Because all IAs have the same limitation and so it doesn’t show your ability to critically evaluate your methodology. Focus instead on the limitations of the sampling technique and/or the characteristics of the participants in your sample.

Success in the IA is easy: Do the work! Most students miss easy marks simply because they didn’t pay attention. If you’ve read this far in the post, you’re on the right track.

Dear Teachers (and fellow Examiners): If you disagree with any of my advice and/or have further suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments.