I’m about to tell you the answer to every essay question in IB Psychology. It’s a simple two word answer.
WARNING: you’re probably not going to like the answer. It may frustrate or disappoint you. You might think this is useless and no help whatsoever. If that’s your reaction, then you’re not ready for the IB Psychology exams. Or at least, you’re ready to ACE them. Once you can understand and appreciate this answer, you’ll see it everywhere and perhaps not just in psychology. If you can articulate this answer clearly, using research and multiple examples your essays will score top marks.
- Example Essay: Research methods (case studies) in the biological approach
- Essay Writing Tips: Three Rules of Three
- Example Essays for Paper One
So are you ready to hear the answer to every essay question in IB Psychology?
That is the answer. It’s complicated. Every conclusion you write for an IB Psychology essay should convey this point. The command terms themselves require you to show this idea:
Discuss: you can’t just show one side of the argument. If you provide a simple, straightforward answer without nuance then you aren’t “providing a balanced review.” A discussion of any topic in Psychology should show a realization that there are at least two sides to every story. i.e. it’s complicated.
For example, if you’re asked to discuss the effects of a biological factor like pheromones on behaviour, you would first establish an argument that pheromones do influence behaviour and you’d have some supporting studies. But in order to write an excellent essay you have to show that it’s more complicated than that. There are limitations to the research. There are doubts about the existence of human pheromones. There are other explanations for that same behaviour. In conclusion, the answer to the question of how pheromones affect behaviour is complicated.
Evaluate: this is essentially the same as a discussion with a focus on strengths and limitations. It is mostly used for questions about theories or research methods. Just like a discussion, at first you need to explain whatever you’re evaluating and use some supporting studies. You put forth some kind of central argument for the topic. But in order to evaluate properly you also have to show limitations. You might say a particular theory is valid, supported by evidence and has strengths but you also have to say, “but look it’s not perfect.” Can the theory explain behaviour? Well, kind of. It’s complicated. Is the research method effective for studying human behaviour? Sometimes, but it’s complicated.
To what extent: just like a discussion and an evaluation, this command term necessitates counter-arguments. You can’t just be arguing one side of the question. Yes, you have to explain the topic and use supporting evidence. In other words, you develop an argument in response to the question and use studies to support your argument. But if you never show the limitations of this argument, then you aren’t addressing the “to what extent” part of the question. To quote Alexey Popov, the answer to any to what extent question is always “to some extent.” In other words, you’re showing that “hey, it’s complicated.”
For example, you might get asked “to what extent does one cultural dimensions affect one behaviour.” First you’d choose a dimension like individualism and collectivism, explain what this is and how it affects behaviour using some studies to support your answer. Yet again, however, you can’t just leave your answer here. If your conclusion is that cultural dimensions undeniably influence human behaviour and there’s no doubt about this, then your essay is weak. You must show that there are limitations to this explanation, including alternative arguments, limitations with the theory and the research.
Human behaviour is complex, and complex problems require complex explanations. In the early weeks and months of your psychology career you probably won’t like this answer, that “it’s complicated.” You want something easier, more straightforward. But as you study topic after topic, write essay after essay, you will learn to appreciate the nuance. Understand the black and white first, and then learn to live in the grey areas.
In a world filled with clickbait, tweets and tiktoks, learning to appreciate nuance is a valuable skill that will not only prepare you for success in IB Psych exams, but in the wider world as well.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.