The new IA process for IB Diploma – get started!


Let’s get started! This is a useful summary for teachers and students of the process for the new IA (internally-assessed student-conducted experiment…now you see why the name is shortened ūüôā¬† This will first be assessed in May 2019, and I’m sure some of you are getting started soon.

Group work¬†is mandatory.¬† Up to 4 students in a group, and preferably each group conducting a different experiment, so you don’t run out of participants.¬† The experiment is run together by the group to collect the raw data, but every section, and all data calculations, have to be performed and written about individually.¬†¬†

Statistical Analysis must be conducted by everyone.  Descriptive statistics identify if there is a difference between the two conditions and inferential statistical analysis tells you whether or not this difference is significant at the p<0.05 level.  Unless you are an expert statistician, it is easier to just manipulate the independent variable once to give two conditions under which you measure the dependent variable. Plan how you are going to do this, and which tests you need to use before even starting your experiment.

Ethical Considerations –¬†be sure that your experiment will cause no harm or stress to the participants, who may not be animals or young children.¬† Conformity experiments are not allowed, because they are stressful, and you may not ask your participants to eat or drink anything in order to test the effects. Neither may you deprive them of sleep.¬† Your appendices¬†at the very end of your report should contain a blank copy of the informed consent form, a copy of your briefing and debriefing notes, raw data tables and your calculations for the analysis.

IA Report РThis needs a header containing the following information:  title; your IB candidate code and the codes of all group members; date, month and year of submission; no. of words.


The Report should be between 1800 and 2200 words and split into the following 4 sections:

Introduction¬† (6 marks) –¬† Contains the aim of the experiment, and explains the link between the experiment and the model or theory on which it is based.¬† (Most likely your experiment will be based on another study or experiment, but you need to know the underlying theory and show the link).¬† The hypotheses should be written out carefully, and contain the operationalised independent and dependent variable.¬† It is probably easier to write these separately first and then combine them to make the hypothesis.

Exploration (4 marks) РThis is where you describe your procedure, including the design, sampling technique, participant characteristics, controlled variables and materials.  Write it very carefully, as you will want to refer back to it later in your last (Evaluation) section.

Analysis (6 marks) РConsists of correctly chosen and applied descriptive and inferential statistics.  The descriptive statistical analysis results should be shown in a bar chart (graph) that is carefully labelled.  The inferential statistics results need to be interpreted in terms of what they show about the hypothesis.  Do you have to accept or reject your null hypothesis, and why?

Evaluation (6 marks) РThis is where you explain your results, in relation to the theory/model and study on which you based your experiment.  You need to explain the strengths and limitations of your design, sample and procedure and suggest how you could have improved upon what you did.  We cannot always anticipate the effect of decisions we made earlier when deciding how to conduct the experiment, but we can explain their effect at the end.

All IAs need a list of references at the back, and the appendices follow this.  They do not count towards the word count.


Remember – it doesn’t have to be a complex experiment.¬† The simpler the better.¬† Old ‘favourites’ from Cognitive Psychology always do well: Loftus and Palmer, Stroop, Peterson & Peterson and Bransford & Johnson are all tried and tested studies from the area of memory.



So What? How to engage in critical thinking.

critical thinking

We all know what critical thinking is when we see it Рit is the ability not to stop at the seemingly obvious, but to look at the several possible meanings and probable explanations behind it.  It involves analysis and synthesis of ideas and explanations. Without critical thinking, psychology becomes a list of studies to learn and boxes to tick, with no engagement and argument.   The command terms at the beginning of the essays you write (Discuss, Evaluate, To what extent, Contrast) all require more than a list of research.

Next time you write an essay if you are a student, or mark one if you are a teacher, stop at the end of each sentence and ask ‘So what?’¬†¬†This should trigger some critical thinking.¬† Think of these statements:

The results of the experiment lack ecological validity. Thousands of students will write this in the upcoming exams this May.¬† So what? Does this matter?¬† Does it affect what we can do with the results? Well, yes it does.¬† If the experiment was carried out in a lab with all variables controlled apart from the manipulated one (independent variable) and the measured one (dependent variable) then this unnatural situation could have led to all sorts of changes in participants’ behaviour.¬† In this case the results may not be a true reflection of how they would have behaved under natural conditions.

Researchers at the biological level of analysis sometimes use lab experiments on animals to investigate the effects of certain neurotransmitters on human behaviour.¬† This is another common point made in¬† answers about either neurotransmitters or research methods. The critical thinker will then go on to point out that this is because they believe that, as some animals have similar brain structures to humans, then they use brain chemicals in the same way. These experiments are used when it would be impractical or unethical or plain impossible to test¬† hypotheses on humans in the same way, but of course, the assumption of parity of brain processes between human and non-human animals is a contested belief and certainly not all results from animal studies can be successfully be applied to gain a better understanding of human behaviour.¬† However, it is significant that it was initially in rodents that the link between acetylcholine and memory was discovered, which has been verified in adult humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

So, while it is important to revise studies for your exams,¬† don’t forget to use them to make an argument, look at why they are relevant and always explain the explanations!