21 May IB History Internal Assessments
IB History Internal Assessments: how to get top marks
With the academic year ending, first year IBs will be discussing what to do over the summer with their teachers. There are two main tasks for you over the summer: write your Internal Assessments (IAs) and plan your Extended Essay. Yes, that’s right, not much of a summer holiday for you this year. As my college teacher told me, “You’re on vacation, not holiday”. He meant, we were vacating the college premises (except the Library), but we had to keep working.
I’m going to focus on the History IA because, strangely enough, it’s probably harder to write than the Extended Essay. That’s because the structure’s more rigid. It is marked according to the three criteria below and it’s wise to use these as section headings for clarity:
- Identification and evaluation of sources: Criterion A (6 marks)
- Investigation: Criterion B (15 marks)
- Reflection: Criterion C (4 marks)
You have a maximum word limit of 2,200 words. Use all of it, but don’t go over, as examiners/moderators will stop marking once the limit is reached. Having said that, when you begin writing, write freely without worrying about the limit: you can cut it down later. Look at the criteria sections below for the suggested word allocations for each section. The bibliography and annotations do not count in the word limit.
Title and Mindset
Before you start writing, or even researching, there are some things that you need to know. First, you are not writing a book or book chapter; the History IA is more like a journal article. That means you need less description and more analytical discussion, especially bringing in historical perspectives and, crucially, evaluating those perspectives. It’s important to realise this because you’ll be reading books which are mainly descriptive. Their main aim is to present new information based on archival research. Sometimes journal articles are descriptive too, but normally to get published you need to present a new idea. You need to extract only what’s relevant to your research question, even if it’s only a sentence. Keep this in mind and you’ll avoid writing a narrative that strays from answering the question.
Once you’re in the right mindset, you can think about forming a title question. It’s best to do this in stages. First, think of a general subject area that you’re interested in. Then, check to see if there are suitable sources for that subject area. Next, formulate your exact question, making sure it is phrased as a question and not too general or limiting. For example, an inappropriate title would be ‘The effects of the Cold War on Cuba’. It is too broad, not posing a question to be debated and would lead to a descriptive list of points that will gain low marks. On the other hand, if you pose a question such as ‘To what extent did the Bay of Pigs incident strengthen Castro’s position as Cuba’s leader?’, you have set up a question for debate on a manageable topic with plenty of resources.
Now we’ll take a detailed look at the marking criteria and how to get in the top mark bands. I won’t look at every mark band, as I want to concentrate on the requirements to achieve a maximum score.
Criterion A: Identification and evaluation of sources
The key words are clarity, relevance and detailed analysis. The IB History Guide suggests that you write about 500 words on this section. You need to analyse two of the source you have used. In this section you must:
Clearly state an appropriate question for investigation, as per the example above.
Identify appropriate and relevant sources. An appropriate source is one directly related to the question. Avoid sources that are not accepted by the IB, such as Wikipedia and don’t analyse an encyclopaedic entry in this section. It’s best to use a trusted source repository, such as the Internet Modern History Sourcebook or the UK National Archives.
Next you must provide a clear explanation of the relevance of the sources to the investigation. This is not just for the examiner/moderator, but helps you get it clear in your mind.
Finally, you should give a detailed analysis and evaluation of two sources overtly discussing the value and limitations. This is where students tend to lose marks, so write it with care. The value and limitations should be those relating to your question, so avoid general comments about primary and secondary sources. Analyse with reference to the origins, purpose and content of the sources, but focus on the value and limitations. Try to avoid statements like ‘the value of the purpose’. It’s better to start ‘The purpose of…’ and then mention values and limitations.
If you do the above, you should get into the 5-6 mark bracket.
Criterion B: Investigation
The investigation is worth 15 out of 25 marks, so spend time and devote enough words to this section. You should write about 1,300 words according to the History Guide. It’s in this section that students lose the most marks. Many students never get beyond the 7-9 mark band and some get even less. Why? Let’s compare the top two bands to see what extra you need to do.
For the Criterion B section, examiners and moderators judge the IA on a number of aspects. As you read through, note the differences between the two mark bands. I have italicised the main differences:
The organisation of the IA
10-12 marks. The investigation is generally clear and well organized, although there may be some repetition or lack of clarity in places.
13-15 marks. The investigation is clear, coherent and effectively organized.
Critical analysis of the question and the sources
10-12 marks. The investigation contains critical analysis, although this analysis may lack development or clarity.
13-15 marks. The investigation contains well-developed critical analysis that is focused clearly on the stated question.
The use of sources
10-12 marks. Evidence from a range of sources is used to support the argument.
13-15 marks. Evidence from a range of sources is used effectively to support the argument.
Evaluation of perspectives
10-12 marks. There is awareness and some evaluation of different perspectives.
13-15 marks. There is evaluation of different perspectives.
10-12 marks. The investigation argues to a reasoned conclusion.
13-15 marks. The investigation argues to a reasoned conclusion that is consistent with the evidence and arguments provided.
Of the above factors, students fall short in having a well-developed critical analysis and good evaluation of different perspectives. If you’re thinking ‘How can I do this with so few words?’ the answer is forget narrative. Apart from a very short introduction to explain the context, you should only bring detail in to support a point or in evaluating a perspective.
Criterion C: Reflection
For this criterion, you need to address two issues; methods and challenges, making sure you link them to your investigation. The marks break down into the following bands. Again I have italicised the main differences for you to compare:
1-2 marks: The reflection contains some discussion of what the investigation highlighted to the student about the methods used by the historian.
3-4 marks: The reflection is clearly focused on what the investigation highlighted to the student about the methods used by the historian
1-2 marks: The reflection demonstrates little awareness of the challenges facing the historian and/or the limitations of the methods used by the historian.
3-4 marks: The reflection demonstrates clear awareness of challenges facing the historian and/or limitations of the methods used by the historian.
1-2 marks: The connection between the reflection and the rest of the investigation is implied, but is not explicit.
3-4 marks: There is a clear and explicit connection between the reflection and the rest of the investigation.
Draft and Redraft
Once you have written the first draft of your IA, check it against the criteria. You should do this before you give it to your teacher for comments. Remember, your teacher can only give comments on one draft, so the more you can correct yourself, the better. As you do this, you’ll find you have a better understanding of what is required. Detach yourself from your IA and be brutally honest. It’s only if you take that approach that you’ll know where you are and what you need to improve.
The full IA Criteria are on pages 90-92 of the History Guide. Your teacher should have gone through the criteria with you before you did anything else. If not, ask them to print it or email you the PDF. Try to identify what mark bands your IA fits in to, then address any issues. Although your teacher can only comment on one draft, you can still go to them with questions: indeed the IB encourages you to do so.
The above is a general guide, based on my experience as an IB teacher, examiner and IA moderator. You, of course, may have your own method and I’d encourage you to do so. If, however, you lost at sea, use my advice to direct you to your destination: success. If you have any comments or questions, please contact me.
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