While psychological studies aren’t the only part of the IB Psychology exams, they’re very important. So make sure you’re focusing on the right thing. Some students spend all their efforts revising the aims and procedures of the experiments but miss the most important part – the results.
By exam day you should be ready to write about 100-150 words on each study you’ve revised. But when you first start reviewing them, my advice is to focus on the results first. These are the most important part of any study. That’s because we can draw the conclusions from the results. If we know the results in enough detail, we can usually work backwards and figure out the methods and the aim.
How much detail?
Students often ask exactly what they need to know about each study. Here are some tips:
- You don’t need to know the year it was conducted. Examiners struggle to remember this, so you’re not expected to.
- You’re also not required to remember the names of the researches. That said, in my class I always refer to studies by the researches name (e.g. Radke, Passamonti, Buchanan and Lovallo, etc.) or if a more famous name by its common nickname (e.g. the Bobo Doll study, the Robber’s Cave, etc.) I just find this quicker and easier.
When it comes to how much detail to remember about the studies, remember that the exams are assessing your knowledge of Psychology. Therefore, the more you know the better. To help you prioritise your studies, I would focus on being as specific as possible with the results. Regarding the methods, you only need to write about the methods in as much detail as required so the reader can comprehend the results. Imagine the reader hasn’t heard of the study before. You want them to understand the results so they follow the conclusions you’ll draw from the study. Summarise the methods in as much detail as needed so the results make sense.
Take this example:
Passamonti’s study had participants drink a drink that reduced their serotonin levels. Then they found that the reduced serotonin influenced the way their prefrontal cortex reacted to angry faces. This can help explain why serotonin is linked with impulsive aggression because…
A few details are missing from the summary of this experiment, including how there was a control group. If someone had never heard of this study it might be difficult to follow the explanation. Just a few more details are needed:
Passamonti’s study had one group of participants consume a drink that reduced their serotonin levels and another group consume a placebo. They were then placed in an fMRI and shown a series of different faces, e.g. angry faces, neutral and happy. They found that the reduced serotonin group had reduced activity in their prefrontal cortex when seeing the angry faces. This can help explain why serotonin is linked with impulsive aggression because…
With just a couple more details of the methods, the results make a lot more sense. The above summary would be even better if it also mentioned Passamonti et al.’s results about disrupting connections between the amygdala and the PFC. That’s because it would make it easier to write a more detailed explanation about the connection between serotonin and aggression.
In summary, the most important part of any study are the results. Get these right first in your revision.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.